You may see spring in flowers and blooming trees. I see it in my patients, mainly in the population known as feral cats. A feral cat is a descendant of a domestic cat that has returned to the wild. They tend to be unsocialized and unapproachable. In contrast, a stray cat is typically a pet cat that has been lost or abandoned, though some of those may act feral depending on their degree of socialization.
It doesn’t matter if a cat is tame or wild, if it is roaming outdoors and is not spayed or neutered, then it is part of our pet over-population problem. This is the time of year that everything in nature is gearing up to reproduce, whether it be your flowers that are blooming or the birds that are nesting. Those outdoor cats are getting ready for kitten season.
Kittens have seasons? Absolutely! This year, I predict that by May 1st we will be in full swing. Cats have on average four to six kittens per litter. Starting next month the three local shelters will be overflowing with little mewing bundles of joy. What happens to those kittens who are born outdoors and allowed to continue to reproduce? Well, that is where cat math comes in.
If a male and female cat have a litter of four kittens, two boys and two girls, those offspring will produce another four kittens each by the following spring. Also, mom and dad will have another litter in the fall, as well as a litter again in the spring, so by June of next year your cat population just exploded. Here is chart to help you with the math, courtesy of Google images:
The hard truth is that there are not enough homes for all these kittens. Born to feral moms, they will themselves be feral unless they are trapped early on and socialized. Many of these cats end up in our shelters with the feral ones euthanized at intake. It is a harsh reality, and the shelters are not the ones to blame.
In fact, all three Pittsburgh shelters provide low cost spay/neuter programs to help people get their pets spayed and neutered. Prevention of new litters is key to controlling the amount of homeless animals clogging our shelter system. There are some programs available in communities outside of Allegheny County, but not enough programs to keep up with demand. I work with one organization in Greene County that has certainly made a difference in their community. When Carol Plutorak, the head of Catnip Acres, first started volunteering at her local shelter, they were euthanizing 70 to 90 cats per week. She thought there had to be a better way, so she started her own low cost spay/neuter program.
Now seven years and several thousand spayed and neutered cats later, the local shelter only euthanizes seven to nine cats in a two week period. Some days I feel like there can’t be any reproducing cats left in Greene County, but every month when I show up, they have another 100 patients waiting for surgery. Now Carol is working to provide the same sort of program for dogs.
Low cost does not have to mean low quality. Cost is kept low by volunteers who help care for the animals before and after surgery and by donations that subsidize the programs. Next time your family is wondering how they can help animals in need, consider donating to one of the local spay/neuter programs. At Catnip, it also helps that we have our process so streamlined that we can easily complete those 100 surgeries in six hours.
Back to the feral cats. If you have an outdoor cat that you don’t think is owned, first look to see if its left ear is missing the tip. All feral cats that have been spayed or neutered get their left ear “tipped” to signify that they have already been altered. In this area, those cats are also vaccinated for rabies at the time of surgery, too.
If the cat doesn’t have an ear tip, consider trapping it, having it spayed or neutered, then release it back outside. In addition to the shelters, many clinics will have feral cat packages. At mine, for example, if you bring us a trapped cat, we will provide the spay/neuter surgery, ear tip, and rabies vaccine for $50.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but don’t let your own cat have kittens. Your children don’t need to see the miracle of childbirth first-hand. Let them watch it on YouTube if it is that important to you. If you want them to experience caring for kittens, volunteer to be a foster at one of the shelters. Trust me. They are going to need the help!