While kitten season may feel like a year-round event, spring and summer are the busiest adoption seasons. This can prove to be a challenging time for those working in animal welfare. However, a little planning and preparation can go a long way to ensure that things run smoothly during the season. While we’re just beginning to exit kitten peak, autumn and early winter will prove to be an excellent time to prep for next year.
Cats are amazing creatures for many reasons—including their incredible breeding capabilities. They come into heat in late January and February, just after the winter solstice and as days begin to get longer. This means that most shelters will see a spike in pregnant cat intake in late February, March, and early April. Lots of kittens appear around nine weeks later. The feline reproductive season generally lasts through the fall, and cats can become pregnant multiple times during a single season—including while they are still nursing a litter of kittens. As a result, there is a notable, sometimes crippling increase in kittens born and brought to shelters, often along with pregnant and/or nursing mothers.
So, what can you do about this? In the case of kitten season, biology is somewhat inevitable in that female cats will come into heat and get pregnant in droves if they have access to male cats. While spay/neuter is an important piece of the puzzle, this is a big-picture solution. Here are some concrete steps to take.
- Look at your historical intake data month over month to get an idea of how many cats and kittens you generally have at your shelter. Use this data to determine your capacity for care and consider what this means for your operations now and moving forward. If it means pushing for seasonal staff and volunteers, go for it. If it means making an additional effort to adopt out the shelter in the late winter, do that.
- Evaluate the programs you currently have in place. Can you schedule intake of cats and provide alternatives to admitting them to the shelter? Are there any opportunities to reduce length of stay? Are there ways you can expand placement opportunities through adoption, transfer, or return to field? Have you considered starting or expanding a foster program?
- Consider potential improvements to housing, handling, and stress reduction. Are your intake processes, vaccination protocols, and cleaning procedures holding up to best practices during these busy months?
Anticipating the busy season is the key to handling it gracefully. Start planning with your team now to prepare for April, May, and June.