And so it begins. Getting ready for kitten season.
If you’ve spent even a small amount of time in the animal welfare field, you likely have had some experience climbing “Mount Kitten.”
But did reading that phrase give you just the teensiest feeling of anxiety? Or make you wonder what I’m talking about, because kitten ‘season’ feels like a year-round event at this point? If either (or both) of these apply to you, fear not! While the spring and summer are the busiest and most challenging times of the year for many of us in animal welfare, the good news is that a little planning and preparation now can go a long way to ensuring things run smoothly in the months ahead.
Great question! Cats are amazing creatures for an endless number of reasons (Internet cat videos, anyone?!), including their truly incredible breeding capabilities. They will start to come into heat in late January and February, after we pass the winter solstice and the days get longer. This means we see a big spike in the proportion of intact female cats who are pregnant around February, March and early April… followed by lots of kittens being born 9 weeks later. The feline reproductive season generally lasts through the fall, and cats (like rabbits) can become pregnant multiple times during a single season—including when they are still nursing a litter of kittens! As a result, there is a notable increase in kittens born and brought to shelters (often along with pregnant and/or nursing moms). This increase looks a bit like a mountain when you make a graph of the intake numbers month by month, like the one I created here using actual data from a shelter I work with.
OK, so what do I do about it?
In the case of kitten season, biology is somewhat inevitable in that female cats will come into heat and get pregnant in droves if they have access to intact male cats. While spay/neuter is undoubtedly an important piece of the “What do we do about it?” puzzle when we take a longer range, big-picture view of things, we’ll leave that to the side for the time being and focus on preparing for the upcoming months.
"Do you know how many cats and kittens you are likely to see this spring and summer at your shelter? Being forewarned is being forearmed, so look back at your historical intake data month over month to get an idea."
4 steps to take now
Planning and preparing now is the key to successfully summiting Mount Kitten without losing your cool. Starting or strengthening programs today, even if those changes feel small and incremental, can pay off handsomely in just a few months:
- First things first: Do you know how many cats and kittens you are likely to see this spring and summer at your shelter? Being forewarned is being forearmed, so look back at your historical intake data month over month to get an idea.
- Take a moment to determine your capacity for care and consider what this means for your operations now and moving forward.
- Spend some time evaluating what programs you currently have in place, what you might want to change a bit and what you might want to add.
- Can you schedule intake of cats and provide alternatives to admitting them to the shelter?
- Where might there be opportunities to reduce length of stay?
- Are there ways you can expand placement opportunities for cats through adoption, transfer or return to field?
- How about starting or expanding your foster and volunteer programs?
- Consider potential improvements to housing, handling and stress reduction. Are your intake processes, vaccination protocols and cleaning and disinfection procedures in keeping with current recommendations and best practices?
Be sure to check out many of the great resources on ASPCApro, and stay tuned for more tools and tips in the coming months to help you prepare! In Part 2, we’ll look at an example of one shelter’s intake numbers and capacity calculations.
Whether tried-and-true or something new—what is one thing you’ll be doing now to prepare for the upcoming spring and summer months?
Stephanie Janeczko, DVM, MS, DABVP, CAWA
ASPCA Senior Director, Shelter Medical Program
Dr. Stephanie Janeczko is board certified in both shelter medicine and canine/feline practice through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and is a certified animal welfare administrator. She is a past president and former board member of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and currently serves as a committee member and board member for several animal welfare and veterinary medical organizations. Dr. Janeczko has a particular interest in infectious disease as well as in the welfare of cats.
Decoding Spay/Neuter Research, Part 2
Dr. Spain shares 3 questions to ask if you see a new study claiming to find health risks or benefits of neutering in dogs
Protecting Animals Against Infectious Disease, Plan A (and Plan B!)
Dr. Stephanie Janeczko shares two strategies to implement simultaneously, along with a list of tools for your toolbox.
How To Survive Kitten Season This Year, Part 2
Dr. Janeczko shows you how to estimate the number of cats you’re likely to see this year.