Kitten Season: Too Much of a Good Thing? Some Ways to Help
By Sarah Liu
“We’ve had a really great winter, but Kitten Season is right around the corner.”
“We need to find more foster homes before Kitten Season starts.”
“Kitten Season. Oh no.”
Oh no? Why “oh no”? Kitten Season sounded pretty great to me. In my inexperience, I imagined a welcome influx of fluffy playful kittens just in time for spring. And, of course, a hoard of perfect potential adopters beating down our doors to carry three or four kittens back to a purrfect forever home.
Fast forward 4 years, and now I know the reality of Kitten Season is much harsher.
So what’s it all about? To tell us more, I sought out the assistant foster coordinator at King Street Cats in Alexandria, Andrea Cerrino, for some inside information. According to Andrea, Kitten Season “begins in the early spring and goes through summer; it’s the time of year when the majority of kittens are born.” Andrea explained that the phenomenon begins in spring, because the estrus or heat cycle in cats is regulated by the weather. Cats are polyestrous, which means, Andrea said, they “typically experience three heat cycles per year, and in warmer climates they can have four.” The result? Plenty of chances to mate, plenty of chances to conceive, and plenty of newborn kittens.
So what’s the big deal? Why do shelters and rescue organizations dread Kitten Season? Andrea explained:
“The biggest challenge is the sometimes overwhelming number of homeless kittens. Finding foster homes for these kittens can be difficult as it can be a several-months long commitment, depending on the age of the kittens. Also the cost of vetting the kittens is very expensive for the shelters. Some shelters, like King Street Cats, ensure that all kittens are fully vaccinated, spayed or neutered, microchipped, and tested for FELV (feline leukemia) and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) before they are available for adoption.”
Andrea is right. Statistics are hard to pin down, but the ASPCA estimates 1.4 million cats are euthanized in the United States alone every year. That’s 41% of all cats entering shelters. Although statistics are not readily available, shelter volunteers can sadly attest that unwanted kittens comprise a large percentage of that 1.4 million.
Now that we’re sad, how can we help? Andrea has some great suggestions:
If you’ve never taken care of kittens before, you may be apprehensive or uncertain about the type of responsibilities involved. Don’t let this stop you. Your local shelter will be glad to find you a good fit in terms of a cat’s age, ability, and special needs. Andrea had some tips for prospective foster humans:
“Ideally, kittens should stay with mom until they are at least 6 weeks old. Unfortunately, sometimes they are found abandoned too early, or mom does not survive. In this case the time commitment would be much greater, because the kittens would likely need to be bottle fed for a while. Most times the kittens just need to have a safe, warm, clean space with plenty of food and water, toys, and a clean litter box. As much time as you can spend interacting with them is wonderful, but about 45 minutes a day would make all the difference.”
If you’re even a little bit interested, I can support Andrea’s encouragement with personal experience:
I brought my first foster kittens home from a family farm after a visit home in the early spring. It was still snowing in Indiana, and I was advised by family members that three stray kittens were living in a wood pile, their mother killed or run off by the resident junkyard dog, and likely soon to be finished by the snow and subzero temperatures. Not content to let nature take its course, I rooted all three kittens out of the wood pile, bundled them in blankets, and drove them back to Virginia and the mercy of my rescue organization.
The kittens were filthy dirty and wild as wolves, but once clean, they were just exhausted balls of thick fluff. I was shocked they could be so cute and so wicked. But over the next few months, and with the financial support and moral encouragement of King Street Cats, I socialized them into attention-craving lap cats, fully vaccinated, neutered, and ready for forever homes. I will never forget the first time they purred when I picked them up (it took a few days), or the day they were chosen by their forever families. I still keep in touch with their families, and they (kittens and humans) are thriving.
I’ve had several families of foster kittens since then, and I can honestly say these are some of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
So that’s my pitch, but what if it’s just not possible to host kittens in your home?
There are other ways to help alleviate the stresses of Kitten Season. One of the best ways is to prevent the birth of so many unwanted babies by getting involved in a trap, neuter, release (TNR) program. Andrea explains, “TNR groups work to get feral cats trapped so they can be spayed or neutered to help keep the population down.” According to TNR pioneer organization Alley Cat Allies, which started in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC, the TNR program improves the lives of feral colony cats by relieving the pressures of pregnancy and mating; improving physical health and number of cats vaccinated against rabies; and diminishing unwanted mating behaviors such as spraying, yowling, and fighting.
Interested in TNR? Please contact your local animal shelter or Alley Cat Allies in the links below. Interested in fostering a kitten, cat, or other animal? Please contact King Street Cats or another rescue organization. KSC and your local animal shelter or rescue can also help you when you’re ready to adopt a pet.
Alley Cat Allies
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA)
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
King Street Cats
Sarah Liu is a volunteer at King Street Cats in Old Town Alexandria. Originally from Indiana, Sarah enjoys travel, The Walking Dead, and sushi. She works so her cat can have a better life.