Editor’s note: This article previously ran on Zee & Zoey’s Chronicle Connection, but we’re running it here with Deborah’s permission to help promote awareness about National Spay/Neuter Awareness Month in February.
I consider Zee and Zoey’s kittens one of the biggest blessings of my life, and it’s because of them that I have learned so much about the subject of spay/neuter. They’ve made me an advocate for the procedures, not only for reducing cat overpopulation on the streets and in shelters, but also for the overall health and behavioral benefits.
To educate people, I begin with kittens, since they are what started it all in the first place for me! Yes, kittens, those irresistibly adorable balls of fur, which 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 who can sexually mature as early as four months?
That’s right. Crazy as it may seem, female kittens can conceive and a male kitten can impregnate a fertile female when they are mere babies themselves. 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 six months. The health and physical risks alone to the pregnant kitten are too scary to think of, not to mention the fact that a kitten does not have the proper mental capacity to raise kittens herself. If you want some perspective, that’s like a preteen becoming pregnant.
To prevent any early accidental pregnancies, veterinarians now recommend a "prepubertal" spay/neuter. It’s safe with kittens as soon as they weigh at least two pounds, which is between eight and 12 weeks of age. I used to think a female cat needed to have had her first heat before you could have her spayed — but 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. 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 I was under is that if a cat was nursing a litter of kittens, she could not become pregnant while lactating. That is simply not the case, and a lactating female should be kept away from any circumstances in which a willing male could find her. As soon as your vet recommends it, 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. 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 become part of an endless breeding cycle if they are not altered. Kitten season will be upon us soon (depending on climate, it begins in late spring, peaks in early summer, and ends in the fall). Shelters that are already filled to the brim will be overrun, as people bring in litters their own cat “accidentally” had and those they find on the streets.
And those kittens born outside do so with consequences. The precious little beings are practically helpless to survive on their own, and they have a high mortality rate ÔÇô- approximately 75 percent of them will die, suffering unbearably due to the harsh elements. For those who do survive and are brought to a shelter, they are typically adopted first, but at the expense of older, less adoptable cats, such as seniors, cats with disabilities, or black cats.
What can we do? First, the only way to ensure there will not be unplanned or unwanted litters 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, as indoor pet cats can accidentally get outside.
Also, outdoor community cats need to become part of managed TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs.
So, the next time you see that cute photo of a sweet and fuzzy kitten, just remember that the picture comes with a price. Take the responsible road and have your cat spayed or neutered. Not only will you be helping control cat overpopulation, your cat will be healthier and happier.
Photos via Zee & Zoey