Kitten Season: Huge Numbers Pose Problems for Shelters

Friday, March 20, 2015

kitten seasonWhen you hear the phrase “kitten season,” your mind may conjure images of sweet, fluffy kittens happily romping around on a sunny day. And of course, kittens are that cute.

The real situation isn’t sweet at all. For shelter workers, kitten season can be the very worst time of year.

Kitten season is the period when births peak. It happens twice each year: once in the spring and once in the fall. But the more intense kitten season happens in the spring.

An estimated 20 million kittens will be born this spring alone. There simply aren’t enough homes for all of them — instead, they overwhelm shelters, which are often taxed for space at the best of times.

“An enormous amount of kittens have nowhere to go. People bring them to shelters, and the shelters become overcrowded. Because it’s not spread out throughout the year, it’s a huge rush,” said PetSmart Charities program manager Bryan Kortis.

When resources are limited, staff is strained. They’re often forced to make tough decisions.

Spring fever starts seemingly endless summer of kittens

Generally, it starts around March and lasts until about June, but the actual length of the spring kitten season varies around the country. For instance, the Northeast may experience a shorter season compared to the Southwest, where cats can breed year-round because of the warm temperatures.

Dr. Steven Hansen has been president of the Arizona Humane Society (AHS) since 2013. He came from New York City. “For me coming from the Northeast, I was surprised how early these kittens started coming in,” he said.

kitten kissFor AHS, kitten season runs from March through November. “In our waiting room on a given day, we would have people with boxes and boxes of kittens — more kittens than we could manage,” Dr. Hansen said.

Caring for kittens is no easy task

You might be thinking, “Why is this a bad thing? Kittens are easier to place in homes compared to older cats, right?”

While kittens can be more desirable to potential adopters, most shelters don’t have the resources to care for very young kittens. Neonate kittens — those who are about 2 to 3 weeks old — must be bottle-fed every few hours. Shelters must place them with someone who is trained to care for neonates. If they don’t find those adopters or foster placements fast, the kittens are often euthanized.

Kittens older than 3 weeks still require extra care. Their immune systems aren’t strong, so disease and illness are concerns. They must be placed in a special area of the shelter to protect them.

Trap-Neuter-Return reduces kitten intake

At least 13 million of the 20 million kittens expected to be born this spring will come from free-roaming cats. “People don’t understand the reproductive capacity of cats. A cat is very different from a dog, and very different from a human,” Dr. Hansen said.

Some cats can be in heat for up to 20 weeks each year. Compare that to dogs, who can be in heat almost 4 weeks each year.

That’s why aggressive Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs in communities like Phoenix are crucial to minimizing the influx of kittens during kitten season.

TNR programs are key to solving the problem of pet homelessness. PetSmart Charities has granted more than $18 million for community TNR projects since 2009, including more than $500,000 to AHS.

Kitten nursery gives everyone room to breathe

In 2014, AHS opened a kitten nursery that is solely dedicated to the care of kittens. The nursery is in a restricted-access room and run by full-time staff and volunteers 7 days a week. It can hold up to 120 kittens at a time.

man holds kittens“When the kittens come in, if they’re not ill, they’re at least underweight and probably have parasites. They’re already at a disadvantage, so we have to get them cleaned up, healthy and socialized,” Dr. Hansen said.

All this work in the nursery starts the kittens on the road to adoption. The nursery workers even try to socialize the kittens with dogs to make them more adoptable.

Last year alone, AHS took in 728 kittens. They expect that number to grow this year. Despite the influx of kittens, overall cat euthanasia at AHS declined by 43% in 2014. Much of that success is attributable to the kitten nursery and TNR efforts.

How you can help save kittens

  • Know what to do if you find kittens

While some shelters like AHS have found the resources to manage kitten season, every shelter needs help. You can take the first step toward supporting them by knowing what to do if you find kittens born to community cats in your neighborhood.

“If you find neonate kittens, don’t scoop them up and take them to the shelter. Leave them where they are and keep an eye on them,” Bryan said. “It’s likely that the mother is around. That’s the biggest mistake people make.”

Watch the neonate kittens to see if the mother comes around. If you see her, it’s best to let her take care of them until they’re old enough to eat on their own. Otherwise, how long you should wait depends on the age of the kittens. If they're younger than 4 weeks old, don't consider taking them to a shelter unless mom hasn't appeared for about 6 hours. If the kittens are older, perhaps 4 to 6 weeks of age, then wait a day before gathering them up.

  • Volunteer as a foster parent

At that point, consider fostering the kittens yourself. Call your local shelter to see if it has the capacity to take them. The shelter will likely prefer to find a foster family for the kittens, and if that’s the case, you can volunteer as a foster parent. Often, shelters will provide training and other resources. 

  • Be an adoption advocate — or an adopter

Even if you don’t find kittens in your neighborhood, the number one way to help shelters manage kitten season is to adopt a kitten or cat during the summer months when the spring kittens are old enough to be placed in homes. Not only do you save a life, you also open up space for the shelter to care for another kitten or cat.

If your home is full, you can still help by encouraging your friends and family members to adopt. You can also make a donation to help us continue our lifesaving programs.



Characterizing kittens as a "huge problem" is counterproductive. Such language does not drive adopters to shelters. Why should anybody be excited about adopting something that is such a burden to a shelter? It is a basic marketing error (which has become habit in the industry) to promote spay/neuter of cats by making the by-product of in-tact cats (kittens) into a problem that needs a solution. Kittens are fun! Go to the shelter and get a kitten (or two) and your life will get better! Don't make kittens the villain in discussion of adult cat spay/neuter.


Hi Stacey, we appreciate your comment and certainly agree that adopting a kitten is a wonderful decision. Our intent was to explain the reality shelters face during kitten season and let folks know they can help save lives by fostering, adopting or donating. You can find a number of stories celebrating adoption of all pets in the Adoption Stories section of our website. 


Let's not forget about the mother cats. They tend to get overlooked when all those cute kittens are around.

Nina loucks

Wanted friendly kitten 3 to 6 months.


Hi Nina, I'm happy to hear you want to adopt a kitten! You can search for adoptable pets in your area through our Find a Pet tool. 

Samantha Brooks

I found 2 kittens about 3 and 1/2 months, they are feral but, I am trying to get them used to people and i am trying to find them a home. If anyone can tell me a good shelter to take them to, I would be most appreciative. I LOVE animals with all my heart, but I have no place for 2 kittens right now.


Have cute little kittens to give away some bob tailed


I love kitten's because there really cute and fluffy

Patricia Knowles

I would like to have 2 baby female kittens.How do I go about getting them from you?


Hi Patricia, I'm happy to hear you want to give two baby kittens a home! If you'd like to adopt, you can search for adoptable kittens in your area through our website. Please reach out to your local animal welfare organizations directly if you're interested in fostering. 

patty davis

Hi Patricia,

I have two kittens that are in need of a good home if you are interested, however I am in the Akron area. Please email if you are interested.


There's a great organization that trains people how to bottle feed neonates, and how to care for sick kittens that are less than 2 months old. Goal is to reduce the number of these kittens that get euthanized because there are not enough people around who know how to care for them. Check out

julie boggs

I'm interested in learning more about caring for neonates, I'm doing this now ,would love to learn more.


Hello there.
I work in Los Angeles between vermont ave and Beverly. Behind the building I work there is a family of cats. I need to know how you guys can help me to spy/neutered because I don't know what is gonna happen when they grow up.... more family... they live in the street and the students there give food only... help me.


Hi Edith, I'm happy to hear you want to help these cats. You can visit a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in your area, or you may want to reach out to your local animal welfare organizations for advice. They'll have the best knowledge of the resources available in your area. 

Victoria Argo

Hi Edith,
I know who can help you if you are in the Los Angeles Area. Fix nation offers free Spay and Neuter and will provide flea treatment and shots for the cats. FREE!! I have had many cats fixed there and they are excellent. I believe they can also lend you traps to transport the cats in if you do not have any. You can get lots of information on TNR (trap-neuter-return) from their website. You will need to fill out a short application and then you'll be able to get appointments for all the Kittys. You will need to transport the cats and briefly care for them. Everything you need to know is on the website. You can do this and the difference you will make in these cats life is huge. Bless you for your concern for these cats, you are their Angel for a wealth of information . Fixnation (818)524-2287 Ext 6 & appointments[at]fixnation[dot]org..




Hi Summer, we don't promote selling pets, rather we hope folks will consider adoption. You can search for adoptable siamese kittens in your area using our Find a Pet tool. 


Do yall have kittens


Hi Bethany, we don't have pets of our own, rather we work with 2,800 local animal welfare organizations to bring adoptable pets to PetSmart stores. You can search for adoptable kittens in your area using our Find a Pet tool.


I need some help finding kittens homes. 1 was brought to us last week by a feral tom cat that roams around, another last night was clear up a tree in my yard meowing and the firemen had to get her down. They were both way undernourished and while I don't have a problem feeding them I cannot keep any more. Both are really friendly.


Hi Amy, your best bet is to reach out to your local animal welfare organizations. They'll have the best knowledge of the resources available in your area. If it helps, you can search for our adoption partners in your area:


I would like 1 male kitten


Hi Sydney, I'm happy to hear you want to adopt a kitten! You can search for adoptable pets in your area using our Find a Pet tool. 

Frank Berardi

Hello I live in Alaska and as crazy as this might sound their is a shortage of kittens up here. It is nearly impossible to find one even at a shelter. Does anyone have any advice on ordering one in the mail or which area has the biggest overpopulation problem? I would prefer to order one some place where it will help the most.



incase I do not get back to this site in time I can be reached at (907)231-2943


Hi Frank, I'm happy to hear you want to adopt a kitten, but I'm sorry you're having trouble finding one. For safety reasons, you shouldn't order a kitten through the mail. You can search for adoptable kittens in your area through our Find a Pet search tool. 

kitten lover

My parents said if I could find a little kitten I can buy her or him please help me :)


Hi, we're happy to help you adopt a kitten. You can search for adoptable kittens in your area using our Find a Pet search tool. 


I have a free kitten I am fostering.


hello my name is Isabella and I would like to adopt a male kitten 6-8 weeks I prefer


I am looking for a Maine coon kitten. I am in the northern Kentucky area. I have searched our area with no loss. I want to surprise my husband for Christmas. Any help would be great.


Hi Valerie, My apologies for the delay in responding to your inquiry. You can find adoptable pets near you in multiple ways: 1) Through our Find an Adoptable Pet tool, 2) Find An Adoption Center Near you tool, 3) At one of our quarterly National Adoption Weekend Events, 4) through one of PetSmart Charities® Everyday Adoption Centers. Both search tools can be found on our National Adoption Weekend page:


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