2018-01-31 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Oh, no! Is kitten season on Long Island becoming longer, or worse, year round? The photo below of two kittens is worrisome. Is our typical kitten season becoming a pattern of the past?

The remarks above may seem strange because these five-week-old kittens are beyond adorable. They came to Last Hope from Babylon Shelter after being rescued during the cold spell in early January. A kind Wyandanch resident trapped the duo below and later one more brother. These babies, born in December, are in Last Hope foster care and are not ready for adoption yet.

But these cuties are also representative of a crop of newborn kittens we don’t recall seeing before from late November to late March. If kitten season is expanding, why is this happening? Is climate change a contributing factor?

Constant kittens will affect cat rescue efforts. This prolonged influx does not give shelters a reprieve with time to get the previous summer’s kittens placed before more are born. A longer kitten season would also impact adult cats waiting for homes. The typical winter lull gives them a chance to shine. But if there is a steady supply of baby kittens, adults will be upstaged by kitty cuteness all the time.

Tiny kittens found in Wyandanch when kitten season was “supposed to be” over. Tiny kittens found in Wyandanch when kitten season was “supposed to be” over. What is kitten season? The Danbury Animal Welfare Center states: “Cats differ from dogs in that they do not have heat cycles at regular intervals throughout the year. Instead, cats come into heat seasonally, based on a number of factors. These conditions include the number of daylight hours, rising temperatures, the presence of other cats and when other conditions are optimal. With at least 10 hours of daylight and other optimal conditions, a cat’s hormonal system is activated and the reproductive cycle is initiated. The mating season for cats in the Northern Hemisphere traditionally begins in March and extends through September, but this has been getting longer over the years.”

Some experts have been investigating whether warmer temperatures across the globe are not only affecting glaciers and sea levels, but also the heat cycle of cats. The Environmental Protection Agency has stated rising temperatures may cause some small mammals to breed earlier. While many disagree that this theory applies to cats, stating that the heat cycle in cats is more closely related to the number of daylight hours to which a cat is exposed versus temperature, rising temperatures could create other conditions that may contribute to a longer mating season. For example, warmer temperatures may make prey animals (mice/rats) more available earlier in the year, giving cats a more reliable food source to support them in an extended mating season. And, warmer weather can increase kitten survival rate, lending to more kittens earlier in the year.”

In southern areas like Florida, there can be warm periods of weather at any time during the year, so kittens are born throughout the year. However, even in warm places, the greatest number of kittens are born during “kitten season,” which begins in early spring and runs through late fall.

Feline heat cycles: Cat biology seems to allow flexibility about when kittens are born. Cat estrus (heat) begins as animals reach sexual maturity, usually at about six months of age, although some cats will go into heat as early as four months and others as late as 10 to 12 months. Cats can become pregnant as young as five-months old. There is some breed variability too. Siamese cats tend to mature early while Persians are late bloomers.

Cats are polyestrous, meaning they have several heat cycles a year (whereas dogs, which are diestrous and typically have two heat cycles a year). Cats usually have heat cycles between January and September. Starting around January, a female cat will keep coming back into heat every seven to ten days until she is bred or the amount of daylight decreases (usually around October). Cats kept indoors and exposed to artificial lights may cycle year-round. However, indoor cats aren’t usually part of the feral overpopulation unless they live and breed rampantly in a hoarder house.

The average cat pregnancy lasts 63 to 69 days. Many vets put the gestation period at 65 days. So if we figure, pregnancy lasts about two months, feral cats mating now will deliver their kittens in late March. But we are seeing babies now… which means Long Island rescuers need to become more vigilant about TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) and we must all prepare for a future without a much-needed gap in the months kittens are born.

Kitten Bowl Open House: Get ready for some Feline Football! Sun., Feb. 4 is Kitten Bowl V on Hallmark Channel. The Last Hope Lions are back roaring on the field. Two of our kittens–Dusty and his sister Cecelia– are special guests of TV host Beth Stern on this national broadcast. They were rescued from a Hempstead hoarding situation. Dusty suffered from severe eye infections and required both eyes surgically removed.

Dusty is strong in spirit. Despite his lack of sight, he can do everything–climb stairs, jump off furniture, play with toys and other cats. He was amazing during the taping, turning to the director attentively as if she were speaking to him, and holding his head up high so Beth could kiss him on the forehead. He demonstrates to viewers across the US that special needs pets can live full, happy lives.

Last Hope in Wantagh is celebrating with a Kitten Bowl Open House at the Wantagh Cat Center, 3300 Beltagh Avenue from 12 to 5 p.m. Watch the Kitten Bowl; there will games for kids; a tailgate party with refreshments; raffles and, of course, cats and kittens for adoption. You are invited to join in the feline football festivities.

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