Kitten season is a time of year that rescues and shelters dread. This is the time of year cats are out looking for romance. These backyard shenanigans result in hundreds of kittens every year. Kittens are adorable, but the increase in stray and feral populations and the strain on already very overcrowded shelters just… isn’t. Add in the sad fact that many shelters are not no-kill and kitten season is nothing short of a tragedy.
What Is Kitten Season?
Cats can and do reproduce at any time of year. However, the majority of kittens are born in early spring through late summer - usually March through September. Here in Long Beach, because of the weather patterns, kitten season starts sooner and lasts longer, generally starting in February and ending in late October.
The longer days trigger a chemical response in unspayed female cats that causes them to go into heat (estrus). These cats send out scent signals and vocalize to advertise that they’re fertile. This can start as early as 4-6 months of age. During one kitten season, a female cat can have 2-5 litters of kittens.
While male cats may not be having kittens, they’re typically responsible for more than 2 litters each.
So needless to say, the cat population can increase exponentially every kitten season. A larger population means less food to go around, greater incidence of preventable diseases, and even more cats producing kittens.
But these aren’t all stray cats. Many of these litters are born to pet cats who have either gotten outside by accident or who have been allowed to roam. And when their owners know they can’t care for a whole litter of kittens, these kittens often end up dropped at a shelter or abandoned.
What If I Find Abandoned Kittens?
During kitten season, it isn’t unusual to stumble into a litter of kittens. Not every litter you find has been abandoned by a bad owner. Many of them are strays or part of a feral colony. Of course, you don’t want to leave them to fend for themselves, but interfering can also be disastrous, so what do you do?
You can easily distinguish between a stray or feral litter and a litter that has been dumped. If the kittens appear mostly clean and well-fed, they’re most likely stray or feral, keep an eye on them and see if the mother returns. She may just be hunting. She should return within a few hours. If the kittens are dirty, emaciated, meowing, or in a dangerous place, they have either been dumped, or something has happened to the mother.
If the kittens are very young, and you have determined they were abandoned, seek veterinary advice. Very young kittens may not have been weaned and require specialized formula and around the clock care. They need help with temperature regulation and defecation. A veterinarian can instruct you on how to take care of a very young kitten, or they can get you in touch with someone who can help you.
Ways You Can Help
Spay and Neuter Your Cats
The best way to prevent unwanted kittens is to spay and neuter your cats and support TNR (Trap Neuter Release) programs. These programs humanely capture feral cats, spay or neuter, and return them to their colony. Cats who have been neutered through TNR have an ear clipped at the tip while under anesthesia so they can be easily recognized.
Spaying and neutering also prevents infections and cancers in the reproductive tract as uterine and testicular cancers occur only in unaltered cats. Pyometra is a potentially deadly infection of the uterus. This generally occurs in female cats who have gone through multiple heat cycles.
With shelters overflowing during kitten season, rescues can always use extra foster parents. Fostering keeps cats out of shelters, opening up room for more cats. Plus, it helps acclimate cats to living in a loving home. Best of all, you can sit with a cat (or two!) on your lap, and know you’re having a positive effect in the world. If you aren’t afraid of a challenge, consider fostering a special needs cat. These cats are harder to place and typically don’t do well in a shelter setting.
If you can’t foster, you can still volunteer. Local shelters and rescue programs often need help with things like socialization, cleaning, and transportation.
You can also volunteer to be part of a TNR program. Helen Sanders Cat Paws not only facilitates fostering and adoption for cats who would otherwise face euthanasia, they also fund and supply volunteers for TNR. They are always looking for volunteers and foster homes.
If you don’t have time to volunteer, or you’re at your maximum cat capacity, you can always donate. It doesn’t have to be money. You can donate blankets, litter, and food. In rescue… every little bit truly does help!
Adopt A Shelter Cat Or Two
If you’re looking for a permanent addition to your home, adopt a cat from a rescue or shelter. Even though it’s kitten season, you can consider an older cat. Older cats tend to sit in a shelter or rescue longer than kittens do. Older cats have fully formed personalities, have usually grown out of the “bitey” phase, and are just as fun as kittens. You might even consider a pair of cats. A bonded pair, or two cats who can get along well, make great companions.
Check out Long Beach Animal Care Services as you begin your search. They offer walk-in adoption services, but do keep in mind that some of their animals are in foster homes. If you see a cat online that you think is The One, give LBACS a call to set up a meeting. If you are a seasoned cat owner and are up for a challenge, they also have special needs cats available for adoption.
Spread The Word
Lastly, word-of-mouth in our community can have a big impact. Tell your neighbors, family, and friends about how they can help and get involved. It truly takes all hands on deck!