We don’t hear this every day, but we hear it often enough to make us shudder. Someone calls to get a free spay/neuter voucher to fix their cat and proudly announces that it's time now because she just had kittens – usually coupling the announcement with “they found good homes for all her babies” or – they “will keep mom and her babies together forever” in their home because she’s “such a good mother” to them. Apparently this makes it okay – the kittens will be cared for.
No one will argue that their hearts are in the right place. The miracle of birth and motherhood are a sight to behold – and who can deny that baby kittens are precious? Yet – like many of life’s temptations – allowing your cat to reproduce for your and her enjoyment – has many unintended consequences.
Just a few days ago we had a frantic call from a woman whose pet cat’s planned pregnancy went awry. She gave birth to one kitten but several hours later was still in labor and obviously suffering. She had no money to take her to the vet and needed financial assistance to get her help. This meaningful experience of giving birth almost cost the cat her life. Although many cats can and do have kittens on their own – a good number of them end up at vet clinics when they encounter problems. You don’t know if your cat will need help until it’s too late – and the cost of emergency vet care can be staggering – with no “kitty insurance” to absorb the cost.
The concept that it’s okay to let a cat have one litter is flawed because it doesn't keep the population stable – it increases it geometrically. Cats don't have babies they have litters -- averaging four to six kittens (not one or two) and some litters contain seven or eight kittens. Add to that the likelihood of a mother cat getting pregnant again while nursing and the numbers go up even more. You “may” think you can find good homes for the first litter, but the second litter -- not so much.
You may want to keep Mom with her kittens in your home but as the kittens grow into cats the commitment gets more and more difficult to keep. The average cost of caring for a cat is about $500/year. By the time you realize the financial commitment that was implicit in the cat commitment the kittens are much harder to adopt because they’re now adult cats. And – if you lacked the money to get mom and the litter fixed promptly – when the kittens are 8-16 weeks old – you’ll soon find the kittens are now parents too and your problem has escalated to a crisis point. Don’t look to shelters to take on your cats and find them homes – they simply can’t. According to the ASPCA about 70% of -the cats given to shelters are euthanized for lack of homes. And the no kill-shelters you think will welcome your cats? Well they're usually full – and when they are admitting – they’re looking for kittens because that’s what they can most readily place. Many will accept new cats only if they are current on vaccinations and already sterilized -- at your expense.
With all of these pitfalls, it’s hard for us to understand why anyone believes it’s best to let their cat have "one litter". Spaying and neutering your pet cats should be a bottom line of adopting them – the sooner the better. But – if you and your family want to experience the wonderment of kittens – do it responsibly. Hook up with a shelter or rescue that has a family of kittens in need of a foster home to love them and care for them until they’re old enough to be adopted out. It’s a 4-8 week commitment that instead of contributing to the problem of cat euthanasia can work to prevent it. And – who knows – in the foster family there may even be a kitten or mom cat with your name on it.