I love kittens.
Warm, wiggly bellies. Tiny little (razor-sharp) teeth. Kitten breath. Kitten mouth (rawr rawr rawr). Piles of sleeping kittens. Kittens playing with toys. Kittens who see themselves in a reflective surface for the first time, puff up and jump sideways … kittens are so cute!
But from May to October, I don’t like seeing kittens. In fact, it depresses me to no end — and here’s why.
Summer is known as “kitten season” because the warm weather acts as a catalyst for bringing intact female cats into heat, usually every 3 weeks.
One female cat can have at least 2 litters during these months, many of whom will be euthanized because of lack of space in the shelters.
“Wait, what?” you think. “Perfectly adorable little bundles of happiness are killed? For such a ridiculous reason as limited space? That’s not possible! They’re so cute that they get adopted right away, right?”
If you’ve never visited an animal shelter in June, you might not be able to imagine the hordes of kittens up for adoption during the height of kitten season. It’s a sad thing, knowing that not all the kittens will get homes.
“These at-risk kittens make up a large part of the roughly 3.2 million cats entering shelters each year, of whom approximately 860,000 [or 27% of them] are euthanized,” says Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
When Is Kitten Season?
Kitten season runs from about late March through October of each year.
According to Best Friends Animal Society, “Thousands of [kittens] can roll in all at once, making kitten season the most challenging time of the year in shelters around the country.”
The organization says kitten season “tends to start with a few litters showing up in shelters in early spring” and “by summer, they’re pouring in.”
Meanwhile the Michelson Found Animals Foundation says kitten season can last even longer in warmer climates like southern California — which actually “experiences 2 kitten seasons because it is less cold.”
Mama Cats at Risk During Kitten Season
What about the mother cats?
Once their litters have been placed, the mama cats need homes, too. But who wants an adult cat when they can adopt a fluffy wee kitten instead?
The same is true for the other adult cats in the shelter — the euthanasia rate for this population jumps considerably during warmer months.
And forget about feral litters that good Samaritans bring to the shelter. If the kittens are young enough and still healthy, they may find homes, but the mama cats will almost certainly be euthanized.
Most feral litters aren’t healthy. It’s common for kittens to have conjunctivitis and upper respiratory infections, especially feral kittens. Although both illnesses are easily treatable, infected kittens are usually euthanized immediately — unless a rescue takes them.
Shelters simply don’t have the budgets to treat all those sick kittens.
Kitten Season: How You Can Help
If you’d like to take a stand against the animal overpopulation problem, especially during kitten season, here’s how you can help:
- Spay and neuter your cats, even if they never go outdoors. As soon as a kitten is 2 months old and weighs 2 pounds, they can safely be altered.
- Donate funds, supplies and time to your local cat rescue or animal shelter.
- Volunteer to bottle-feed homeless kittens for your local rescue or shelter. Although it’s a lot of work, the sight of a tiny kitten sucking milk out of a baby bottle is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.
- Volunteer for an animal rescue. If possible, take an entire litter. Better yet, foster hard-to-place adult cats, who seldom get adopted during kitten season. “During kitten season, the need for fosters can be even greater than the need for adopters,” says the ASPCA’s Bershadker.
- Practice TNR (trap, neuter, return) with feral cat colonies. This means trapping the cats, having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and then returning them to their habitats. The life of a feral cat is pretty dismal, but with TNR, at least she won’t create more feral cats who have to live out those same dismal lives. “TNR is an effective way to reduce feral and stray cat populations over time, without housing cats in shelters or resorting to euthanasia,” says the National Humane Education Society.
- Consider joining a barn cat program if this sounds right for you.
- Adopt your own cat, especially an adult one. If you opt for kittens, keep in mind that 2 kittens are better than 1. Not only will they keep each other company, but they will also delight you with their antics. Try our online adoptable pet search.
Find out more about kitten season in this video:
One of the best ways to help? Spread the word about the importance of spaying or neutering cats.
The best argument I’ve found is this: You might think having “just 1 litter” isn’t that much of a problem, but if even 1 female cat is left intact, she and her offspring can produce hundreds of cats or even a few thousand cats over the next few years.
And that’s a major problem that we — and cats, of course — can do without. So please try to do your part to prevent animal overpopulation.