Everything you need to know about kitten season, including what to do if you find a litter of abandoned kittens.
What is Kitten Season?
Kitten Season is a term used to describe the period of which cats predominantly breed and give birth. Although cats can breed nearly all year long, Kitten Season tends to run from April to late Autumn. During the summer months, Battersea tends to see a higher number of pregnant cats and kittens coming through the doors, all needing new homes.
Because of this, new owners may consider timing their visits for around this period if they are keen to offer a kitten a home.
Please remember, during the winter months there are still plenty of older and bigger kittens aged around 4-6 months in need of new homes as well as adult cats of all ages.
Meet the cats, find out about rehoming and start your search for your perfect feline friend.
How do cats come into season?
From 4 months old, cats will experience heat cycles with active signs such as restlessness and calling, lasting a couple of days and reoccurring every few weeks during the breeding season. A cat coming into season can vary depending on the region and the climate of that given year. Cats coming into heat is often due to the increased daylight hours of the spring and summer. This signals warmer weather thus more availability of food for the mother to provide.
Females in season will seek out a mate during this period, with unneutered males already on the search! If there is more than one male in the vicinity, the female can mate more than once in a day. This gives her a higher chance of reproductive success and can mean her litter has several different fathers.
A cat’s short reproduction cycle, with pregnancy only lasting for nine weeks, and females coming back into season just six weeks after giving birth, means there is the potential for a vast number of kittens being born in a brief period. And, as cats can have litters of up to nine kittens at one time (with an average of 4-6 kittens), the number of cats and kittens needing homes can reach crisis levels in the summer months.
What happens to kittens when they arrive at Battersea?
As with all animals arriving at Battersea, we will ensure that the kittens are given a thorough health check by our veterinary team, and we will ensure that they have been vaccinated. The kittens will then be settled either at Battersea or with a dedicated foster carer, so they can receive the adequate care they need until they are ready to be rehomed, usually at nine weeks of age. We offer ongoing support to new owners and encourage them to keep us updated on their new kitten’s progress.
The socialisation of kittens is vital!
The close ancestors of the domestic cat are solitary living predators that don’t have any need for social companionship (and in most cases will actively avoid it). If a domestic cat does not receive the right type of human interaction and handling during the cat’s ‘sensitive’ period for socialisation (around 2-7/8 weeks of age), which is then also followed up with positive social experiences as the cat matures, a cat is unlikely to develop the capacity to be sociable towards people later in life.
In essence, cats are not born liking people but must learn to see them as something positive and non-threatening, and this can only happen if they are appropriately socialised at the right time.
If kittens are exposed to more than one person and have positive experiences in terms of interactions and handling, the more likely they are to become sociable adult cats that enjoy being around people. The more positive experiences a kitten has (with people, other animals and their physical environment) at the right time, the more likely they are to develop into a content, relaxed and confident cat around people.
Here at Battersea, we ensure all kittens in our care receive the positive socialisation they need before going to their new home.
What do I do if I find a litter of abandoned kittens?
It can be easy to intervene at the first sight of an unattended kitten or litter of kittens, however it is important to not rush into the situation. Here are some tips on what to do if you find unattended kittens:
- If the mother and kittens have turned up in your garden or nearby, ask around the neighbourhood first to determine whether they are owned or if others are aware of them. If this is unsuccessful then contacting a pet charity or a rehoming centre can help to get the relevant advice.
- It may seem that the mother is not around however she may be roaming nearby or seeking out food. Often the mother will return within a couple of hours. In this instance, all attempts should be made to leave the kittens undisturbed, avoiding any contact or handling as this could deter the mother. A safe distance should be given from the kittens, enough to observe them, but not too close that the mother feels she cannot return. If the kittens are in imminent danger, then they can be carefully moved to an outside sheltered area.
- Try to avoid feeding the kittens unless consulted to do otherwise. Cats are lactose intolerant so in no circumstances should they be provided with cow’s milk. Instead, water should be provided, ensuring levels are not too high that they could fall in. Kitten food can also be placed in front of them but please do not attempt to feed them personally, they need to be able to do this on their own.
- If the mother has not returned after a couple of hours, and the kittens are very young they may still be reliant on their mother’s milk and will need hand rearing. In this circumstance, seek out a vet or pet charity as a matter of urgency.
- If the mother has returned and all are in a safe place away from danger, then consult with a rehoming centre on what to do. By giving the rehoming centre as much information as possible (such as how old/big the kittens are, where they were found and the temperament of the mother) means experts can provide better advice on how to manage the situation and steps going forward.
- If a kitten(s) has clearly been abandoned/dumped then contacting a local pet charity would be the first port of call. If the kittens are in urgent need of medical attention then they should be taken to a local vet where they can receive the subsequent care needed.
- However much it may be tempting, if you find a litter of kittens, it is important not to keep them. They will need vital care through worming, vaccinations and neutering before being rehomed. Pet charities and animal rescue centres are well equipped for these situations to provide them with everything they need.
Importance of neutering
Neutering has lots of benefits from both the cat’s perspective and their owners. It can not only prevent unwanted litters but also unwanted behaviours such as spraying in the home. The best time to neuter your kitten is at 4 months of age as they start to reach sexual maturity. The Kitten Neutering Database (KIND) provides further information and veterinary centres who offer this service.
Buttercup was found by a dog walker who on passing heard Buttercup’s cries from a closed storage container in a field. She was found alone and hiding under some old furniture after which she was brought to Battersea at Old Windsor.
Although in a good condition, Buttercup was obviously shaken by the ordeal. She was estimated at being 5 weeks old, which is far too young to be separated from her mother and litter. From her behaviour, it was evident that she had been socialised by people and with no route for her to enter or leave the container, it is believed she was abandoned.
Due to her being so young and on her own, Buttercup was placed into a foster home to benefit from consistent positive handling and to gain confidence with sights, sounds, smells and activities in a home environment. Buttercup grew in confidence, with her affectionate and playful temperament coming out. At around 9 weeks of age, after being neutered, microchipped and vaccinated she passed all her medical checks and was successfully rehomed.
Now called Pebbles, she is enjoying her life with her new family.
Don’t have space for a cat or kitten?
You can still help!
You can provide a mother and her litter of kittens with hours of entertainment while they wait at Battersea for new homes with this £10 gift basket, including a set of cat-friendly tennis balls and a catnip scratching mat.