Zee & Zoey’s Spay/Neuter Series – The Facts of Life: The 101’s of Kittens and Conception
While I consider Zee & Zoey’s kittens one of the biggest blessings of my life, it is also because of them that I have learned so much about the subject of spay/neuter and become such an advocate to educate people on the importance of the procedure for not only reducing cat over population on the streets and in shelters, but for the overall health and behavioral benefits to your cat. It just so happens that February is National Spay/Neuter month, so I thought what a better time than now to run a month long series of informative posts on the subject to help promote the cause.
So that the topic doesn’t get overwhelming, I am going to break it into manageable concepts and thought I would begin with kittens, since they are what started it all in the first place for me! Yes, kittens, those irresistibly adorable balls of fur that melt our hearts with their playful antics and sweet and precious little faces. Did you know, however, that these darlings are actually powerful procreating machines that can sexually mature as early as 4 months of age?
That’s right. Crazy as it may seem, being mere babies themselves, but a female kitten can conceive as early as 4 months of age and a male kitten can impregnate a fertile female at the same young age. Since the average gestation period for a cat is 63 days, that means that a kitten could deliver a litter when she is as young as 6 months old. The health and physical risks alone to the pregnant kitten are too scary to think of, not to mention that a kitten does not have the proper mental capacity to raise kittens herself. If you want some perspective, that’s like a pre-teen becoming pregnant, which we clearly know is wrong.
To prevent any early accidental pregnancies, a “pre-pubertal” spay/neuter is now recommended by veterinarians and is safe with kittens as soon as they weigh at least 2 pounds, which is ideally between 8 and 12 weeks of age. I know speaking from my own lessons learned, that I thought a female cat had to have experienced her first heat before you could have her spayed, but that simply is not the case and that is how I ended up with a litter of kittens. Once I knew the facts, I made sure all of Zoey’s kittens were spayed and neutered at a young age. We knew we were keeping three of her kittens – two girls and one boy – and I certainly did not want to risk having the male kitten mate with one of his sisters.
Another false impression that I was under, is that if a cat had a litter of kittens and was nursing, that she could not become pregnant while lactating. That is simply not the case and a lactating female should be kept away from any circumstances that could enable a willing male to find her. As soon as it is safely recommended by a veterinarian, a mother cat should be spayed to avoid the possibility of an unexpected litter.
But kittens are just so darn cute. What’s the big deal if another litter is born? Well, the big deal is that not all of these kittens are born into loving and responsible forever homes like Zoey’s kittens. According to the ASPCA, there are approximately 70 million homeless cats on the streets and in shelters and they all were kittens at one point. Kittens who become part of an endless breeding cycle if they are not altered. Kitten season will be upon us soon us (depending on climate, it begins in late spring, peaks in early summer, and ends in the fall) and shelters that are already filled to the brim will be overrun with more, as people will bring in litters that their own cat accidentally had, or litters that will be found out on the streets by an outdoor cat caretaker, or a stranger who happens upon a litter in an unexpected manner.
Not to mention, those kittens born outside do so with consequences. These precious, tiny little beings are practically helpless to survive on their own and have a high mortality rate – approximately 75% of them will die, suffering unbearably due to the harsh elements and for those that do survive and are found and brought to a shelter, they typically are adopted first, but it is at a price – it is usually at the expense of the older, less adoptable cats, such as seniors, cats with disabilities, or black cats who are often euthanized to make room for the more adoptable kittens.
What can we do? First of all, the only way to ensure there will not be unplanned or unwanted litters born is to have your cat spayed or neutered at an early age. The simple fact is that a male cat is wired to find a female cat in heat and a female cat will continue to have a heat cycle until she mates. And that includes indoor cats that you might think don’t need the procedure. Indoor pet cats can accidentally get outside and if you purposely let your pet cat outside, where there is a will, there is a way when it comes to finding a mate. Outdoor community cats need to become part of managed TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs and of critical importance, dumping your cats on the street, or litters of kittens on the street is not only cruel and inhumane; it is illegal and should never be an option.
So, the next time you see that cute photo of a sweet and fuzzy kitten, just remember that with that picture comes a price and it is not always a pretty one… Take the responsible road and have your cat spayed or neutered. Not only will you be helping control cat overpopulation, but your cat will be healthier and happier for having the procedure.
For further information on spay/neuter, cat overpopulation, and more cat facts, please reference these detailed articles in my spay/neuter series: