What is kitten season?
The start of kitten season is marked by the influx of pregnant cats and litters of kittens to rescues and shelters, largely due to the warming temperatures and pregnancy cycle of a cat. In Minnesota, kitten season typically lasts from April to October.
This time can be overwhelming for shelters and rescues — Animal Humane Society included — which is why TNR (trap neuter return) programs for feral and community cats are so important. Without shelters and rescues, kitten season would look much different, especially in our local community.
Did you know? The average cat can get pregnant at six months, and in some cases, even as young as four months. Cats can also have multiple litters at once and can be pregnant multiple times a year. This rapid reproduction leads to many unwanted or unexpected litters to be born among un-spayed/un-neutered felines, quickly resulting in overpopulation and the rise of community cat colonies.
How does kitten season impact AHS?
AHS prepares for the influx of newborn felines in a few ways, but our biggest support during this busy time comes from our foster program — in particular, a dedicated group of volunteers affectionately referred to as Bottle Baby volunteers. These special foster volunteers bring pregnant and nursing cats, or orphaned newborn kittens, into their home for round-the-clock care.
Many of our kitten litters come to us through surrender. If you find kittens, here’s what to know before moving them.
What do early stages of kitten-hood look like?
Don’t blink — kittens grow into cats quickly! Let’s take a week-by-week look at a young kitty’s life and their journey to adulthood.
A kitten is born without the ability to see or hear. Newborn kittens are entirely dependent on their mother. This is a crucial period in a kitten’s life, as they weigh less than a deck of cards. Though small, they’ll feed every one to two hours. At this stage of their life, it’s critical they’re kept warm and in close proximity to mom.
In the case of orphaned baby felines, this responsibility often falls to committed humans, like our veterinary staff and Bottle Baby volunteers. Fun fact: though you can’t see their eyes just yet, all newborn kittens’ eyes start as bright blue.
A kitten will begin to open their eyes around seven to 10 days old. They’re still fully dependent on their mother at this time. Around two weeks old, they’ll hear for the very first time. They weigh the same as a cup of sugar and rapidly gain their strength and understanding of their surroundings.
After a month of growing big and strong, these little ones travel back to AHS for a re-check. At this point, kittens weigh roughly one pound and are starting to get a feel for the world outside of their mother’s (or foster volunteer’s) care. They’re remarkably more playful, confident, and willing to test boundaries.
Nearing their first month of life, they’ll be introduced to kitten food rather than feeding on mom’s milk or specially balanced kitten formula.
It’s expected that felines this age are fully weaned off mom, though a feral cat may not be weaned until roughly three months of age. At this point, we’re starting to get a better understanding for their personalities and preferences. They’ll eat quite often from a dish, usually a mixture of wet and dry food (unless otherwise specified by a veterinarian).
In Kion’s case (pictured here), he was underweight and not eating. He required extra supervision from AHS staff and meal adaptations to ensure he got back on the right track. Kittens at this age can be introduced to meat-based baby food to encourage eating and aid in weight gain.
You’re probably used to seeing kittens this size on our adoption floor! By two months old, kittens receive spay/neuter surgery, find their way to a colony room with their littermates, and wait for a loving home. They’ll also develop their true eye color, have an increased interest in toys, and more readily explore their environment.
Cat overpopulation is an ongoing issue for many communities, and spaying/neutering cats drastically decreases the amount of unwanted litters and suffering animals. While many kittens end up becoming companion animals, many adult cats are still considered feral. Learn more about TNR and the lifesaving work AHS does.
Ready to bring a new animal into your home? Here’s what to consider before adopting.