Can cats remain sexually active after they have been spayed or neutered? Many cat owners wonder if they will see sexual behavior in their cats after a spay or neuter surgery. The short answer is no, probably not. However, there are some exceptions to this. Sexual activity in sterilized cats could be related to a health issue. In addition, some cats display behaviors that are misinterpreted as sexual in nature when they are actually behavioral problems or even normal cat behaviors.
Sexual Activity in Cats After Spay or Neuter
A cat's reproductive organs are removed during a spay or neuter. This means the cat's body should no longer produce sexual hormones. If the cat reached reproductive age prior to sterilization, there may be residual hormones right after surgery. These hormones may cause the cat to temporarily continue some sexual behaviors. Sex hormone levels should fade over the weeks following surgery, eliminating the cat's sex drive.
If a female cat continues to show signs of heat several weeks after she was spayed, there is a possibility that some active ovarian tissue is present in her abdomen. This is called Ovarian Remnant Syndrome. It does not mean that a mistake was made during surgery; it often occurs because of additional ovarian tissue or cells in the abdomen that became activated after the ovaries were removed. If a vet determines that a cat has Ovarian Remnant Syndrome, the treatment is to perform another surgery to remove the remaining ovarian tissue.
A spayed cat may show signs of sexual activity or heat if she was exposed to hormone creams or medications. If you have hormones like estrogen or progesterone in your home, keep them out of your cat's reach. If you use a topical hormone cream, make sure your cat does not lick the area you applied.
Adrenal tumors, though rare, may cause a cat to produce excessive hormones, some of which are sex hormones. This may cause a female cat to appear as if she is in heat. If your vet thinks your cat has an adrenal tumor, lab tests and an abdominal ultrasound may be necessary to learn more. Next, your vet will likely recommend surgery to explore the abdomen and remove the tumor.
Contact your vet's office for advice if your spayed female is showing signs of estrus.
Cat Behaviors Misinterpreted as Sexual
Some neutered or spayed cats will exhibit behaviors that appear sexual, like humping. Humping may be more common in male cats but can also be seen in females. Humping is often mistaken as sexual behavior, but it is more typically a part of normal play or excitement. In some cases, it may also be a way cats work out the social hierarchy within a home.
Humping in cats is generally not a problem unless it bothers you or others. However, your cat might upset another animal by humping. If this happens, it may lead to aggression between the animals. If your cat is humping another animal, watch the other animal for signs for distress. When in doubt, separate the cats. Then, work on training to reduce your cat's humping. You can try redirecting your cat to a stuffed animal.
Cats that once had active sex hormones might have picked up certain behaviors that remain after the spay or neuter. Perhaps the most common of these is urine marking (spraying). Though you may believe the behavior is sexual in nature, it's more likely this is simply a habit that must be broken. It will take patience and training to stop your cat from spraying.
What to Do If Your Cat Displays Sexual Behavior
If your cat has been spayed or neutered for several weeks but still appears to be sexually active, the first thing you should do is call your vet. Your vet will advise you about the next steps after discussing the behaviors you have observed. In some cases, your cat may need to visit the vet for an examination.
After the exam, your vet may recommend lab testing to check hormone levels and other metabolic functions, especially if your cat is female. The outcome of the testing will determine the next step.
Ovarian Remnant Syndrome In Cats. VCA Animal Hospitals, 2020
Sumner, Julia P et al. Sex-Hormone Producing Adrenal Tumors Causing Behavioral Changes as the Sole Clinical Sign in Three Cats. The Canadian Veterinary Journal vol. 60,3 (2019): 305-310