I know it seems like only a year ago when we first talked about the phenomenon called “Kitten Season.” But that’s because it happens every year! Just as we look forward to sunny skies and warmer weather, shelter workers brace themselves for a difficult season of caring for homeless cats and kittens. Kitten Season begins in the spring, reaches a peak in early summer, and ends in the fall. During this time, cats as young as five months give birth, and shelters and rescues become inundated with litters of homeless kittens. But what really causes Kitten Season, and what can be done to stop the cycle of homelessness and suffering for these beautiful, innocent animals?

What Causes Kitten Season? Kitten Season happens in the spring because female cats have evolved to go into heat during the same time each year. During the “season,” female cats can have multiple pregnancies. When unaltered roaming or homeless cats mate, an overwhelming number of kittens are born that are then able to mate just five months later. According to North Shore Animal League’s SpayUSA, one un-spayed female cat and her offspring can produce 2,072,514 kittens in just eight years!

Kittens born to homeless cats during Kitten Season often struggle as they are left to fend for themselves. Many die from disease, predators, or being run over by cars. It’s a terrible and frightening life. Many cats and kittens end up in shelters where space is extremely limited and time is often short. The cute kittens are the first to be adopted, while the mama cats, many under a year old themselves, are sadly overlooked. As each day in the shelter passes, the odds of being adopted decrease. In many government-run shelters, cats and kittens are simply euthanized when space and time run out. Rescue groups attempt to save as many of these cats and kittens as possible, but funding that is hard to come by year-round is even more scarce during Kitten Season due to the sheer volume of animals in need. A cat and her litter require food, kennel space, and veterinary care that can cost close to $1,000, which can be difficult for a rescue group running on adoption fees and donations to afford. The large number of homeless kittens also increases the risk of illness as diseases can spread quickly in a litter and then through a shelter that is struggling to house as many animals as possible.

How Can We Stop This Cycle?There are many ways to stop the cycle of suffering and homelessness created during Kitten Season. Here are the top four ways to help:

  1. The most effective way to stop this cycle of feline homelessness is to spay and neuter your own cat. Even if you have an indoor cat, spaying and neutering ensures that should your cat accidentally get out, he or she won’t contribute to the population of homeless cats and kittens. Remember, a cat as young as five months old can reproduce. So spaying or neutering your cat or kitten is really a must!
  2. Kitten Season is a real strain on animal shelters and rescues. They need all the help they can get, so volunteering is another way you can help. You can donate money or time, and shelters usually need both. Contact your local shelter to find out what is needed most, and then get involved. You’ll find it rewarding, and you will be helping to enrich and protect the lives of the cats and kittens that so desperately need assistance. Many shelters and rescues also need foster homes where cats and kittens can rest and get healthy while they wait for a permanent home.
  3. Another way to help reduce the homeless cat and kitten population is to support Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) programs in your area to help manage the feral cat population. TNR programs locate feral and homeless cats living outside. They humanely trap the cats; provide them with basic veterinary care, which includes spaying or neutering; then they release the cats back into their neighborhood. This ensures that the cats do not continue the reproduction cycle and they receive any needed medical attention, thus helping to curb the spread of diseases.
  4. Don’t Shop. Adopt! If you are thinking of getting a cat or kitten yourself, adopt one during Kitten Season. Not only will you be saving the life of the kitten or cat you take home, you will also be making more room and freeing up resources for the kittens and cats that remain in the shelter—you’ll be extending their lives and giving them a better chance at getting proper medical care and finding permanent homes. And when you adopt your new family member, tell the world! Encourage your friends and family who coo at the Facebook or Instagram photos of your furry bundle of joy to go out and do the same thing themselves!
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