Now is the time to fix the cat, before there's too much light

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Two months from now, every female cat in Juneau that hasn't been spayed will be going into heat. It's triggered by the lengthening hours of daylight. When we have 12 to 14 hours, look out!

Even little Miss Kitty, who's still a kitten herself, will get into the act. She'll go into heat even though she is only 6 to 8 months old. Having kittens at such a tender age isn't the best thing for her health; ask your vet.

Heat starts with your cat acting restless and the next thing you know, she's climbing the walls and yowling to get out. Meanwhile, every tomcat for miles around is heading her way, and they aren't bringing candy and bouquets. They fight and yowl and spray all over the yard and house. That makes you - and your cat - really popular with the neighbors. The caterwauling goes on for about two weeks.

It's over faster if your cat manages to shoot out the door. The hormones kick in, the brain clicks off and out she goes! Then the tomcats turn from fighting each other to beating her up. One after another, they jump on her and sink their teeth into the scruff of her neck. Mating hurts. It's pain that makes the mating female shriek. Days later, she'll crawl home to lick her wounds and wait for the kittens to arrive.

Kittens have to be the cutest things on earth! But one female cat can have 420,000 offspring - kittens, grandkittens, nieces, nephews and so on - by the time she is seven. (The average cat has three litters a year with four to six kittens in each batch. Each of the kittens starts reproducing at about six months of age. Do the math.) Homeless cats that haven't been spayed are doomed to an endless cycle of littering.

Spaying your cat helps keep the feline population in check. It's a real heartbreaker to think of all the cats and kittens "put to sleep" just because there were too many of them. In Juneau, we now have a no-kill animal shelter. That's largely the result of lots of spaying and neutering, which have reduced the surplus of homeless pets.

Some people choose not to spay their cats because they want their children to see an animal bear and raise its young. There's another way to accomplish that. Especially during kitten season, the Gastineau Humane Society needs foster homes. Last year at my house, we fostered a cat that, after a white-paw inspection of the guest quarters, gave birth to five tiny kittens. It was amazing to see how quickly they grew from helpless squabs into bright-eyed, tumbling furballs. Then kittens and mother went back to the animal shelter for spaying/neutering and adoption into permanent homes.

Kittens can safely be spayed or neutered when they are eight weeks old and weigh two pounds. The surgery is much easier on them when they, and the organs involved, are small. Two to three days after surgery, kittens are once again bouncing off the walls. By contrast, a female that has had a few litters will need about two weeks for recovery.

The hours of daylight are increasing every day. It's time to give some serious thought to making Miss Kitty an appointment with the vet.

• Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of which simply showed up at her door. She volunteers at the Gastineau Humane Society.

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