ANNUAL TRAGEDY Our animal-rescue centres are once again beginning to overflow with stray and unwanted kittens.
The vet's view
There are an estimated 300,000 stray and feral cats throughout Ireland, a staggering number you will agree. While the terms ‘stray’ and ‘feral’ are both used in terms of describing non-domesticated cats, there is a difference in the meaning of these terms.
Stray cats will have had at one point in time exposure to human contact for a reasonable period of time, giving them some experience of human interaction, while the term ‘feral’ refers to cats who have never had direct human contact or interaction.
Strays can to a large degree be rehabilitated and rehomed with a reasonable amount of human attention, but ferals are much more difficult to domesticate. Having said that, feral kittens under eight weeks old can generally be domesticated relatively easily.
Rescue centres refer to these months, March through June, as ‘kitten season’. This is the period every single year where they see their centres begin to overflow with stray and unwanted kittens. Many of these little orphans are presenting in poor health and with a high disease burden (everything from fleas, lice, worms to cat flu) and life-threatening conditions, such as feline Aids and feline infectious leukaemia, to name but a few.
This perennial problem of litters and litters of kittens is fuelled by the fact that there are so many un-neutered male and female cats in the country. Even domesticated cats who are not sterilised (both male and female) are fuelling this growing problem.
Many people do not realise that sexual activity in cats can begin at a very young age – even as young as four and a half months old. When a young cat begins its sexual cycle, she will continue to repeatedly return to estrus (heat, or sexual receptivity) until she has either mated or been sterilised. This ability to have multiple heat cycles during the breeding season is called being polyestrous. So, as you can see, a young kitten of just four or five months old can produce a vast number of offspring throughout its life, unless controlled.
It is imperative that owners have BOTH their male and female feline pets neutered at a young age, both to help control the cat population and to help reduce the subsequent feline disease levels in the cat population.
Neutering also contributes in no short way to easing the financial burden of our animal rescue centres at this time of year. Remember, males too need to be neutered, as they are of course half the problem! This also dramatically reduces the level of spraying and fighting in which males engage, and further reduces the levels of transmissible disease in the cat population.
If you care about your cat or kitten, if you wish other cats and kittens had a better life, and if you would like to help our burdened animal-welfare shelters, then please, please neuter.
Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.