Isn’t it too early to be thinking about kittens? There’s still snow!
While you may find new litters of kittens in the middle of the winter like the ones I recently trapped, a cat’s reproductive system responds to the length of the day, a biological response to keep them from reproducing during times when, seasonally, there isn’t enough food or the weather is inhospitable to kittens. At spay/neuter clinics in January more than one female cat is often pregnant, but up to Valentine’s Day is the best time to “beat the heat”, not the weather, but a cat’s first heat cycle of the year.
It starts with…Groundhog Day? Yes, February 2 isn’t “just” Groundhog Day and a holiday made by humans to break up the middle of cold winter season. It’s actually an occurrence in nature that humans have observed and found reason to celebrate long before people in Punxsutawney wanted to bring tourists to their little settlement in the woods of Western Pennsylvania.
The effect of day length on unspayed female cats
A cat’s reproductive cycle is dependent on the length of time the cat is exposed to light, which is known as a photo-period. Cats are called “long day breeders” because they require 12 hours of light to maintain a normal cycle. Cats who live indoors may have their cycles skewed because they are exposed to enough light indoors all year round, and even feral cats if they are around outdoor lights for enough time.
Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day
February 2 is exactly halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, marking the date that winter, literally, becomes spring; it’s called a “cross-quarter day” and is one of four throughout the year. The seasons don’t change as if you’ve flipped a switch, but they move gradually from one to another in a cycle. The solstices and equinoxes mark the highest points of those seasons, and the cross-quarter markers in between mark the day one season has clearly blended with the next.
I notice this every year from my garden to the trail to just observing wildlife. By February 2, in our modern time, we notice the days have lengthened enough that there really is daylight when we leave work at the end of the day where just a week before it was still pretty dark. Many animals will begin to stir in their first cycle of the year and by Valentine’s Day, well, the party is on. Just the other day I saw a couple of squirrels taking advantage of the season in one of the trees out back. That’s one of the reasons February 2 was chosen as, you guessed it, Groundhog Day (read more about that here).
63 days gestation, and “kitten season”
The average gestation for a litter of kittens is 63 days, or nine weeks. Count ahead nine weeks from February 14 and you have—yes—kitten season! While cats can enter estrus and conceive kittens before that, many of the first litters are conceived at the beginning of February.
Change their plans
But why wait until cats are in the mood before spaying and neutering, especially spaying the girls? Cats as young as four months can reproduce. One of the most important considerations is to do it NOW, before cats start breeding in earnest, both indoor cats and those living outdoors as community cats, before last year’s kittens who may not be spayed and neutered answer the call of nature as the days grow longer and we start talking about “kitten season” again.
Fellow blogger and vet tech Teri Thorsteinson, formerly a breeder of Cornish Rex cats, has written an excellent explanation of “Kittening”, explaining a cat’s reproductive cycle and giving birth.
Kittens can be safely spayed and neutered as young as two months and two pounds. I am a huge proponent of pediatric spay and neuter and have seen dozens of kittens come through just fine at clinics, and still be small enough to feel like little kittens to adopters while no one needs to worry about an unwanted litter when they get older.
Despite claims of development issues, a propensity to urinary issues and behavioral problems from pediatric spay and neuter, actual studies from the early 1990s to today show no relation to desexing at two months and physical or behavioral problems earlier in life. And because their bodies are actively growing they recover so fast you can hardly tell anything happened to them, and they continue to grow and develop normally.
One distinct benefit I’ve seen in socializing feral kittens past 10 weeks is that a desexed kitten seems to socialize much more quickly and easily. That’s only my observation, but concurs with other rescuers, but it’s been consistent for all of us. Perhaps someday there will be a study on that as well.
Often, cost is the biggest hurdle to having pets spayed and neutered. Because spay and neuter surgeries are often very expensive at a veterinarian more and more low-cost alternatives are available. But how do those lo-cost clinics do it so cheap? And what’s with your vet charging so much?
Your veterinarian has a full-service clinic to treat multiple species of animals in dozens of treatments like other surgeries, blood tests, x-rays and other imaging, dental cleanings and critical care, and there is an office and/or building to upkeep, and employees and benefits and all sorts of other costs. Your veterinarian gets to know you and your pet, and is there for you all the time.
Low-cost clinics exist only to spay and neuter, primarily cats, and sometimes provide vaccinations, many who are there are volunteers (often volunteer veterinarians and veterinary technicians and other professionals), and they only have to provide for the materials and activities for that day; many are supported by donations and grants too. After the clinic is over, they pack up and go. You can’t call them in the middle of the night, or ask them to give your cat her annual vaccines.
Find Local Low-cost Spay, Neuter and Veterinary Care on the Internet
1. Spay your cat.
2. Encourage someone else to spay their cat, even offer to help or pay.
3. Help cats living outdoors, or help someone who does.
Below are links to searchable databases of low-cost clinics. Some use zip codes, some use state and city, and these aren’t the only searchable lists.
Find Local Low-cost Spay, Neuter and Veterinary Care on the Internet
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