June 10, 2011

Tis’ the time for cats to multiply: Be mindful this Kitten Season

Photo: Johnny Berg

It’s that time of year again! Welcome to the midst of what shelter workers like to refer to as Kitten Season!

Sounds wonderful, right? If you’re picturing showers of kittens raining from the sky, of all various sizes, colors, and cuteness … then you are way off.

Kitten Season – the time of year when animals get busy. Mating calls and hormones abound and there is a dramatic increase in kitten births, and thus, kitten admissions at shelters.

Why isn’t there an influx in puppies, you ask? Simply because, dogs don’t run amok in the same way cats do. Feral cat colonies are an unfortunate reality for our society, in which Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) programs work tirelessly to correct. This just isn’t the case with dogs.

Between Spring and Fall each year shelters can and will receive hundreds of kittens that were either found by good-meaning Samaritans, or birthed by people’s own cats. Without a doubt, all of these kittens will be adopted. And although it is most appreciated when people adopt kittens from shelters, for every kitten that is adopted – an adult cat is not. And thus you will find that most shelters have major promotions this time of year to persuade adopters to adopt adult cats versus kittens.

The purpose of this post is to get the word out about what you can do this Kitten Season, and what to do if you find a bundle of kitten joy in your own back yard.

  1. Obviously, Spay and Neuter your cats. Get the word out there about spay and neuter programs – and if you know someone who lets their intact cats roam (especially intact males, because they can do the most damage!) then educate them! Kittens can become pregnant as young as six months of age. Cats can have several litters throughout the season, with an average litter size of five-seven cats. The sooner you spay/neuter your cats, the better.
  2. Volunteer with TNR programs near you. If you don’t have time to volunteer, consider making a donation to cover the cost of an animal’s spay/neuter surgery.
  3. Know what to do if you find newborn kittens!

Let’s talk more about number three for a moment. Kitten season goes hand-in-hand with what are referred to as bottle babies. I am currently fostering three for my local animal shelter: they are newborn kittens, approximately three weeks old. One of the brothers is a brown tabby, the other brother is cream-colored, and the little girl is all black. They are adorable. We call them bottle babies because they don’t have a mom to get their meals from – thus, they get them from me, bottle-giver-champion, every three hours.

Bottle babies appear in shelters for various reasons. My babies (Jourdain, Jacey, and Javin are their names) were found by my shelter’s Humane Investigators and according to the officers, were “A few feet away from being run over by a bulldozer! Living between a couple logs…” In this case, it was vital that the kittens were removed from the dangerous situation. Bottle babies can also be found, however, by good-meaning Samaritans who don’t know mama cat might just be off hunting. They remove the kittens from their “nest” thinking they need help, and unfortunately decrease their chances of survival.

This is a difficult point. What is the best thing to do when you find newborn kittens (which may or may not be abandoned): remove babies from nest? Or leave them alone? Someone close to me asked: “Well, wouldn’t it be better that they be taken from the nest and placed in a shelter, rather than living as stray cats?” My answer was: Maybe… but, probably not. The reason being that kittens need their mama for as long as they can have her for purposes of eating, learning how to toilet, and socialization. Also, shelters obviously don’t have the resources to take in every kitten that is born.

So what can you do if you find newborn kittens in your own backyard?

  1. Wait a few hours and observe the situation – if mama cat appears to be around, let her do her job. If mama shows, you can keep her and babies nearby by leaving food outside. Monitor the babies’ growth so that you can someday participate in a TNR program with them. This is kind of like having a controlled feral colony in your backyard.
  2. If mama never shows, then you can take babies in under your wing. You’ll need a few things:
    1. PetAG bottles (a small hole needs to be cut in the top of the “nipple”)
    2. Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR) formula
    3. Lots of love, patience, and no life
    4. Okay, just kidding about the no life part… But they are a big commitment!

These supplies can usually be found at most major grocery stores. The general rule with bottle babies is to feed them every three hours and to follow the directions on the KMR box. There is much more to know about how to feed and care for bottle babies, including how to toilet them (yep, you’ll need to rub their bums to make them want to go!) and how to burp them!  However, I won’t intrude that information upon you here.

Last but not least, there is one major thing you can do to help this Kitten Season:

Foster an animal. Go to your local shelter, sign up to volunteer, and then sign up to foster. If you have the extra room for a cat in your heart and home for a few weeks, you’ll have saved another animal by making shelter space available for a short period of time. You can foster adult cats and kittens alike – and in fact, this is the time when shelters need foster homes for kittens the most. The best part about fostering is that you can get your animal “fix” without the long-term commitment.

Okay, there is ONE last thing you can do to help this season.

You can share this article. Educate people, get mindful, know what’s up. Annoy people with your unlimited knowledge about how to put an end to the pet-overpopulation crisis in our nation!

Namaste and thanks for reading!

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