Over the past few days I’ve been corresponding with the owner of a kitty whose expressed desire is to maintain her cat’s reproductive integrity—sans ability to bear kittens. Tubal ligation is the subject of her inquiry: “Is it advisable if my goals for her include sexual activity?”

Hmmm… This is a weird one for sure. Despite the fact that I have better things to do than correspond with people some of you might discount as “plain nuts,” I’m easily intrigued by these questions. My vet boyfriend quips that I just can’t resist a train wreck.

But I disagree. For me, these queries help me wrap my head around the full spectrum of reasons behind why we vets traditionally recommend what we do. And it’s my view that everyone deserves a thoughtful answer if I have the inclination (and time) to provide it.

My answer to her?

After enumerating the many reasons why I believe her goals are out of line with comfortable catdom

  •  (continuous heat cycles are stressful for cats,
  •  keeping Toms indoors is inadvisable at best,
  •  disease transmission through sexual activity is common among felines,
  •  sex necessarily involves aggressive behavior in cats,
  •  intercourse with a barbed penis is considered painful, need I go on…?),

I urged her to consider a hysterectomy( not an ovariohysterectomy where both ovaries and uterus are removed) if she was absolutely resolved to allow her cat an intact lifestyle. At least this way pyometra isn’t a possibility (though mammary tumors will still remain a risk).

The question for dogs is an easier one. Canine comfort is not so much a factor due to the infrequency of heat cycles. Though pyometras and mammary tumors are still the number one and two risks, respectively, the benefits of sex hormones are better understood in canines, even if the jury’s still out on the risks and rewards when it comes to spaying.

As with the above cat’s example, I’d urge dog owners to consider a hysterectomy, which would allow for the benefits of ovarian hormones while eliminating the risk of pyometra along with that pesky bleeding every six months.

It’s true, however, that we don’t fully understand the problems a hysterectomy alone might entail: Will the remaining cervix be subject to greater risk of infections (so-called, “stump pyometras”)? Do the hormones produced by the uterus itself count for anything? At least with tubal ligation (which essentially preserves the condition of the intact bitch) we’re aware of the risks and benefits, limited though our understanding may yet be.

During an interview with an msnbc.com reporter last week, I had cause to examine my position more carefully on this score. She asked smart, pointed questions, allowing me to dig deep holes for myself in my answers.

I guess I really hadn’t considered the full spectrum of the issues involved in the question of tubal ligation—though I’ve always maintained an open mind on it’s potential utility, as I have for vasectomies (which I’ll happily perform in the case of dogs).

In my post-interview musings, I gleaned the following insights:

Pet medicine is an increasingly individualized discipline with pet owners seeking idealized conditions for the personal needs of their pets and their households. Sure, population management and public heath are still crucial issues, but I’d argue they receive far less attention than in years past relative to the drive to do what’s best by our family members.

That’s why the issue of tubal ligation and vasectomy has recently surged in popularity. With states and municipalities looking for ways to curb the severe overpopulation of unwanted pets, legislation mandating early spays and neuters in our dogs and cats (four months is way too early according to most veterinarians), pet owners are avidly seeking alternative ways to sterilize their pets.

As for most veterinarians, treating the overpopulation problem among unwanted pets often seems at odds with our goals for the adored ones in our midst. This dichotomy finds no better expression than in the rift between animal lovers with a similar love of animals but who view the mandatory spay/neuter conundrum from opposite sides of the fence.

Could it be that tubal ligation and vasectomy are the solution (though no doubt imperfect) to our political divide? In many ways I hope so. I’d love nothing better than to see animal lovers solve their differences in ways that would meet all of society’s goals.

Tubal ligations in cats? I still don’t think it’s cool. But I’ll support a pet owner’s well-researched decision to do so.