Ah, kitten season. So many kittens—too many kittens—could there be such a thing?
Unfortunately, for shelters, the answer is yes. Kitten season is often their most overwhelming time of year.
Cat mating season is approximately January through February and about two months later, kittens are born. Each mother cat typically bears three to five kittens starting in spring and peaking in late spring/early summer.
Shelters across the country receive thousands of pregnant cats and kittens that max out their space, staff, and budgets. Each cat or kitten that gets taken in will cost the shelter about $125. "So, if we rescue a family of 4-5 cats, that's going to cost $600—and that's if none of them are sick," says Sparrow Marcioni, President of Cat Rangers, a licensed animal rescue and adoption boutique in Buford, Georgia.
How can you help during kitten season? Here are some tips on how you can help your local shelter when it needs it most.
Fulfill Wish Lists
Many rescues, including Cat Rangers, create Amazon Wish Lists to make it easy for individuals to contribute exactly what the shelter needs. On many of these lists are items such as cat food, bedding, litter, medicines, carriers, collars, toys, and treats. "Kitten food, both wet and dry, is always needed," says Marcioni, "because most food donations are for adult cats."
Wish lists save the shelter the work of ordering and make it easy for you to gift the shelter something useful; a true win-win. To find out if your local (or not-so-local) shelter has a wish list, check its website.
If you are knowledgeable about cats, consider fostering a pregnant mother cat or kittens. Contact your local shelter to see if they need help and tell them your level of experience. "It's critical that each rescue has enough fosters—as many fosters as we can get and as many people that know about cat care," says Marcioni.
Fostering a mother cat relieves the shelter of a huge burden. "Cats have a 67-day gestation, so that's a 2-3 month obligation to care for the family," says Marcioni. "It's quite a bit more involved than an adult rescue."
Many shelters do not have the resources to care for kittens who are only 2-3 weeks old. At this age, they must be bottle-fed every few hours and even kittens over 3 weeks old need to be placed in special areas while their immune systems get stronger. "Moms and babies have to be properly quarantined until the kittens are old enough to be vaccinated," notes Marcioni.
If you are interested in caring for infant kittens, ask your local shelter if they offer neonate care training. Unfortunately, if shelters can't find foster placements or neonate care immediately, the kittens may not be able to survive or they may be euthanized.
If you have the space, adopting a cat during kitten season helps the shelter create more space to care for another homeless kitten or cat. If your home is full, talk to you friends and family to see who might be able to adopt a new friend.
Shelters need all the help they can get during kitten season. If you have free time, donate several hours or one day per week to your local shelter. If you don't have the time or the shelter doesn't have a wish list, donate money if you can to help the shelter care for animals in your community.
Once a female cat reaches five months of age, she can become pregnant. Each litter can produce several kittens, which quickly adds up. A mother cat can even become pregnant while nursing. To prevent pregnancy, spay or neuter your pet and keep her or him indoors. To take your indoor cat outside for some fresh air and stimulation, use a stretchy leash, so he or she doesn't wander too far.
Do What You Can
Kitten season is filled with fluff and love, but shelters need your help to handle it all. You may not be able to do everything listed above or even one of the items at this time, but now that you know there's a need, do what you can when you can. Who knows, you may even find a new best friend along the way!
Get started by checking your local shelter's website or click here to visit Sparrow Marcioni's wish list for Cat Rangers!