Three Ways to Help Cats

Infographic by Allison Frederick, copyright 2017 Cat photo, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rikkis_refuge/206541940, Permission to use
Infographic by Allison Frederick, copyright 2017
Stock Cat photo, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rikkis_refuge/206541940

When it comes to pet overpopulation, the Best Friends Animal Society says that together “we can help save them all”. This includes cats, even though the statistics for the number of abandoned cats is overwhelming: about 3.2 million enter shelters every year and there’s an estimated 40 million homeless cats. Given the magnitude of the problem, what can any of us do to make a difference? If you own a cat, there are three simple ways you can reduce cat overpopulation.

“In the 2007 study by Lord et al, the owners of lost cats did a pathetic job of trying to get their allegedly beloved kitties back. Only 14 percent of lost cats had any identification.” –Nature historian and conservationist, Thomas McNamee

  1. Provide your cat with some form of identification. There are a lot of statistics to support the idea that more animals could be reunited with their owners if more pets wore identification. This is especially true of cats. According to a study reported on by Adopt a Pet, ID tags or microchips were responsible for 15% of dogs getting home. In contrast, of 1,000 surveyed cat owners, only one credited their cat’s tag or microchip for their pet’s return. Adopt a Pet argues that if more cats had ID, no doubt many more could be reunited with their owners. Backing up this belief is another study, this one reported on by Animal Planet, which found that more than 38 percent of microchipped cats that arrive at shelters are returned to their owners, as opposed to under 2 percent of those that aren’t microchipped. How are these statistics connected to efforts to cat overpopulation? The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes that the decline in euthanasia rates can be partially explained by an increase in the number of stray animals returned to their owners. The ASPCA goes on to say that of the 710,000 stray pets that enter shelters and are reunited with their owners, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.

“The woman who found her fed her for a few days and then took her to a veterinarian. The vet checked to see if the cat was microchipped. She was. And was reunited with her owner.” –Nature historian and conservationist, Thomas McNamee

  1. Spay or neuter your cat. About 11,000 infants are born in the U.S. each day, compared to about 70,000 puppies and kittens. That’s more than six dogs and cats for each new person, and yet the average pet-owning household has only 2.4 pets. Does that suggest there isn’t enough demand for the number of puppies and kittens being born? Another statistic reveals that 2.6 million puppies and 5.64 million kittens are produced annually from unplanned litters. When you consider that “only” three million are euthanized each year, that means that just cutting the number of unplanned litters in half would eliminate the euthanizing of adoptable homeless pets. One last scenario: The director of Animal Adoption Services in one city tells of a man who started out with one cat and then did a marvelous thing by adopting a stray cat. Unfortunately, this man did NOT get either of these cats fixed, and so by the time authorities stepped in a few years later his home was filled with hundreds of diseased and inbred cats. The moral of the story? Have your cat altered!

In the 2007 study by Lord et al, the median time before any of the people got in touch with an animal agency was three days, and for those who went to an agency more than once, the median interval was eight days [between contacts]. Because the holding period at most of the agencies was three days, some of the lost cats were euthanized. –Nature historian and conservationist, Thomas McNamee

  1. Keep your cat indoors. This one’s a bit like assembling the pieces of a puzzle. I haven’t yet found an article that puts the pieces together, so the best I can do is suggest how I think they fit together. Here are the pieces: cat owners tend to wait longer than dog owners to check shelters for missing pets; shelters report a much lower live-release rate for cats than for dogs; many cat owners allow their cats to roam freely; pet cats commonly do not have tags or microchips; we tend to ignore outdoor cats. Here’s how I think these pieces fit together. We’ve normalized roaming cats, and so we ignore them. Cat owners even ignore long absences of their outdoor cats. Roaming dogs are not normal, and therefore we act quickly when we see them. If cats were kept indoors, it would be easier to recover a lost cat: anyone finding a cat outdoors would know that it was lost or homeless, and anyone who couldn’t find their cat would know it was lost. In either case, action would be immediately taken.

I recently heard this advice given by a cat expert about what to do if you see an unfamiliar cat in your neighborhood: wait a few days to give it a chance to return to its owner, check for a tipped ear (if its ear is tipped, it belongs to a community cat colony and has been spayed/neutered), and only if it continues to hang around and has no ID and doesn’t have a tipped ear you should then contact a shelter. Can you imagine this advice being given about a stray dog? No wonder LiveScience titled their article “Dogs Get Found, Cats Stay Lost.”

“Their lives are shorter than ours. We can witness their lives from beginning to end, not just witness but be in their lives, from naming to knowing and from wonder to love. We can, we must mean to be kind.” –Nature historian and conservationist, Thomas McNamee

SOURCES

Birth and Death Rate Estimates of Cats and Dogs in U.S. Households and Related Factors

Dogs Get Found, Cats Stay Lost

Is Cat Microchipping Worth the Cost?

New Study About Lost and Found Pets

Reduce Pet Overpopulation

Shelter Intake and Surrender

Shelter Statistics

Why Lost Cats are Rarely Found at Shelters

QUOTES

Inner Lives of Cats by Thomas McNamee

Spay/Neuter Awareness

With February being Spay/Neuter Awareness month, it’s time once again to talk about the importance of getting your pets fixed. This week, my focus will be on our feline friends.

In a perfect world, we might not need to spay/neuter our cats. But the reality is 1.4 million unwanted cats are euthanized each year. In addition, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) there are an estimated 30 to 40 million homeless cats. Clearly, we have a pet overpopulation crisis, and the one message animal welfare experts keep repeating is this: spaying and neutering is the best way to change those numbers.

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CAT REPRODUCTION

There’s an interesting article at Live Science, which summarizes recent research as showing that “cat owners could use a refresher on the ‘birds and the bees,’ at least when it comes to their feline companions.” I won’t bore you with the statistics, but will share owner misconceptions about feline reproduction that contribute to our cat overpopulation crisis.

First, there’s the ignorance about the age at which cats can get pregnant. Quick, show of hands! Is it twelve months? Six months? Wrong and wrong. Did you know that kittens as young as three months old can get pregnant? This means it’s medically okay, and even recommended, to spay a cat when she’s a kitten. She just needs to be at least eight weeks old and weigh at least two pounds.

Second, there’s the ignorance about whether or not cat siblings can reproduce. Apparently, 39% of surveyed cat owners believed siblings couldn’t. The reality is they can. And do!

Finally, there’s a belief that female cats should have a litter before spayed. Pet overpopulation aside, spaying a female makes sense for health reasons too. It greatly reduces the risk of cancers if you have a cat spayed before the first heat and certainly before she has a litter. Moreover, spaying is an easier medical procedure if done before the first heat.

CAT REPRODUCTION STATS

Many cats “come into heat” as often as once every few weeks, especially in warmer climates. The warm weather will coincide with the female cats’ heat cycles, causing a kitten “season” starting in spring, peaking in late spring or early summer, and ending in fall.

The serious stats are:

  • Average number of litters a fertile cat can produce in one year: 2-3
  • Average number of kittens in a feline litter: 4–6
  • Average number of kittens in a seven-year period: 87

When you consider that half of those kittens will be female, and that each of those female kittens can also produce 87 kittens in seven years, the numbers add up quickly. One common stat is that a single unspayed cat and its offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in a seven year period. Obviously that’s a hypothetical maximum. Others say a more realistic figure is five thousand. Whichever number you use, it’s thousands more than would have been produced if that first female cat had been spayed.

In all likelihood, you’ve already seen statistics similar to the above in a pretty graphic that circulates online. They’re fairly common among animal groups. But when data from The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) shows that 5.64 million kittens are produced annually from unplanned litters, we would all do well to educate ourselves about cat reproduction and to really pay attention to its impact on pet overpopulation. Margaret Slater, senior director of veterinary epidemiology at ASPCA, has pointed out in Live Science, “People don’t realize that it’s difficult to keep a cat from getting pregnant.”

BENEFITS OF SPAY/NEUTER

Let’s consider the benefits of spay/neuter to your cat, who knows nothing about the overpopulation crisis.

For males, neutering reduces his risk from numerous health problems. Although cats are different than dogs and wander for reasons other than reproducing, such as hunting, neutering will decrease a tom’s urge to roam and to fight; this lowers his chances of disease transmission and injury. In particular, deep bite wounds are the leading factor in the transmission of feline leukemia [FeLV] and feline immunodeficiency virus [FIV]. Neutering also eliminates the powerful odor of adult male cat urine, as well as the tendency of males to spray in the house. Both of these last benefits will make you happier, and a happier you makes for a happier cat!

For females, neutering also reduces her risk from numerous health problems. Executive director, Rebecca Guinn, at LifeLine Animal Project notes that they see a lot of unspayed cats come into the clinic with pyometra (an infection of the uterus) which can be life-threatening. Spaying reduces urine-marking. Unaltered cats have urges that make them irritable and anxious. They yowl or whine frequently, fight with other cats, and/or destroy objects in the house. Spaying will eliminate these behaviors. Again, a happier you will make for a happier cat!

THE SPAY/NEUTER OPERATION

What does spay/neuter mean? Spaying is the surgical removal of a female cat’s ovaries and uterus, while neutering is the removal of a male cat’s testicles. Only licensed veterinarians are allowed to perform these operations.

How do spay/neuter operations work? Prior to surgery, your veterinarian may carry out a complete physical examination of your cat or draw a sample of his blood for analysis. To minimize pain and discomfort, both spaying and neutering are conducted while your cat is under general anesthesia.

What happens after spay/neuter operations? Most cats are back to normal within a few days. The surgery site usually heals within two weeks and any skin stitches are removed at a follow-up appointment with your vet.

THE BOTTOM LINE ABOUT SPAY/NEUTER

As I stated at the beginning, in a perfect world we might not need to spay/neuter our cats. However, with 1.4 million cats being euthanized each year and an estimated 30 to 40 million homeless cats, we clearly have a pet overpopulation crisis. Best Friends Animal Society explains, “Spaying or neutering your cat prevents unwanted births, which helps reduce overpopulation in shelters. Millions of unwanted animals end up in shelters or on the streets each year. Only a lucky few are adopted; the rest are either euthanized or die from trauma, exposure, starvation or disease. By spaying or neutering your cat, you do your part to prevent this tragedy.”

Since 2010, LAA has altered more than 2,600 pets, averaging about 300 pets per year. Imagine how many lives have already been saved! But right now, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is running low on funds. Please consider donating towards the cause!

Guest Post: Zee & Zoey’s Spay/Neuter Series, Part Three – The Fountain of Youth and a Reduction of Facial Wrinkles Discovered by People Who Have Cats That are Spayed or Neutered!

Reprinted with permission from Deborah Barnes, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright February 25, 2013.

Admit it–the headline got your attention. We live in a sound bite world and the more outrageous the headline, the better. Who needs confirmed facts if a story sells better without them? And hey, a cat CAN improve a person’s well-being. It has been proven that people who have cats in their lives can have lower stress, depression, and anxiety levels – all factors that can cause wrinkles, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that a cat who is happy and healthy from the benefits of spay/neuter would make a person more youthful just by being around them? But a dangerous trend between theoretical probability and realistic reporting as to what cats actually are, or are not capable of doing, continues in our society making it an uphill battle to educate people about theory versus reality when it comes to the subjects of cat conception, cat overpopulation, and the effectiveness of spay/neuter.

Case in point–in math, one plus one equals two and the subject is closed for debate. When it comes to one fertile female cat who mates with one un-neutered male cat and they have kittens, however, the collective number of offspring they could be responsible for in a seven year time frame ranges anywhere from 5000 to 420,000 kittens. Quite a discrepancy to say the least. And while it might appear on the surface that the more profound number of 420,000 kittens allows a better chance of bringing attention to a serious subject, I have to respectfully disagree.

CAT-NUMBERS-BOARD

Do a quick Google search asking the question, “How many kittens could a female cat have in her lifetime?” The number one site that pops up is wiki.anwers.com and it confirms the 420,000 figure. Why is this so bad? Number one – because people tend to trust what they read, and number two, because these kinds of erroneous numbers lead people to believe that cat overpopulation is too overwhelming to control and that spay/neuter efforts don’t work, it inspires justification of tragic euthanizations, overstated reports on cats killing birds, stereotypes about cat-crazy ladies with homes overrun with cats, and general cat-hating mayhem. Public policy for reform and change cannot possibly occur in a national mainstream effort if we don’t arm ourselves with facts on the actual numbers of kittens that can realistically be born and proven solutions that whatever the numbers are, that they can be managed and controlled through spay/neuter efforts.

lots-of-cats

Think about it – 420,000 is the population of Long Beach, California. With one female cat being responsible for ultimately producing that many kittens, how many kittens could be produced by two female cats? Or three? It would almost seem as if we would be unable to walk outside, having to part a Red Sea of cats to pass. Many respectable people such as Christine Wilford, DVM, Christie Keith, journalist, and Peter Wolf, feral cat and TNR expert of Vox Felina agree with this assessment and cite anumbers study done by mathematicians at the University of Washington based on research by Dr. Michael Stoskopf, professor of aquatic and wildlife medicine at North Carolina State on feral cat colonies. The conclusion – while theoretically a female cat can have over three litters a year, those are extreme and highly unlikely conditions. A cat’s heat cycle is based on climate and daylight hours, so more realistically would be a cat having one to two litters a year. Of those litters, especially for outdoor feral cats, only about 75% of the kittens live to reach reproductive age. It is now more widely accepted that an unspayed female cat could have between 98 – 200 kittens in her lifetime. When you factor in possible offspring from offspring during that 7 year time frame, the more realistic number would be a collective 5000. Still a high number, but nowhere near the 420,000 figure.

The 420,000 figure is an urban myth that began sometime around 2005 with the Humane Society of the United States. They have long since removed the number from their site and it remains a mystery how the staggering number originated to begin with, which is part of the overall dilemma we face as cat advocates – many of the facts that are available to us are spotty and generalized at best. For example, the ASPCA reports that there are upward of 70 million homeless cats in the United States and approximately 5 to 7 million cats and dogs enter shelters every year, with 70% of the cats euthanized because the number of these cats far exceeds the number of adopters. But where are the figures year by year, state by state, county by county, and city by city? I have seen that 70 million figure for years. Wouldn’t it fluctuate from year to year? And why do they lump cats with dogs as one category of animals that enter shelters? How many are cats and how many are dogs?  Because there is not a national central database with statistics for every shelter across the country as to how many cats are euthanized each year and how many actual cats live outdoors or how numbers on how populations are reduced through TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return), we cannot accurately access where our efforts need to be best concentrated.

Christine-Becky-Deb

We know that there are success stories where TNR works, such as the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, Spartanburg Animal Services of South Carolina, and Jacksonsville Florida Feral Freedom to name a few and we need to use these examples as a powerful tools that make headlines rather than the overly sensationalized stories about cat hoarders or well intended PSA’s on local channels that only a handful of people watch. Or worse yet, depressing commercials with sad music and pictures of cats in cages – these images do not inspire pet responsibly and they do not discuss how and why spay/neuter not only controls overpopulation, but that it makes for a happier and healthier pet.

The dots have to be connected for people to understand – by promoting spay/neuter, cats are healthier and better behaved. As a result of that, far less of them will be brought to shelters for undesirable traits such as aggressive fighting and urine spraying that spay/neuter corrects. Less of them will be dumped on the streets with the potential to mate and contribute to the population of outdoor cat colonies – and those cats that do live on the streets can be managed and controlled through TNR efforts. The message that adopting a cat into your family can improve the quality of a person’s life needs to be heard loud and clear. A cat can decrease our depression, stress and anxiety levels. They can also lower our blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke and they make loving and devoted companions.

Let’s face it, we need the message of responsible spay/neuter to go viral like Keyboard Cat. We need our school systems to teach the virtues of spay/neuter as part of the curriculum so that our youth grows up with the importance of the message. We need Brian Williams, 60 Minutes, Nightline, Ellen DeGeneres, The View, and The Talk to devote significant air time to the fact that cat overpopulation can be reduced and managed if we commit ourselves as communities to the effort. If we need to tell the world that they will have less wrinkles to make that happen, then by all means, please feel free to borrow my headline. And regardless of any of the numbers or statistics, in my opinion, every cat or kitten deserves a good home, and even one cat that has to suffer is one cat too many…

Deborah Barnes resides in the tropical paradise of South Florida with her fiancé and feline family of seven. She is the author of the 5-star rated books, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary and Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond, as well as the award winning blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles that continues to cover the everyday journey she shares with her cats along with topics from the humorous behaviors of cats to very serious subjects on pet responsibility.  Deborah was awarded 2013 “Writer of the Year” by Friskies Purina on behalf of the Cat Writers’ Association and she is also the Secretary of the nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane, Inc. of Miami, Florida, whose mission is to create public awareness and reduce the numbers of animals on the streets and in shelters through an extensive educational campaign.

Guest Post: Zee & Zoey’s Spay/Neuter Series, Part Two – The Overall Health, Behavioral, and Emotional Benefits for Cats and Society at Large

February is National Spay/Neuter Month and the importance of spay/neuter as a safe and humane means of preventing pregnancy and reducing cat overpopulation is being championed by cat advocates nationwide, and with good reason. According to the ASPCA, there are upward of 70 million homeless cats in the United States and approximately 5 to 7 million cats and dogs that enter shelters every year, with 70% of the cats needlessly euthanized because the number of these cats far exceeds the number of adopters. When you consider that cats can reproduce at an alarming rate – an unspayed/neutered cat pair can lead up to 5,000 cats in 7 years, it is quickly evident that spay/neuter is essential to ensure that these numbers will not continue to escalate.

But spay/neuter is so much more than a method of birth control – the overall health, emotional, and behavioral benefits to a cat from spay/neuter are significant and can actually result in less cats ending up on the streets and in shelters in the first place by having the procedure done. Negative behavioral issues that are typically the by-product of an unaltered cat (territory marking and spraying, aggressive fighting, loud yowling, and roaming) are often the reason a cat is brought to a shelter or dumped on the streets by a frustrated and desperate pet guardian.

These cats then become part of an ugly and tragic cycle – outdoor cats are persecuted by community citizens frustrated by the annoying behavioral problems they can exhibit and unfortunately, rather than embrace TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) practices that can reduce these symptoms, often they are trapped and euthanized as the solution. Cats in shelters, older ones in particular that have not already been altered, may come with a host of behavioral problems that result in them being overlooked for adoptions, or worse, tragically euthanized.

When it comes to a pet in our home, these symptoms can cause a myriad of problems – stress on personal relationships when perhaps one partner wants to keep the cat, the other wants to get rid of it, stress with other pets if you live in a multi-pet household who are bothered by the erratic behavior of the unaltered cat, irrevocable damage to furniture and walls from urine marking, and even an unintentional resentment of a beloved pet because it is now so difficult to be around and not what you bargained for when you first adopted it. All of these behavioral problems can be virtually eliminated with early spay/neuter (a “pre-pubertal” spay/neuter is now recommended by veterinarians and is safe with kittens as soon as they weigh at least 2 pounds, which is ideally between 8 and 12 weeks) and the truth is, until your cat is altered, it is instinctual for them to try to find a mate and most attempts at training, bribing with treats, or scolding to change the negative behavior are for naught.

Until a female is spayed, she will typically go into heat four to five days every three weeks during breeding season which is based on daylight hours. Calling for her mate, she will loudly vocalize through the duration of her heat and will urinate more frequently, often uncontrollably, throughout the house. She can be emotional, uncomfortable, and just generally difficult to be around. Her heat cycle is based on a hormone called melatonin, which is secreted by a gland in her brain. This hormone decreases with the arrival of more daylight, which triggers the heat cycle.

Because it is not unusual for an indoor cat to be exposed to artificial light year-round, she may experience almost constant hormonal activity and many more periods of heat. Since a kitten can go into heat as early as 4 months, it is just best to have her spayed at a young age. It is not necessary for her to experience her first heat before you spay her and she will be much happier and healthier in the long run for having the procedure done.

An unaltered male cat can demonstrate equally detrimental behavioral habits that are all but impossible to correct if he is not neutered at a young age. He can be extremely aggressive and territorial, marking the house by spraying walls and furniture with strong smelling urine. By having him neutered, not only will these tendencies be greatly reduced or eliminated, he will also be less likely to want to roam, which might result in an injury to him in traffic, a fatality, or finding a fertile female to impregnate.

The other significant benefit of spay/neuter is that it greatly improves the health and longevity of a cat’s life. Spaying a female prior to her first heat nearly eliminates the risk of mammary cancer, uterine infections, and uterine cancer, which is fatal to approximately 90% of cats according to the American Humane Association, and neutering a male before he is 6 months of age prevents testicular and prostate cancer. No one wants to see a beloved pet suffer these tragic types of illnesses, so having the procedure done is the best gift you can give your cat.

Clearly the benefits of spay/neuter are significant and far reaching – from reducing cat overpopulation to ensuring your cat has a happier and healthier life. But having a happy and healthy cat also benefits society at large. Studies have proven that our feline friends improve the quality of our human lives. A cat can decrease our depression, stress and anxiety. They can also lower our blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. They are used in rehabilitation facilities, senior citizen homes, hospitals, and even to help returning soldiers to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Having a pet cat in a family with children helps in their emotional development and encourages responsibility and compassion.

Proper diet, veterinary care, exercise, stimulating toys, scratching posts, comfortable bedding, and a clean litter box are all important to the well-being of our cat. By adding spay/neuter to the list, we are ensuring that our cat will live a long, happy, healthy life.

Deborah Barnes resides in the tropical paradise of South Florida with her fiancé and feline family of seven. She is the author of the 5-star rated books, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary and Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond, as well as the award winning blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles that continues to cover the everyday journey she shares with her cats along with topics from the humorous behaviors of cats to very serious subjects on pet responsibility.  Deborah was awarded 2013 “Writer of the Year” by Friskies Purina on behalf of the Cat Writers’ Association and she is also the Secretary of the nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane, Inc. of Miami, Florida, whose mission is to create public awareness and reduce the numbers of animals on the streets and in shelters through an extensive educational campaign.

 

Guest Post: Zee & Zoey’s Spay/Neuter Series, Part One – The Facts of Life: The 101’s of Kittens and Conception

Reprinted with permission from Deborah Barnes, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright February 4, 2013.

While I consider Zee & Zoey’s kittens one of the biggest blessings of my life, it is also because of them that I have learned so much about the subject of spay/neuter and become such an advocate to educate people on the importance of the procedure for not only reducing cat over population on the streets and in shelters, but for the overall health and behavioral benefits to your cat. It just so happens that February is National Spay/Neuter month, so I thought what a better time than now to run a month long  series of informative posts on the subject to help promote the cause.

So that the topic doesn’t get overwhelming, I am going to break it into manageable concepts and thought I would begin with kittens, since they are what started it all in the first place for me! Yes, kittens, those irresistibly adorable balls of fur that melt our hearts with their playful antics and sweet and precious little faces. Did you know, however, that these darlings are actually powerful procreating machines that can sexually mature as early as 4 months of age?

That’s right. Crazy as it may seem, being mere babies themselves, but a female kitten can conceive as early as 4 months of age  and a male kitten can impregnate a fertile female at the same young age. Since the average gestation period for a cat is 63 days, that means that a kitten could deliver a litter when she is as young as 6 months old. The health and physical risks alone to the pregnant kitten are too scary to think of, not to mention that a kitten does not have the proper mental capacity to raise kittens herself. If you want some perspective, that’s like a pre-teen becoming pregnant, which we clearly know is wrong.

To prevent any early accidental pregnancies, a “pre-pubertal” spay/neuter is now recommended by veterinarians and is safe with kittens as soon as they weigh at least 2 pounds, which is ideally between 8 and 12 weeks of age. I know speaking from my own lessons learned, that I thought a female cat had to have experienced her first heat before you could have her spayed, but that simply is not the case and that is how I ended up with a litter of kittens. Once I knew the facts, I made sure all of Zoey’s kittens were spayed and neutered at a young age. We knew we were keeping three of her kittens – two girls and one boy – and I certainly did not want to risk having the male kitten mate with one of his sisters.

Another false impression that I was under, is that if a cat had a litter of kittens and was nursing, that she could not become pregnant while lactating. That is simply not the case and a lactating female should be kept away from any circumstances that could enable a willing male to find her. As soon as it is safely recommended by a veterinarian, a mother cat should be spayed to avoid the possibility of an unexpected litter.

But kittens are just so darn cute. What’s the big deal if another litter is born? Well, the big deal is that not all of these kittens are born into loving and responsible forever homes like Zoey’s kittens. According to the ASPCA, there are approximately 70 million homeless cats on the streets and in shelters and they all were kittens at one point. Kittens who become part of an endless breeding cycle if they are not altered. Kitten season will be upon us soon us (depending on climate, it begins in late spring, peaks in early summer, and ends in the fall) and shelters that are already filled to the brim will be overrun with more, as people will bring in litters that their own cat accidentally had, or litters that will be found out on the streets by an outdoor cat caretaker, or a stranger who happens upon a litter in an unexpected manner.

Not to mention, those kittens born outside do so with consequences. These precious, tiny little beings are practically helpless to survive on their own and have a high mortality rate – approximately 75% of them will die, suffering unbearably due to the harsh elements and for those that do survive and are found and brought to a shelter, they typically are adopted first, but it is at a price – it is usually at the expense of the older, less adoptable cats, such as seniors, cats with disabilities, or black cats who are often euthanized to make room for the more adoptable kittens.

What can we do? First of all, the only way to ensure there will not be unplanned or unwanted litters born is to have your cat spayed or neutered at an early age. The simple fact is that a male cat is wired to find a female cat in heat and a female cat will continue to have a heat cycle until she mates. And that includes indoor cats that you might think don’t need the procedure. Indoor pet cats can accidentally get outside and if you purposely let your pet cat outside, where there is a will, there is a way when it comes to finding a mate. Outdoor community cats need to become part of managed TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs and of critical importance, dumping your cats on the street, or litters of kittens on the street is not only cruel and inhumane; it is illegal and should never be an option.

So, the next time you see that cute photo of a sweet and fuzzy kitten, just remember that with that picture comes a price and it is not always a pretty one… Take the responsible road and have your cat spayed or neutered. Not only will you be helping control cat overpopulation, but your cat will be healthier and happier for having the procedure which I will discuss in further detail as part of this series.

Deborah Barnes resides in the tropical paradise of South Florida with her fiancé and feline family of seven. She is the author of the 5-star rated books, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary and Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond, as well as the award winning blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles that continues to cover the everyday journey she shares with her cats along with topics from the humorous behaviors of cats to very serious subjects on pet responsibility.  Deborah was awarded 2013 “Writer of the Year” by Friskies Purina on behalf of the Cat Writers’ Association and she is also the Secretary of the nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane, Inc. of Miami, Florida, whose mission is to create public awareness and reduce the numbers of animals on the streets and in shelters through an extensive educational campaign.

Spay/Neuter Awareness

With February being Spay/Neuter Awareness month, it’s time once again to talk about the importance of getting your pets fixed. This week, my focus will be on our feline friends.

In a perfect world, we might not need to spay/neuter our cats. But the reality is 1.4 million unwanted cats are euthanized each year. In addition, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) there are an estimated 30 to 40 million homeless cats. Clearly, we have a pet overpopulation crisis, and the one message animal welfare experts keep repeating is this: spaying and neutering is the best way to change those numbers.

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CAT REPRODUCTION

There’s an interesting article at Live Science, which summarizes recent research as showing that “cat owners could use a refresher on the ‘birds and the bees,’ at least when it comes to their feline companions.” I won’t bore you with the statistics, but will share owner misconceptions about feline reproduction that contribute to our cat overpopulation crisis.

First, there’s the ignorance about the age at which cats can get pregnant. Quick, show of hands! Is it twelve months? Six months? Wrong and wrong. Did you know that kittens as young as three months old can get pregnant? This means it’s medically okay, and even recommended, to spay a cat when she’s a kitten. She just needs to be at least eight weeks old and weigh at least two pounds.

Second, there’s the ignorance about whether or not cat siblings can reproduce. Apparently, 39% of surveyed cat owners believed siblings couldn’t. The reality is they can. And do!

Finally, there’s a belief that female cats should have a litter before spayed. Pet overpopulation aside, spaying a female makes sense for health reasons too. It greatly reduces the risk of cancers if you have a cat spayed before the first heat and certainly before she has a litter. Moreover, spaying is an easier medical procedure if done before the first heat.

CAT REPRODUCTION STATS

Many cats “come into heat” as often as once every few weeks, especially in warmer climates. The warm weather will coincide with the female cats’ heat cycles, causing a kitten “season” starting in spring, peaking in late spring or early summer, and ending in fall.

The serious stats are:

  • Average number of litters a fertile cat can produce in one year: 2-3
  • Average number of kittens in a feline litter: 4–6
  • Average number of kittens in a seven-year period: 87

When you consider that half of those kittens will be female, and that each of those female kittens can also produce 87 kittens in seven years, the numbers add up quickly. One common stat is that a single unspayed cat and its offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in a seven year period. Obviously that’s a hypothetical maximum. Others say a more realistic figure is five thousand. Whichever number you use, it’s thousands more than would have been produced if that first female cat had been spayed.

In all likelihood, you’ve already seen statistics similar to the above in a pretty graphic that circulates online. They’re fairly common among animal groups. But when data from The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) shows that 5.64 million kittens are produced annually from unplanned litters, we would all do well to educate ourselves about cat reproduction and to really pay attention to its impact on pet overpopulation. Margaret Slater, senior director of veterinary epidemiology at ASPCA, has pointed out in Live Science, “People don’t realize that it’s difficult to keep a cat from getting pregnant.”

BENEFITS OF SPAY/NEUTER

Let’s consider the benefits of spay/neuter to your cat, who knows nothing about the overpopulation crisis.

For males, neutering reduces his risk from numerous health problems. Although cats are different than dogs and wander for reasons other than reproducing, such as hunting, neutering will decrease a tom’s urge to roam and to fight; this lowers his chances of disease transmission and injury. In particular, deep bite wounds are the leading factor in the transmission of feline leukemia [FeLV] and feline immunodeficiency virus [FIV]. Neutering also eliminates the powerful odor of adult male cat urine, as well as the tendency of males to spray in the house. Both of these last benefits will make you happier, and a happier you makes for a happier cat!

For females, neutering also reduces her risk from numerous health problems. Executive director, Rebecca Guinn, at LifeLine Animal Project notes that they see a lot of unspayed cats come into the clinic with pyometra (an infection of the uterus) which can be life-threatening. Spaying reduces urine-marking. Unaltered cats have urges that make them irritable and anxious. They yowl or whine frequently, fight with other cats, and/or destroy objects in the house. Spaying will eliminate these behaviors. Again, a happier you will make for a happier cat!

THE SPAY/NEUTER OPERATION

What does spay/neuter mean? Spaying is the surgical removal of a female cat’s ovaries and uterus, while neutering is the removal of a male cat’s testicles. Only licensed veterinarians are allowed to perform these operations.

How do spay/neuter operations work? Prior to surgery, your veterinarian may carry out a complete physical examination of your cat or draw a sample of his blood for analysis. To minimize pain and discomfort, both spaying and neutering are conducted while your cat is under general anesthesia.

What happens after spay/neuter operations? Most cats are back to normal within a few days. The surgery site usually heals within two weeks and any skin stitches are removed at a follow-up appointment with your vet.

THE BOTTOM LINE ABOUT SPAY/NEUTER

As I stated at the beginning, in a perfect world we might not need to spay/neuter our cats. However, with 1.4 million cats being euthanized each year and an estimated 30 to 40 million homeless cats, we clearly have a pet overpopulation crisis. Best Friends Animal Society explains, “Spaying or neutering your cat prevents unwanted births, which helps reduce overpopulation in shelters. Millions of unwanted animals end up in shelters or on the streets each year. Only a lucky few are adopted; the rest are either euthanized or die from trauma, exposure, starvation or disease. By spaying or neutering your cat, you do your part to prevent this tragedy.”

Ready to fight cat overpopulation? Lincoln Animal Ambassadors offers a low-cost spay/neuter voucher program in cooperation with nine Lincoln vet clinics: pet owners pay what they can afford toward the procedure and LAA pays the rest. Coming in February, LAA will offer a Fix Me Meow voucher. For just $25 you’ll be able to get your cat spayed/neutered, and vaccinations will also be covered.

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If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s Fix Me Meow Project reach as many cats as possible by donating. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of unwanted cats.

Our Most Euthanized Pet

According to a 2015-2016 survey by American Pet Products Association (APPA), 35% of all households in the United States own a cat, with the total number of pet cats reaching almost 86 million. Of those, almost 97% of households consider cats to be family members or companions. Obviously cats are important to Americans. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that 1.4 million cats are euthanized each year, according to the ASPCA. Just as bad is that cats are being euthanized at a higher rate than dogs. For the timeframe of 1994-1997, the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy Shelter Statistics Survey reported that 71% of cats that enter shelters are euthanized, whereas only 56% of dogs are euthanized.

Even here in Nebraska, cats aren’t doing well. On its website, The Nebraska Humane Society claims to be unique among animal shelters, by being the facility that houses all animals with nowhere else to go, and states that it is “proud to say that we have not had to euthanize a healthy, adoptable dog, for lack of space, in several years.” At the same time, it states that for cats, the story is less happy. “Cats are a major challenge for every shelter in the country, due to their overwhelming numbers…. at times, we run out of space.”

If we love our cats so much, why are so many being killed? Or as the author of The Top 10 Book of Mysterious Mousers, Talented Tabbies put it, “Cats, the most popular pets in the United States, are also the most euthanized animals in the world.”

So what can the average cat owner do? Over the next few weeks, I’ll cover three ways. First, you can ensure your cat is spayed/neutered. Organization after organization is reporting that sterilization programs result in significant drops in euthanasia rates. Perhaps that’s why The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has taken the position that “the only method of population control that has demonstrated long-term efficacy in significantly reducing the number of animals entering animal shelters is the voluntary sterilization of owned pets.” In addition, the veterinary community has formally acknowledged the importance of safe, efficient, accessible sterilization programs as the “best antidote to the mass euthanasia of cats and dogs resulting from overpopulation.”

For anyone who wants to join this latter fight, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors offers a low-cost spay/neuter voucher program, in cooperation with nine Lincoln vet clinics. People pay what they can afford toward the procedure and LAA pays the rest. Coming in February, LAA will offer a Fix Me Meow voucher. For just $25, you’ll be able to get your cat spayed/neutered, and vaccinations will also be covered. Since 2010, LAA has altered about 2056 pets, averaging about 372 pets per year.

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Second, you should keep your domesticated cat inside. It’s obvious why you should keep your cat inside if it hasn’t been altered. Letting an unaltered cat run freely is a recipe for accidental breeding, which contributes to the pet overpopulation. There are also indirect ways that outdoor cats contribute to overpopulation, which I’ll cover in an upcoming series of articles.

Third, you can support Trap-Neuter-Release. According to The Humane Society of the United States, cats are divided into three distinct populations: those living in homes as personal pets, those being cared for by shelters and rescues, and those residing in our communities. This latter group, known as community cats, consist of abandoned, stray, and feral (unsocialized) cats. In the United States, there are an estimated thirty to forty million community cats. Many animal welfare groups advocate for a TNR approach to their management. In future posts, I’ll share information about successful TNR communities.

Through the above efforts, many cats have already been saved! To find out more about spay/neuter, the indoor pet initiative, TNR, and check back in the weeks ahead for posts by myself and other bloggers on these important topics.