Anyone who bought or adopted a kitten in the run-up to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions coming in is currently facing or will shortly be facing a potentially very challenging issue. This if of course that their new pet will reach sexual maturity and the point of being able to breed, whilst veterinary services are seriously restricted as part of social distancing measures and are unable to offer spay and neuter services as a result of this.
The same applies to people who have bought or adopted kittens during lockdown too of course, although the extent of this is rather less as most people have deferred planned purchases; and also there is likely to be a few more months before these slightly newer litters come of age, by which time hopefully spay and neuter surgeries will be available once more.
This means that kitten owners who have an unneutered kitten that is coming up to the age at which they’re sexually mature, or whose pet is already of age, will find themselves faced with the problem of both tackling the unwanted behaviours that can occur in cats capable of breeding and vitally, stopping their pets from finding a mate and producing a litter of their own.
Not only is it of course a huge problem if there is suddenly a big spike in the number of litters born at a time when rescue and rehoming shelters are already under significant pressure as a result of Covid-19, but it is also not in the best interests of young female cats to permit them to breed either. Just because a cat is physically able to breed does not mean that she should, and queens should be at least two before they have their first litter to enable them to reach full physical maturity, and to protect the health of both queen and kittens.
The potential issues that unchecked breeding will cause for both the individual owners of the cats in question and the cat population in the UK as a whole has led the RSPCA to make a very clear plea to the owners of unneutered cats and kittens who are in limbo whilst waiting for spay and neuter to get the green flag once more:
Keep unneutered cats and kittens indoors.
The potential welfare implications of a huge number of new litters being born is of huge concern to both the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities, which are already under significant pressure and which is apt to worsen over the coming months.
Additionally, female cats can reach sexual maturity as early as four months of age, but that is still a kitten itself; and it is dangerous and harmful for immature queens to breed.
Sexually mature female cats can come into heat and be receptive to mating as frequently as every three weeks too, and it is not uncommon for an unneutered queen to have two litters within just a few months of each other.
When it comes to unneutered male cats too, whilst their owners won’t be the ones left with a litter to contend with, they don’t get off lightly either. The presence of an unneutered male cat can trigger a heat cycle in a female cat, and when a female cat is in heat, unneutered males from miles around will seek her out.
This means a far higher risk of those unneutered males disappearing from their homes and travelling potentially long distances, placing themselves in danger along the way; and running an extremely high risk of getting into serious fights with other unneutered males they cross paths with who all have the same idea.
When a cat reaches sexual maturity, their natural urges to reproduce do make them keen to go in search of a mate, which means they’re likely to be keener to go outside and roam.
Keeping an unneutered cat, particularly a Tom cat, inside is not always easy. However, when it comes to kittens and younger cats that have never been allowed out and so that have no awareness of the outside world at all, it is much easier to achieve this than it is for adult cats that have already been used to going out.
This means that if you haven’t started introducing your kitten to the outside world (which should not happen until after they’ve had their vaccinations anyway) it is wise not to do so, until spay and neuter surgeries are available once more and you can get them neutered first.
Part of the problem here is that nobody knows when veterinary clinics will be able to offer spay and neuter surgeries again, even as lockdown restrictions change and ease. Another issue is that when this is the case, it will not just be spay and neuter surgeries that will be part of the expanded remit of available veterinary services alone.
Other services that have been suspended including vaccinations, some medical procedures and much more will all resume simultaneously, and even a fully staffed clinic will face a significant backlog to work through, which will be handled in order of urgency rather than who got in the queue first!
That said, it is wise to let your vet know now that your pet will need neutering as soon as this is available again, so that they can be added to the list; which once more is likely to be prioritised in terms of the most mature and so, most likely to breed cats first, but getting on the list full stop is wise.