Today was the date for the kittens' fateful trip to the vet to be neutered, as the comforting euphemism goes. To be castrated, in fact. I feel very mean doing such a thing. I know that they will fight less, wander less, and the Systems Administrator points out that they will statistically speaking live longer than if they were entire toms. I think that's above and beyond the benefit of less fighting and wandering, due to the physiological impact of reduced levels of testosterone. And practically speaking it's the only way we can cope with having tom cats living in the house. The kittens themselves have not signed up to any deal, but the implicit contract is that we will provide food, shelter and companionship for the rest of their lives, but they cannot spray pee in the house, or bully Our Ginger as they grow up.
The vet could see I was down in the dumps about the whole thing and reminded me of the broader social benefit of having my cats neutered, that they would not contribute to the never ending stream of kittens wanting homes. We bumped into somebody from the kitten rescue centre in the waiting room, and gathered that the valiant Brenda had more kittens than ever to place somehow and somewhere. But further generations of kittens are not our kittens' problem, and I was not sure that I could use a future broader social good to justify their present suffering. Still, it had to be done.
They were ready to be collected by three, neutered and micro-chipped. The vet had warned us when we took them in that they might be sleepy afterwards, but should be back to normal by Friday. The incisions would be so small they would not even have stitches, and he would not need to see them for a follow-up appointment. They would not need to wear buckets on their heads, unlike the kitten in the TV programme about their Secret Lives.
The veterinary nurse who talked us through the discharge procedure gave us some pouches of special invalid food, because normal cat food would be too rich for them in their post-operative state, and suggested they might have a pouch and a half each over the rest of the day. We were not to be worried if they didn't have much appetite. The litter trays should be lined with torn up newspaper for tonight rather than proprietary cat litter, to keep dust away from their nether regions for the first few hours. How many litter trays did we have? Two? Animal behaviourists had found we should have one tray per animal, and a bowl of water each as well.
A bowl of water each? Not for the first time I felt as if other people's cats must inhabit a different, rarefied universe to the one ours live in. Our kittens clamber happily over each other's heads in their eagerness to eat from the first bowl of food they see, then gallop into the kitchen to check if Our Ginger has left anything in his dish. Their small emerging psyches do not seem troubled by having to share bowls.
The kittens were rather subdued on the way home, but became enormously animated as soon as they were set down in the study, and bounced around in their baskets while we sorted out the litter trays then wolfed down a third of a pouch each of invalid food. Mr Fluffy looked a little disorientated, but the energetic kitten was chasing flies within ten minutes, and before an hour was up he was hanging Errol Flynn style from the sitting room curtain while stretching across the window in an attempt to reach an especially tempting fly. After a couple of hours we thought they'd better share another pouch, which they devoured in seconds before thrusting Our Ginger off his bowl and finishing his tea as well. So much for sleepiness or loss of appetite. An hour later they were looking so energetic and squeaking so loudly we gave them a third pouch. As the SA said, if the worst that could happen was that they sicked it up again then we could always clear it up.
I can only conclude that veterinary anaesthetics must have improved greatly in recent years. They don't seem to have to do the drips into both front legs either. I was expecting to get the kittens back with shaved patches of fur on their forelegs, that take weeks to grow back fully, but that doesn't happen any more. I am relieved to have them home, though. Even though it is routine surgery, things can go wrong. As the vet said when I signed the consent forms for the anaesthetic, there are risks.