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What Is Kitten Season? (And How You Can Help)

Updated: Apr 12

Kitten season brings millions of kittens into the world who will suffer without human intervention.


By Lynne Meloccaro



Spring fever descends on all of us, and that includes the thousands of Dutchess County community cats who live outdoors in feral colonies, under our porches, and in apartment block parking lots. When unneutered cats get spring fever, that means they mate. And mate. And mate. This heralds the beginning of kitten season, in which a female cat can have 2-3 litters, generally between March and October. But the term kitten season has become something of a misnomer because, with the warming climate, kitten season in recent years has expanded to include the winter months as well. 



 Here at Dutchess County SPCA, we take in hundreds of kittens every year that have been found in people’s yards, by roadsides, and wherever there are colonies with unneutered felines. The majority of kittens that are born outside, however, do not survive. They are not found but are eaten by wildlife, contract disease, or are hit by cars. That we are only able to save a fraction of them may give you an idea of the sheer number of kittens who are born every year.

 

This is why trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) is so important. The only proven way to help keep the feral population under control is to neuter as many cats as possible. DCSPCA has trappers that do just that, and we work with several partner organizations to try to minimize the kitten birth rate.

 


If you find kittens in your yard or at your workplace, here’s what to do. 

 

First, ascertain what age they are. If they are tiny with eyes still closed (under 6 weeks), please don’t touch them if they are in a relatively safe place. Their best chances of survival are to be with their mom at that age.  If kittens are separated from mom too early, their mortality rate is very high. If they are not in a safe place, such as at a construction site or exposed to the weather, call one of the many TNVR organizations in our county to see if a trapper can come out to trap the mom and kittens. Once the kittens are of an age to be separated from their mother, the organization will keep the kittens for adoption, spay the mom, and return her where she was found. (Adult feral cats cannot live in homes; though their lives outdoors are tough ones, they would be unhappy and unmanageable in a home.)





If you find kittens with eyes open and beginning to walk around and explore their environment (6-12 weeks), they are ready to be separated from their mom and should be caught and brought to an animal welfare agency like DCSPCA, where they will receive medical care and be socialized in foster for eventual adoption. You’ll be exchanging the stressful life of a feral for a happy life as a beloved member of someone’s family. You will also be adding years to their lives. The average lifespan of a feral cat is 2 years and of a housecat—15-18 years!  But be sure also to trap the mom and get her spayed, and also trap any tomcats that are in the area that are traveling miles to find eligible females for mating. And for heaven’s sake, if your pet cat is not neutered, get him or her neutered now! They will be healthier, have better temperaments, and live longer, happier lives. You don’t want Fluffy or Tigger to be one of the cats contributing to the misery and suffering of outdoor kittens.

 

The ideal for which every animal welfare organization strives is for there never to be another kitten season. The domestic cat was created by us and did not evolve to live in the wild. They may look independent, but they’re not. They depend on us. Cats belong in homes eating overpriced cat food, not out in the rain eating out of your trashcan. But until the day happens when there are no more feral cats, you can try to protect these vulnerable kittens by not letting them fend for themselves (and, if they survive, create more generations of suffering), and we will continue to rescue as many as we can to ensure that at least some of them escape that brutal destiny.

 

 

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