• Outdoors Outdoors

Experts grow concerned as trend during 'kitten season' worsens: 'Every year we just know it's going to get harder'

"It's terrifying."

"It's terrifying."

Photo Credit: iStock

One kitten is cute, but a litter of kittens can be overwhelming — and when spring hits, shelters worldwide are flooded. 

"Kitten season," the warm part of the year when cats are most likely to give birth, presents major challenges for those hoping to control the feral cat population. Now, with the world heating up, shelters are seeing earlier and longer kitten seasons than ever before, Grist reported.

What's happening?

Due to air pollution trapping heat inside our atmosphere, the Earth is breaking temperature records left and right. That means winters are shorter and warmer, which affects a wide range of species, including crops.

It also appears to be impacting feral cats. Grist reported that for the last decade, shelter workers have been noticing earlier and longer kitten seasons.

"The level of emotions for months on end is so draining," Ann Dunn, director of San Francisco's Oakland Animal Services, told Grist. "And every year we just know it's going to get harder."

Dunn also said: "It's terrifying. It just keeps getting earlier and going later."

Some people, including ecologist Christopher Lepczyk, theorize that the rising temperature is increasing the supply of small prey like mice, so feral cats are more likely to feel secure and well-fed and, therefore, start breeding sooner. Also, warmer temperatures could mean more kittens survive.

Others believe that the warmer temperatures aren't directly affecting cats. Instead, as Best Friends Animal Society senior strategist Peter J. Wolf told Grist, the warmer weather could be encouraging people to spend more time outdoors, so they're more likely to find litters of kittens.

Why do extra kittens matter?

Regardless of why it's happening, shelters are seeing more kittens — and meanwhile, the feral cat population is out of control. This is devastating for local wildlife since cats are such effective hunters. Grist cited research linking outdoor cat populations to the extinction of 33 species, especially birds. 

"We know that cats are an invasive, environmental threat," said Lepczyk, who has published papers about management policies for outdoor cats. 

What's being done about the cat issue?

Common management strategies include trap, neuter, and release programs or culling cats.

However, missing even a few or having cats come in from outside means the population will quickly rise again. Grist revealed that one mother cat and her offspring can balloon to a population of 100 cats in seven years.

Shelters are essential to care for and home the kittens, but with the overwhelming number coming in, shelters need volunteers, foster homes, and donations more than ever. Owners should also spay and neuter their pets to avoid contributing to the problem.

"As the population continues to explode, how do we address all these little lives that need our help?" Dunn said. "We're giving this everything we have."

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