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Shelter Medicine: Kittens: Coming Soon to a Shelter Near You

Strategies for coping with kitten season

Each year in the depths of winter, Mother Nature's biological clock silently starts ticking, gradually bringing the birds, the bees, the flowers, the trees … and the kittens. Talk about too much of a good thing!

Seasonal breeders, cats are sexually inactive and do not mate when the days are short. In the Northern hemisphere, breeding season begins a few weeks after the winter solstice—Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year. As the days get longer, female cats (also known as queens) typically "come into heat" at regular intervals. This is the time when they attract mates and are receptive to breeding. Most queens cycle into "heat" for a few days approximately every two weeks until they become pregnant, are spayed, or the season ends in the fall.

That leaves some long months for what shelters and rescues have come to know as "kitten season." During the spring and summer months, large numbers of pregnant cats, nursing mothers, and kittens often overwhelm facilities across the United States. From a health perspective, the care of so many felines requires special considerations. Shelters must take extra care to protect young kittens, especially those younger than 4-5 months, from exposure to germs; and must provide them with a series of timely vaccinations, as well as high-quality nutrition and proper deworming in order to keep them healthy.

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