Here we are, smack dab in the midst of the feline phenomenon referred to as “kitten season.” Have you heard of it yet? If not, this is the time of year when every unspayed, queen (female cat) is likely to have a belly full of babies, or a litter of youngsters by her side. It is during kitten season when humane societies and animal shelters are teeming with youngsters of all shapes, sizes and colors. It’s a great time to adopt from a shelter!
Why do kittens arrive seasonally?
Kitten season occurs seasonally because the queen has evolved into a “seasonally polyestrous” creature, meaning she comes into heat only during a particular time of year— during this time she is capable of having multiple pregnancies. In the Northern Hemisphere, the feline breeding season begins in very early spring and may persist throughout the summer months. Peak seasons are February through March and May through June. Throughout the rest of the year, the reproductive cycle goes into a state of dormancy referred to as “anestrus.”
Why are cats so prolific?
The domestic cat has long been recognized for her fertility. In fact, the feline was worshipped as a symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt. Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of fertility, was portrayed as a cat.
Unspayed kitties typically experience their first heat cycle (estrus) sometime between five and nine months of age. A queen who is in heat is exceptionally likely to become pregnant for the following reasons:
- A female cat will repeatedly come into heat, approximately every two weeks, throughout the entire breeding season.
- A queen who is in heat is quite the precocious creature. She will do whatever it takes to find herself a tomcat, and she will breed with multiple males.
- The domestic cat is an induced ovulator— her eggs lie in waiting until 30 to 50 hours following copulation, at which time they are released from her ovaries. This timing ensures that the eggs and sperm cells encounter one another.
- During the breeding season, queens quickly come back into heat after giving birth, even before their kittens are weaned.
All of these factors greatly enhance the likelihood of producing a litter, or two, or three during a breeding season. Allowed to breed naturally, a queen might easily produce in the range of 50 to 150 kittens over the course of ten years. Unfortunately, many of these kittens will end up in shelters or euthanized.
How can you help control kitten season?
All of this information makes a strong case for spaying your female kitty before she ever comes into heat. If you’re thinking you’ll simply keep her inside, away from any tomcats, you may be in for a bit of a life disturbance. Cats in heat have been known to drive their humans crazy by vocalizing 24 hours a day, constantly being under foot, rolling around on the ground, and, for all practical purposes, shouting out to the world, “I am in heat!!” This will go on for weeks at a time. During kitten season, it’s not uncommon for sleep-deprived cat lovers to arrive at the veterinary hospital in a state of desperation pleading, “Please, spay her right now!”
Editor’s Note: In addition to spaying your cats, you can also consider adopting from shelters. You can save a life and make a new friend, forever!
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Deciphering Your Kitten's Behavior & Body Language
Too often, pet owners resort to punishment when they believe a pet has stepped out of line. Punishment is a poor tool for shaping behavior in most situations. Physical corrections and harsh scolding are likely to bruise your relationship and can lead to more serious problems, such as aggression.
Never hit, shake or yell at your kitten. If you need to interrupt a behavior, such as scratching furniture, use a spray bottle or make a sharp noise by tapping a tabletop or clapping your hands loudly. Avoid doing anything that makes your kitten act frightened or reluctant to approach you.
Understanding your kitten's body language
Cats are good at letting you know what they want, either vocally or with their bodies. It won't be long before you understand what your kitten is trying to tell you.
As your kitten grows up, you start to hear distinctive "meows" from her. Low-pitched meows usually mean your cat is uncomfortable or unhappy. High-pitched meows mean she's happier, and if she keeps repeating them, she's wanting your attention. Maybe she feels it’s time for her favorite kitten food? With a little practice, you'll soon get to know what your kitten's trying to say.
Interestingly, meows are hardly ever directed at other cats, nearly always at humans. So listen up, she's talking to you. Learn more about a cat’s meow.
Purring is usually a sign of contentment, although it doesn't always indicate happiness. A cat that is ill or anxious will sometimes purr as a comfort. However, most of the time if your kitten is rubbing against you and purring loudly, it's a sign of affection or she's asking for something, such as food.
Hisses and growls
If you're hearing these, you've got one frightened little kitten. She's trying to puff herself up to sound scary so she can protect herself. You'll usually hear her hiss and growl during tense encounters with other animals.
When your kitten rubs her face up against you, it means she's really comfortable in your company and is showing she likes you.
If your kitten rolls over onto her back and stretches her legs, she is indicating complete submissiveness and trust in you. She's also asking for attention. And when she hops onto your lap and snuggles down contentedly, there's no doubt how she views her new environment.
A cat's tail is an excellent indicator of her feelings. A happy kitten will hold her tail straight up if she's frightened, she'll tuck it between her legs. The broad swishing, of an adult cat's tail shows annoyance or impatience. If she's really agitated, her tail will move rapidly from side to side — this is clearly threatening behavior. A twitching tail is a sure sign of your kitten's excitement and curiosity. Learn more about the cat’s tail.
Pricked ears are an indication of interest in what's going on around her as well. Ears held erect and inclined forward, she's relaxed and friendly. But when a cat's ears go down, flat against her head, it's a sign of aggression this is done to keep them out of the way should a fight erupt.
Kitten Development From 6 Months to 1 Year
Kittens quickly become cats during the last half of their first year of life, and there are some notable changes that occur. The major developmental milestones may have already passed by six months, but that doesn't mean your kitten is done growing physically or mentally.
'Kitten Season' Leaves Hundreds of Stray Cats on Brooklyn Streets
WILLIAMSBURG — It's "kitten season" again in New York — which means hordes of free-roaming and abandoned kittens are ending up at shelters across Brooklyn.
Just last week, volunteer rescue group North Brooklyn Cats fielded calls for eight kittens in one day, including an incident where a cardboard box filled with a litter that had been left by an L train stop in Williamsburg, according to volunteer Eva Prokop.
Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition is already at capacity for kittens after taking in many in the last month, BARC employee Jim Perugini said.
And in the last two weeks alone, Brooklyn-based Sean Casey Animal Rescue said it has taken in some 30 to 40 kittens — putting the shelter at maximum capacity and forcing it to turn down newcomers.
"It's really hit full speed," said Sean Casey, who runs the rescue and said it averages more than 100 calls per day in warmer months. "We're getting constant calls. We're overrun with kittens."
Cats who are not spayed tend to give birth throughout the spring and summer, the rescue organizations said.
Most of the time, the kittens are born to free-roaming, feral cats. Do-gooders find them and bring them to no-kill shelters in hopes of finding them homes.
But it's not uncommon for people to simply leave kittens in the street, whether it's because they find them or because their own adult cats aren't spayed or neutered, some rescuers said.
Queens resident Judy McGuire was walking through McCarren Park last week for a hair appointment when she saw two kittens meowing as a woman walked quickly away from them, McGuire said.
She scooped them up and was able to find homes for them through a network of cat lovers.
Prokop said her volunteer group regularly sees situations where kittens have been abandoned in front of pets stores or shelters.
"It's not fair. It's not right," Prokop said. "[Spay] and neuter your pets. It’s not humane what’s happening to the animals."
Kittens require additional money and resources in order to be properly cared for. Many of them show up sick or with infections — which can quickly spread to other kittens once they're near each other, Prokop said.
Others are so young that the rescue organizations need people who are trained to bottle feed kittens to foster the newborns until they're ready to be adopted, Casey said.
One foster parent who had been bottle-feeding 12 kittens brought them back last week only to take in 10 more underage kittens within 15 minutes of arriving at the rescue, Casey said.
"Our resources are almost none at this point," he said. "Our fosters are full. We're ripping our hair out to care for what we have and find homes for them."
Even with a higher demand to adopt kittens, there's not enough space for all the new ones coming in, rescue centers said.
Plus, once the little ones start coming in, adoption for adult cats virtually halts, Casey said.
It's a problem, especially since the cage for one adult cat could be used for an entire litter of kittens during kitten season, he said.
"Ultimately we need to find homes for these guys," Casey said of both kittens and adult cats. "We need people to go out and adopt."
Animal activists encourage people who spot a cat in the street to reach out to local trap-and-return organizations, which spay and neuter cat colonies to prevent reproduction of free-roaming cats.
Martha Stone, who runs an organization in Bed-Stuy called Bedford Corners Community Cats, said the goal is to prevent kittens from being born at all and she works to neuter strays.
"If you’re lucky enough to live in our little section of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, you won’t have a kitten problem," Stone said.
Stone said that it's not a bad option to try and take kittens to a shelter or to just leave them in the wild.
The mortality rate for kittens is high when they're left outside, but the reality is that not everybody has the resources to take care of stray animals, she said.
"You have to do what you can," Stone said. "If the only thing you can do is take it to the shelter, then that's a perfectly reasonable thing to do."
Here are five things you can do to help during kitten season:
- Spay and neuter your own pets. Shelters and rescue centers are already overburdened with kittens that are either born outdoors or left by their owners. Taking care of your own animal will help prevent increasing the population.
- Foster or adopt kittens or adult cats from rescues and shelters. Adopting an adult cat will help make room for kittens that come through during the busy season. For no-kill shelters, the main goal is moving pets into permanent homes.
- Donate to efforts to spay and neuter and vaccinate more cats. The Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals is accepting donations to help take care of kittens and cats that are found on the streets and in backyards.
- Try your hand at TNR. The Mayor's Alliance offers free workshops to teach people how to safely trap cats in order to vaccinate them and have them spayed or neutered before being released. Doing so helps decrease the kitten population.