Chapter contents

.. Cats & their kittens

Over time cats have naturally evolved to be a successful predator with senses adjusted to negotiate their environment. However, their small size still left them vulnerable to predation.
In answer to this, nature evolved small cats to be able to reproduce in large numbers, and their birth rate is subsequently high.

Why can kittens of the same litter look so different? 

This is because felines are a stimulated ovulation species & in order to give their genes the best chance of survival, females in season may mate with more than one tomcat to vary the gene pool of their litter. Each kitten in a litter could potentially be fathered by different tomcats, this is why litters of kittens can be a mixture of colours & patterns. This provides the safety found in numbers & is the reason cats sometimes compete furiously in the alleyways. 

The protection they have received from a symbiotic relationship with humankind originally as pest control & now the from appeal of their form and character, greatly reduced the threat to their survival. This, combined with the varied gene pools (all the kittens in one litter can have a different father), has given their ongoing survival a very firm footing. Clearly and evidently feral cat colonies can emerge, grow quickly and become a serious pest around food sources. Bringing their reproduction under control has become important for both feline and human health and welfare perspectives.
In the UK this has led to the neutering of responsibly-owned household cats becoming standard, which has successfully reduced, although by no means eradicated, feral populations. Charities also operate catch, neuter & release programs with feral colonies (eg. sos Sardinia). It is not now usual for rescue centres in the UK to have to put animals to sleep for any other reasons other than extreme behaviour and/or health problems. Some centers have little other choice & it does still happen however, & many still strain under the weight of numbers. 

Some owners still refuse or don't get around to sexually sterilising their cats, some reasons given are...

"I don't need to neuter my male - he's not the one having litters" (this is simply irresponsible ownership)

"Preventing dogs and cats from having babies is unnatural" (neither is the level of protection the species' receive, or the over population or starvation problems that can result)

"I don't want my male pet to feel deprived or less masculine" (Neutering will not make the slightest difference & neutered males will still see off invaders, remain social with other cats, they just wont feel the need to go as far or cause problems)

"The local shelter will take care of the kittens" (Charities are under great strain from the weight of kittens & stray cat numbers due to the cats that are still left entire already)


Culling the numbers of feral colonies was not found to be effective, the void left behind is simply re-filled by growing kittens that would not otherwise have survived. Tackling the problem at the source was found to be effective - surgically neutering and spaying halted the immediate problem (eg. sos Sardinia) & in the U.K. this aproach prevents many more domestic animals from straying.

Drugs are available to induce anoestrus (the periods of time that cats are sexually inactive), but as with any drug there can be permanent side-effects.

Sexual sterilisation is now regularly performed in the UK at an early age on juvenile cats from 8 to 16 weeks. Rescue centres neuter and spay cats before they are re-homed and any kittens are sterilised as soon as they are considered to be old enough. This prevents any unwanted kittens from being born feral or otherwise. There is little evidence to suggest that early age sterilisation is less desirable than performing the operations later. One problem is that the procedure is more difficult with the younger age. Less experienced vets may struggle to administer the appropriate the anaesthesia, which affects kittens differently to adults. Neutering or spaying kittens can have less complications surgically, however, as the visualisation is clearer and recovery is faster. It can also prevent sexually-based problem behaviour from developing. Breeding catteries prefer to alter their kittens to prevent hybridisation and competition.


Chapter contents