Kitten Season: What is it and how can I help?

In New Orleans, we love our seasons. DSC_4110We have the classic Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall (Autumn, if you’re fancy), but we have additional seasons like Carnival, Festival, and Crawfish. What you may not realize is that there is another season, little known outside of animal rescue, welfare, and sheltering circles, known as Kitten Season, and it has already begun. Since I work for an animal welfare organization and shelter, I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to discuss this season. So, this week, we’re going to take a break from discussing problems that plague our individual pets, and focus on a problem that taxes shelter resources, and impacts the welfare of animals in our community.

Kitten Season sounds delightful, doesn’t it? Imagine a season of soft, cuddly, purr-y little things, with maximum kneading of paws and endearing soft “mews.” And in many ways, this scenario is real. During Kitten Season, there is a huge influx of kittens, many very young, into animal shelters all over. In northern climates, this season may be limited to late spring and summer, but here in the deep South, the season can stretch from very early spring, or even late winter if it’s warm, to the end of Fall. Indeed, in 2016, kitten season lasted well into the fall, but litters of kittens continued to trickle into area shelters through the winter. All told, the Louisiana SPCA took in 892 kittens in 2016. 892 soft, cuddly, purr-y little thing who all need food, shelter, medical care, and someone to provide those things.

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Why does Kitten Season occur? Warmer temperatures combined with a large population of intact male and female cats leads to an increase in breeding activity, and thus an increase in the number of kittens being born. Some of these litters are orphaned or abandoned. Sometimes, a kitten is found alone or injured. Litters of kittens may be rescued from unsafe situations. Other times, nursing mother cats are brought in with their kittens. In the best scenario, the kittens are healthy and old enough to be spayed or neutered and put up for adoption. However, most of these kittens will require extended stays in the shelter, either because they are too young to be placed for Foster kitten hungryadoption, or because they are ill or injured. Some litters brought in without their mothers will be too young to eat on their own and will require bottle feeding and more intensive care. It is a labor of love to care for and raise these kittens, but it can be very stressful once resources such as space, staff, food, litter and time become stretched thin and kittens continue to enter the shelter.

If you find a litter and the kittens are not in immediate danger and are warm, watch to make sure the litter is truly orphaned. You may have discovered the nest while the mother was hunting for food or in the process of moving the kittens. You’ll need to watch from a distance so that the mother isn’t too nervous to return and bear in mind that she may be gone for several hours. If the litter is truly orphaned, bringing the litter to a shelter or caring for them yourself will give them their best chance at survival. If you decide to raise the litter yourself, your veterinarian or the staff at the Louisiana SPCA can help you learn how best to feed and care for them. Keeping young kittens warm is crucial to their survival, but be very careful with heating pads as these can easily cause burns. Always keep a thick towel or blanket between the kittens and the heating pad, and check often to make sure that a kitten hasn’t found its way directly onto the pad. Kitten milk replacer is available at most pet stores, as are bottles and other supplies.

DSC_0129If you’d like to help shelters during kitten season, items such as Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR), bottles, wet and dry kitten food, kitty litter, and heating pads are always in short supply and make excellent donations. In all shelters, two of the most precious resources are time and space. Fostering kittens or other animals is an excellent way to give shelters more of both. By taking an animal into your home and caring for it, you give that animal a great chance to flourish, you open up a kennel for another animal, and you give staff members more time to care for the other animals in their charge. Spaying and neutering neighborhood cats will also lower the numbers of homeless kittens brought to the shelter.

If you’re interested in fostering an animal, contact your area shelter or rescue group for more information. To foster for the Louisiana SPCA, there is an online application at www.la-spca.org/foster.

Dr. Sarah Reardon has been a veterinarian with the Louisiana SPCA for 3 years. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Reardon has 3 dogs, all Louisiana SPCA rescues. If you have a question for Dr. Reardon, email askthevet@la-spca.org or visit la-spca.org/clinic. dr-sarah-r-1

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