New Mexico's Pet Resource SUMMER 2002



By Nancy Marano

SpayUSA ad urges you to spay your cat by the age of five months--
before her first litter. (

"Kitten season." Two words guaranteed to produce feelings of grim resignation in animal rescue workers. Why? Because this is the season where every animal shelter, animal rescue group, or humane society is filled to overflowing with litters of kittens that are dumped at their doors. In New Mexico "kitten season" usually lasts from April to November. Baskets full of fluffy, cuddly kittens sound irresistible but in reality they stretch every rescue group's resources to the max and beyond. For foster based groups, such as the Albuquerque Cat Action Team (ACAT) it means the number of animals they need to take care of and find homes for jumps from 50 to 140, almost a threefold increase during "kitten season."

It's difficult enough to handle this influx of wiggling fur balls if they are healthy, but that isn't always the case. Kittens may be brought in that are ill or underweight. If they are lucky enough to be taken in by a group like ACAT or the Alliance Against Animal Abuse (AAAA,) they might have a chance of survival. If they show up at a shelter or humane society that has limited space and too many animals, sick kittens are likely to be killed. So many other healthy kittens are available for people to adopt that these kittens become expendable.

Orphaned kittens may need to be bottle-fed or have other special attention. Shelters usually don't have money or staff to meet special needs. Kitten food and kitten milk replacer, for those kittens needing to be bottle fed, costs more and is less likely to be donated than adult food. Many cats relinquished to shelters during kitten season are pregnant and must be spayed immediately. This is intense surgery most veterinarians do not like to perform.

"Kitten season" has an adverse effect on the adoption rate for adult cats, too. Many people only look at the kittens and don't notice the wonderful adult cats waiting for a loving home, even though an adult cat might be the better companion animal.

People give lots of excuses for not spaying or neutering their cats.

"I just want my cat to have one litter of kittens so my child can see the ‘miracle of birth.’ Besides, I've found good homes for the kittens."

This isn't a good reason for allowing your cat to have kittens. Even if you find homes for them, you can't guarantee the kittens will stay in those homes or that the people who adopted your kitten will get it spayed or neutered. Rescue groups often receive one and two-year-old cats whose owner wants a new kitten instead of an adult cat. This just perpetuates the cycle. Pet overpopulation happens one litter at a time.

"I meant to get my cat spayed but I didn't get around to it."

A cat can become pregnant by the time it's 4 to 5 months old. This is truly a case of babies having babies. If a cat is old enough to be vaccinated, it's old enough to be spayed or neutered. Early age spaying and neutering is done from 2-4 months of age with no ill effects to the cat.

"My cat's behavior will change if I get it spayed or neutered."

This is true. Your cat's behavior will change for the better. Your cat will be calmer, more affectionate, and less inclined to roam. Neutered cats are less likely to spray mark their territory, or fight with other cats. Spayed females don't go through messy heat cycles. Female cats can be in heat for six or seven days, three or more times a year. During heat, Fluffy yowls, paces the floor, and attracts unwanted male visitors.

Spaying and neutering also provides tremendous health benefits for your cat. Spaying prevents ovarian and uterine cancer in female cats and helps eliminate the risk of breast cancer. It also prevents pyometra, a life threatening infection of the uterus. Neutering prevents testicular cancer and various prostate problems in male cats.

"I can't afford to spay or neuter my cat."

The truth is you can't afford not to. Spaying or neutering varies in cost, but it is a one-time expense. It's a small price to pay for the health and behavior benefits to your cat, and the prevention of unwanted births.

Many rescue groups such as ACAT, AAAA and New Mexico Animal Friends have programs to help with the cost of spaying and neutering. If money is the reason you don't spay or neuter your cat, rescue groups will be happy to assist you in finding a veterinarian in your price range or determine whether you qualify for low-cost or free programs. Don't let money stand in the way of doing the right thing for your cat.

When you bring a cat into your home, you make a lifetime commitment to be a responsible guardian. The single most important thing you can do for your cat's health and well-being is to have it spayed or neutered. Your cat will be a more loving pet, and you will help put an end to "kitten season."

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who lives in Albuquerque and is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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