What is Kitten Season?
Normally when thinking of seasons, we imagine the hot sun of Summer, the crisp air of Winter, and everything in between.
In the cat shelter world, however, we have a different picture come to mind. Instead of the overabundance of sweet, bright flowers in Spring, we think of the overabundance of sweet homeless or displaced cats. We think of Kitten Season.
Kitten season is a time of year, or “season”, when kittens start arriving in shelters in big waves. This begins in mid-october and sometimes doesn’t settle until mid-autumn, placing stress on shelters as they try to accommodate the large numbers. While shelters do have a maximum number of animals they can fit at any given time, constant full-capacity is unsustainable, sometimes causing burnout among volunteers and all who manage the shelter.
This increase in kittens has been linked to the heat cycles of cats, with Spring seeming to be the natural time of year many animals have an increase in birth rates. Cats are able to get pregnant from only four months old, and can potentially have over twenty-four kittens per year. While both of these factors are extremely harmful for the individual cat, they sadly do happen, leaving shelters only to get more full. We here at Pets for Life have seen countless cats barely a year or two old come in with a young litter of kittens, only to find out they are pregnant with another litter. This increases their stay at the shelter as they need to regain their strength after birthing yet another litter in such a short period of time, and shelters must care for and find families for up to nine additional kittens per pregnant cat. This is why desexing is so important for your pets and all cats and dogs. It reduces the amount of unwanted animals and acts as healthcare so kittens don’t have to endure having kittens.
This initial increase also coincides with the beginning of the holiday season, with many people buying young animals as gifts, only for them to end up in shelters in the new year. This is usually when we see a second big influx of kittens in shelters, as many underestimate the work a kitten can be once school and work resumes. This puts strain on kittens' mental health as they do not have the stimulation they require in an empty or busy home, or feel the loss of a family if they are given up to a shelter.
So, we’ve discussed the impacts kitten season may have on volunteers and the kittens themselves, but what about the impact on older cats?
Older cats are already more likely to spend more time at a shelter than kittens, but in the height of kitten season they usually get pushed further into the shadows. The more room the kittens take up, the less space there is for older cats to be surrendered. It is a lot easier (and usually safer) to keep a litter of kittens in a smaller enclosure than a full grown adult, as the older cats need more space and stimulation. This reduces a shelter's ability to accept new older cats unless they have spare foster carers to help share the added load of cats. Adults are not usually the first to be looked at and considered for adoption, especially if they are quiet and more reserved than their squealing kitten neighbours. This only increases their stay at the shelter further as they have to watch the little kittens come and go, litter after litter.
So, with all of this information about kitten season, what can you do to help?
Firstly, don’t buy animals over the holiday season as gifts, especially at the last minute. Pets should be thoroughly considered over months, and buying animals only supports the unnecessary breeding of more. Look at your local shelters and see what animals they have to rehome. That way, you’re supporting non-for-profit organisations to keep being able to reduce the number of unwanted pets in the area.
Similarly, consider adopting an older pet. They’re usually more eager to bond immediately with a new family and you see their true personality almost immediately. No added surprises!
If you are considering getting a pet over the holiday period, perhaps start with fostering to have the fun and experience with only a temporary commitment. Fostering can be flexible and any amount of time is helpful both during kitten season and all year round. This could also be a great gift to teach your children the responsibility that comes with having a pet, as well as the joy of giving back to your community and helping animals find their forever homes.
Ensuring your pets and the pets around you are desexed is an easy and essential way to help alleviate the impacts of kitten season on shelters. This reduces the chances of them impregnating or getting pregnant accidentally, thereby reducing the number of unwanted animals that may ultimately end up in shelters. For a limited time this upcoming Kitten Season the RSPCA and Byron Council in conjunction with Pets for Life is running a free de-sexing program for cats. For more information click here .
Finally, donate. The large addition of cats in shelters during kitten season comes with a severe increase in costs, so donating any amount of anything from food to money to unused pet toys will be gratefully accepted by any shelter. Ask your local shelter what they need to really make an impact this kitten season, and remember even the smallest amount can make a big difference.