For those who love cats, you would think that kitten season would be a reason to celebrate—after all, who doesn’t want more adorable felines in this world? Unfortunately, even the cutest kittens often struggle to find homes, and those born to feral mothers are at even further risk of predators, traffic, infections, illness and more.
For animal shelters in the area, kitten season is a rough time. Shelters find themselves inundated with requests to house hundreds of stray kittens, often without their mothers, which would better insure their chances of survival.
“Each spring marks the beginning of what is known by many shelters as ‘kitten season,’” explained Cody Hoellerman, chief community engagement officer, Animal Friends. “Between early spring and late fall, many stray and feral cats give birth to litters of kittens, which creates a tremendous stress on organizations like Animal Friends. In years past, we have seen an influx of kitten admissions during this time, taking in hundreds of stray kittens in need of care.”
Unfortunately, cats that have not been spayed or neutered will continue to reproduce, and the numbers are staggering: an unaltered female cat can produce three litters a year, with an average litter size of four to six kittens. That cat and her surviving offspring can produce more than 400,000 cats in their lifetimes. And with more than 70,000 puppies and kittens born in the U.S. every single day, there are simply not enough homes for all of these animals.
Where are these Kittens Coming From?
At this time of year, shelters receive an influx of kittens as a result of feral cats reproducing, as well as ‘accidents’ caused by unspayed or unneutered house cats. And while many well-meaning people find kittens and take them to the shelter, it’s always better for them to be left with their mothers if at all possible.
“It’s important for members of the public to be on the lookout for litters of kittens, but know that in many cases, the mother may be nearby,” said Hoellerman. “Before taking in a litter of stray kittens, it’s best to observe them for a few hours to determine whether their mother returns. Oftentimes, she will be out finding food for her babies.
“The safest and healthiest place for newborn kittens to be is with their mother until they are old enough to be taken care of by a loving family—when they reach about 2.5 pounds,” he added.
The Answer to Overpopulation
The good news is that there’s a relatively easy answer to cat overpopulation. Spaying and neutering can prevent unwanted pregnancies and cut down on the number of kittens needing homes. There are a number of low-cost options available to cat owners, including Animal Friends low-cost spaying and neutering program, and the city of Pittsburgh’s free spay and neuter program.
Even feral cats can be spayed through trap, neuter, release (TNR) programs, which have been shown to reduce cat populations by a tremendous amount. After establishing a TNR program in Virginia, a shelter saw a 58 percent decrease in the number of cats entering their foster care system. There was a 41 percent decrease in bottle-fed kittens entering the shelter, and an overall 9 percent decrease in kittens needing shelter.
There are also real health benefits to spaying and neutering animals. If a female is spayed before her first heat, she has significantly decreased changes of mammary gland or ovarian cancer. Neutering also removes the risk of testicular cancer. Spaying and neutering can also reduce unwanted behaviors like going to the bathroom or spraying in the house, aggressive tendencies and roaming.
To learn more about spay and neuter programs, visit Animal Friends at https://www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org/pet-care/spay-neuter, Humane Animal Rescue at https://humaneanimalrescue.org/veterinary-care/spay-and-neuter-services, or if you live within city limits, https://pittsburghpa.gov/publicsafety/spay-neuter.