Welcome to Spring! You can count on March Madness, the start of spring training, the popping up of tulips, and oh yeah, and this is a biggie: kitten season.
Kitten season is like the feline version of Valentine’s Day, but with dire consequences because this is the time when uncontrolled mating of male and female cats results in an avalanche of kittens. Yes, kittens are adorable, but for animal shelters and rescue groups all over the country, kitten season is a major challenge. It is estimated that of the 20 million kittens expected to be born this spring, about 13 million come from free-roaming, homeless cats.
One of my favorite felines was a kitten season alum. Callie was born on the streets of Miami to a stray and then somehow got separated from her mom and littermates when she was barely a month old. I was a newspaper reporter in South Florida at the time. I had to bottle feed her and work closely with my veterinarian to ensure she got the necessary vaccinations and nutrient-rich food to help her survive kittenhood. My reward? Seventeen great years with Callie my “pal-ie”, as I called her.
If you share your home with an adult cat or more and have no plans on adopting a kitten, why should you care about kitten season? Let me identify three reasons why kitten season is a big deal to you and pet lovers everywhere:
You could be a genuine lifesaver
Animal shelters and rescue groups count on us to report litters of kittens born outdoors. It may surprise you to know that most shelters don’t have the staff or equipment to render 24-hour care for neonatal kittens. You can be a real hero and save the kittens by working closely with shelter staff and your veterinarian by creating a makeshift feline nursery in your home.
You can do your part to control overpopulation
During kitten season, work with your local shelter to learn the proper way to “capture” kittens born outside. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs exist in communities all over the country and they are designed to bring in community cats and have them spayed, neutered, ear-notched and given vaccinations to prevent them from reproducing and to keep them healthy. For more tips, check out the information provided by Alley Cat Allies. Here’s a shocking fact: a female feline can come into heat about every two weeks during the breeding season. A feline as young as 7 months can produce a litter and unchecked, a female cat can give birth to up to 18 kittens every year. A male cat’s fertility period can start as young as six months.
You can be part of the solution
Education is key. If you don’t have time to foster a litter of kittens, you can volunteer once a week for an hour interacting with kittens at your local shelter. Or, you can research into the benefits of TNR and be an advocate for policies like these that protect cats, especially the community cat colonies in your area.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to heed if you do discover a litter of kittens outdoors:
- Do stop and observe before approaching the litter. In the first weeks of their lives, kittens need their mother’s care and antibodies from her milk. In this instance, mother knows best and keeping the mother and kittens together ensures the kittens’ best chance for survival until they are weaned. To up the survival rate of these kittens, groups like the Peggy Adams Rescue League in West Palm Beach, FL recommend that you do not rush in and scoop up the newborn kittens. Instead, watch to see if the mother is simply out scouting for food and does reappear. If she doesn’t show up, contact your local animal rescue to learn how and when to correctly gather up the orphaned kittens to bring to their facility.
- Don’t immediately assume a young solo kitten is mother-less. A mother cat will instinctively move her nest of kittens. If you see a single, young kitten, he may be the first in the group moved to the new location or the last of the litter to be moved from the old location.
- Do fortify the mother cat. Provide food and water to the mother. Be sure to place the food and water, however, far enough away from the nest so you do not disturb the mother and kittens or draw predators.
- Do contact local humane shelters/animal control. Reach out to them for guidance on how to bring in the mother cat and her kittens (once they are weaned) safely to be spayed and neutered, assessed and possibly, placed in foster homes or be up for adoption.
- Do consider becoming a foster parent to kittens to help them become healthy and socialized. And, if you have the time and interest, consider learning how to bottle feed pre-weaned orphaned kittens.
Curious to learn more about kittens and cats? You are in luck! I have teamed up with FetchFind to create a comprehensive Feline Fundamentals curriculum.