When kittens have kittens…
I’m so disappointed in my favorite cat podcast tonight. They’re talking about how old a cat should be when she’s spayed and encouraging the person who asked to wait until her cat is seven or eight months old to spay her.
But what they’ve neglected to mention is that a female cat can become pregnant at four months and have her first litter when she’s six months old. Yes, kittens can have kittens! Even indoor cats should be spayed before they reach “child bearing age,” because indoor cats in heat can slip out the door, and accidents do happen!
Here are some interesting numbers from the Banfield Pet Hospitals blog:
- The average litter is between two and five kittens, although there can be up to 10 kittens in some litters.
- If just two kittens from the litter survive, and one is a female and the other is a male, two females will give birth about nine months later. Then the number of cats in our family goes from three to eight cats. Nine months later, there will be 16.
- According to one study, in seven years two cats can result in a total of 98 cats or more.
No cat owner is going to let her cats reproduce twice a year, year after year. But you get the idea.
Personally, I’m an advocate of early spay/neuter. Sometimes the realities of this world need to trump everything else. And the reality is that thousands of unwanted kittens die in shelters each year. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that shelters kill more than 2 million healthy cats and dogs every year. Many of them are the unwanted offspring of much-loved family members.
Only you and your cat can decide when it’s the right time to have her spayed. But if you decide to wait, think about all those unwanted kittens dying in shelters and decide what you’ll do if the unthinkable happens. Are you prepared to keep those unanticipated kittens? Will you take them to a shelter and hope for the best? Will you adopt them out yourself?
Here’s something else to think about: If your cat has kittens, and you adopt them out, you’ll be taking homes away from kittens who are already in a shelter and desperately need them. Their lives depend on them!
To me, the easy answer is to get a cat spayed before she’s even capable of having kittens. If finances are preventing you from doing this, here’s a list of low-cost spay/neuter clinics in the Baltimore area. There’s a nationwide list here.
My journey into the hearts and minds of cats began more than 20 years ago when I discovered 16 beautiful feral kittens living in a parking lot. I had always lived with cats, lots of cats. And I had always been very intuitive about them. Although I’m not an animal communicator, I always seemed to know when they were happy or frustrated or not feeling well. That intuition sometimes helps me as a cat sitter, and it sometimes makes me sad because I know there’s nothing I can do to make the cat’s life better.
But those 16 beautiful kittens, and the summer I spent alone with them in the parking lot, changed the way I view cats forever. It was a wonderful, almost magical experience, and I’ll always be grateful to those tiny wild ones for inviting me into their world, if only for a short time, each evening.
Over the years, I’ve read more books and articles on cat behavior and cat healthcare than I could count. I’ve read all the “rules” for living with cats, from keeping them completely indoors to giving them measured portions of food on a strict schedule. Those rules have always seemed sort of repressive and almost cruel to me, and my cats have never lived that way. But after spending an entire summer’s worth of evenings with the feral kittens, the rules also seemed disrespectful. Watching those kittens, I could see how shrewd and intelligent cats are and how they can manage to survive in even the most adverse conditions. They’re very, very good at turning lemons into lemonade.
Experts say cats, even our tame house cats, are closer to their wild ancestors than any of our other domesticated animals. When you sit quietly with a cat, especially if you’re outside, you can almost feel the wild animal within. No wonder the cat behavior issues we live with can be so difficult to resolve and our cats’ healthcare needs can become so complicated. It must be very hard for our cats to live with the rules we humans impose on them.
As “mom” to many cats and as a cat sitter and rescuer, I’ve dealt with every kind of cat issue imaginable, from house cats with seeming intractable behavior issues and acute, life-threatening illnesses to neutered/spayed feral cats determined to do things their way, no matter what their human neighbors think. After much experience, I’ve found that the best way to resolve these issues is to consider the cats’ “rules,” as well as our own.
So are you wondering what happened to the feral kittens? Twenty years ago, we didn’t do trap/neuter/return. So I spent the entire summer trapping feral kittens, getting them neutered/spayed and taking them home with me. Three of those little ones stayed with me. The others went in groups of two or more to live in horse barns where they all lived long, happy lives.