Kitten Season: Interview with Marc Peralta, Executive Director at Best Friends Animal Society—Los Angeles
Spring means something a little different for all of us—the beginning of warmer months, the start of baseball season, spring break.
For animal shelters across the country, spring signals the start of kitten season.
Kitten season is when a large number of homeless kittens are born and end up in shelters. It’s a busy time for shelters and one of the reasons kitten nurseries have been popping up, working hard to keep up with the needs of orphaned kittens.
One of those kitten nurseries is Best Friends Kitten Nursery in Los Angeles, California, open since 2013. Nearly 9,000 underage (under 8 weeks old) kittens came into Los Angeles city shelters last year, says Marc Peralta, executive director of Best Friends Animal Society—Los Angeles. Their kitten nursery cared for more than 1,700 kittens in its first year and almost 2,300 in 2015. It is run by staff and volunteers that feed and care for the kittens from hours old through 8 weeks, with the goal of preparing them for adoption.
“The Best Friends Kitten Nursery is in place because of the epidemic of neonatal kittens entering shelters,” he said. “We looked at statistics at our city shelters and saw that these kittens are also the largest portion of animals being killed. Neonatal kittens can take a lot of effort to care for—such as feeding every two hours—and a lot of financial resources as well. For this reason, many rescues and shelters simply can’t handle caring for underage kittens.”
There are some important things to know about kitten season. Peralta shares these helpful insights.
THK: What and when is “kitten season”?
MP: Kitten season is the spike in time when the large majority of kittens enter shelters. Kitten season runs from March through November. We do see kittens year-round now, but at much lower rates in the non-kitten season months.
THK: What’s the average number of kittens per litter and how often can a female give birth?
MP: The average litter size is three to five kittens, but depending on the age and health of the mother, litters can be [as] low as one to two or more than six. It is possible for a female cat to give birth multiple times a year.
THK: Why does kitten season happen?
MP: Kitten season centers on the time when females go into heat cycles, which equate to more sunlight and heat. That is why it starts in spring and lasts through fall.
THK: If someone finds a litter of kittens in a parking lot or shed, what should he or she do? Is it always a good idea to rescue them?
MP: No, you should leave them alone. Often, the mother is looking for food or is out but will be coming back. Kittens do not have high survival rates in shelters, so being in a parking lot or shed is safer.
THK: What are the biggest mistakes people make when finding kittens?
MP: The biggest mistake people make when finding kittens is taking them to shelters if there are no visual injuries. Again, these kittens stand a much better chance in the environment with mom than in your local shelter.
THK: What are some common problems that occur when kittens are taken from their mom too soon?
MP: Some kittens [have] a hard time taking to the bottle, as it is a substitute that works for most but not all. Some don’t survive as a result. Additionally, taking away too early from mom and/or littermates can lead to poor learning skills and aggression toward people and other pets.
THK: What care needs to be provided to young kittens in shelters?
MP: Caring for kittens is a lot more work […] than one would think. Underage kittens cannot be adopted until they are old enough to be spayed and neutered. That age is two months. So kittens that come in days old are bottle-fed up to every two hours until four weeks, when they can start eating on their own. Even after the bottle-feeding, the care is immense—constant feeding and cleaning and care is needed. Either way, we must clean, feed and socialize these little guys until they are two months old.
THK: At what age are kittens able to procreate? When’s the ideal age to fix them?
MP: Cats can start to reproduce at four months old, so it is crucial to get your cat spayed or neutered prior to four months; Best Friends spays cats at two pounds and/or eight weeks, whichever is ideal depending on health.
THK: What kind of supplies/help can local shelters use when it comes to kitten season?
MP: During kitten season, our nursery and local shelters can use kitten formula, heating pads, bottles, syringes, disposable gloves, dry and wet kitten food, small water bowls, small food bowls, paper towels, bleach, and fleece blankets.
THK: If someone decides to foster or rescue a very young kitten, what are some tips to raising a healthy kitten?
MP: When fostering or rescuing a young kitten, keep an eye on its weight and ensure it is not losing weight (even ounces at a young age is very serious business). Connect with a local rescue group or shelter for support on questions or go to our website NKLA.org for support info. Handle the kittens a lot to help socialize them for adoption and keep them in [a] private place like a bathroom and away from adult animals.
THK: Does the “kitten phase” of high energy ever deter people from adopting the younger kittens?
MP: Not generally; people love kittens. Once they get to that 2-month mark and get spayed or neutered, they are in very high demand. We always encourage people to adopt kittens in pairs so that they can play with one another and expend that kitten energy in a healthy way.
Kitten season is an issue in almost every part of the country and you can help in so many ways. If you wish to get involved with Best Friends (a 501c3 nonprofit), you can donate, volunteer and/or foster.
“Kittens cared for in home environments are so much safer,” Peralta said of fostering. “It is so easy for kittens to catch disease when around another 120 kittens, so we really try and get them in homes during the time of their care. If you have a bathroom and a couple of week[s], we can give you the supplies and training. We need you.”