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'Kitten season' leading to overcrowding in Austin-area shelters

Shelters say sometimes it’s better to leave kittens outside if they are with their mom.

AUSTIN, Texas — It's beginning to be the time of year known as "kitten season."

Kitten season is basically the warmer months of the year, which tend to be when kittens are born,” said Katherine Schroeder, assistant manager of the neonatal kitten foster program at Austin Pets Alive!.

From March to October, shelters start overcrowding with the number of kittens they take in.

"When springtime hits, it absolutely like quadruples instantly," Schroeder said.

Since the beginning of this year, Austin Pets Alive! has accepted 985 kittens; last year, it only accepted 750. If it continues on at this rate, the organization is on track to receive more than 3,000 kittens this year.

“Our fosters are really at capacity right now because our kitten intake has been extraordinarily high this year,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said the last time they saw a surplus like this was in 2020, when there was a crisis in the animal sheltering world. She said kittens getting separated from their mothers is the main issue that leads to crowding in shelters.

"There are situations where, you know, we're bringing in kittens who could have stayed out in the environment," Schroeder said.

She said people will bring in kittens to shelters who do not appear to have a mom – but more often than not, the mom is out looking for food or shelter and will return.

"What we recommend is having folks keep close eyes on them for six to eight hours before calling it and saying, 'OK, these kittens are at risk,'" Schroeder said.

Austin Pets Alive! said if you see a kitten that looks severely underweight, has crusty eyes or looks very dirty, that might be a sign to bring them in. Otherwise, they're best left on their own.

If there's predators nearby or if they look sick, bring them to Austin Animal Center first or call 311 and ask for advice, because a lot of the time they are OK where they are,” Schroeder said.

She said their natural environment is best for them.

"Cats are the best moms for orphan kittens," Schroeder said. “We try to do our best to recreate the care that they give, but nothing beats an actual mom cat.”

The Austin Pets Alive! Neonatal Kitten Nursery focuses on treating and providing homes to bottle babies and medically critical kittens. Schroeder said when people bring in kittens who should be left alone, it makes it more difficult for them.

While we love them and we are happy to intake them, it does cause overcrowding of shelters and it does cause our foster program to be at capacity when we really want to focus on the medically critical kittens,” Schroeder said.

Austin Pets Alive! is always looking for more fosters to take some of these kittens. It encourages fosters to take more than one, so they don’t split up the litter. The shelter said it's not difficult to become a foster. 

You don't really have to have any preexisting knowledge,” Schroeder said. “You just need to have the ability to care for them on the schedule that they need, and we will teach you the rest. So, we'll teach you to bottle feed, we'll teach you to syringe feed, we will teach you how to administer medications, even injections. Anybody can learn it.”

You can fill out a foster application on Austin Pets Alive!’s website.

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