As the weather warms up, the cat breeding activity also increases. Many cat owners are unaware that young cats can fall pregnant as early as at the age of 4-5 months. If non-neutered/ spayed cats are allowed to roam freely, in just two years a single pair of cats can result in up to 20,000 kittens, as female cats can come into heat very quickly after giving birth.
The many homeless and stray cats add to the problem. Animal shelters receive and pick up endless litters of abandoned or orphaned kittens that require constant, 24-hour care for the first weeks of their lives. Many come in severely malnourished or sick. Very young kittens cannot adequately control their body temperature. Even when outside temperatures are high, kittens can easily become chilled and die of hypothermia. If kittens become wet, they can perish very quickly.
What can you do to help? First and foremost, we recommend you spay or neuter your cats to avoid unwanted pregnancies. If spaying is not an option, do not let your cats roam freely. Cats that are not spayed or neutered become very adept at finding ways to sneak out of the house in order to mate. The life expectancy of your cat increases when it is spayed and even more so if kept indoors.
If you find kittens that you suspect might be abandoned, do not immediately gather them, and take them away, as it might be that the mother is simply out looking for food and water, or in the process of moving the kittens one by one to another location. If the kittens appear to be in good health, clean and warm, leave them alone but keep an eye out (from a distance) to ensure that the mother returns. Only if the kittens appear to be in very bad condition or you are reasonably sure the mother is not returning (i.e. no sign of the mother for 10 hours) should you intervene. Remember to observe the kittens from a distance, if the mother is a feral cat, she might be too frightened to return if she sees or smells a human scent nearby.
If you don’t have a cat but are thinking of adopting one, this is the best time to do it as there are so many cats and kittens looking for a home. If you are not in the position to adopt a cat, consider becoming a foster. Generally, a foster home is a much better environment than a shelter for very young kittens as they are less likely to contact diseases from other cats and they will receive more individual attention. Most shelters rely heavily on foster homes to help out with kittens that need regular bottle-feeding and attention. The support, love and dedication of fosters is often the difference between life and death to many kittens. Finally, donating money, blankets and toys to shelters is a good way to ensure that the shelters have the resources to feed, medicate, nurse and keep warm the many helpless kittens in their care. Donations also go towards organising spay and neuter campaigns to manage the stray cat population.
Article by Dr. Laura Wessman