Kitten Lady explains the kitten crisis and solutions at the Animal Rights National Conference in 2016.

With so many animals in need in the United States, it’s kind of hard for some people to believe that kittens need our help. After all, kittens are universally adored—so they must be doing okay…right?

Unfortunately: wrong.

Kittens under 8 weeks old are one of the most euthanized populations in the United States, being killed by the hundreds of thousands every year. However, we can change that! It starts with education. Here’s what you need to know about why there’s a kitten crisis, and how to make things right.


Most shelters don’t have programs to save kittens.

Many people become very angry when they learn that their local shelter kills kittens, and rightfully so – any compassionate person would want them to live. However, shelters must operate within their means, and saving kittens can be resource intensive. Here’s why kittens are a challenge for animal shelters:

  • Kitten care requires specialized knowledge. Many shelter staff have no experience or training in pediatric care for kittens. Whether it’s kennel staff that don’t know how to bottle feed, or a medical team that doesn’t have experience treating neonatal kittens, most of the time a shelter will not know how to help unless they’ve made neonatal training a priority. Additionally, many shelters don’t have the correct supplies on hand to care for young kittens.
  • Kittens are time-intensive. The average US shelter doesn’t have the staffing to provide overnight care, which means that any unweaned kitten cannot survive even 24 hours in their facility. Unless a foster home is available, they are typically euthanized before close of business on the day they are brought in.
  • Underage kittens take up much-needed cage space. Most shelters need every open cage they can get in order to continue to take in cats in need. Because kittens can’t be adopted until they are old enough to spay at 8 weeks old, any kitten younger than that will take up cage space for several weeks as they sit and wait to be old enough for adoption. For many shelters, this presents a space problem.
  • Kittens don’t do well in a shelter setting. Even if shelters do attempt to save kittens, they often experience health problems in a shelter setting due to their compromised immune systems. A shelter is simply not a safe place for a kitten because they are so susceptible to potential disease transmission. While kittens can do well in a dedicated kitten nursery, most shelters don’t have the space to quarantine kittens in this way.

It isn’t the shelter’s fault. Saving kittens is a community effort and can only occur when the shelter and its community join together to end the euthanasia of kittens. At the end of the day, a shelter is only successful in saving lives if people are volunteering to help out. That’s why fostering for your local shelter is the best way to make an impact!

Spay/Neuter needs to be a priority…and not just for pet cats.

Anyone who cares about animal rescue knows that it’s important for pet parents to spay or neuter their cats and dogs. However, most kittens entering animal shelters aren’t actually born from pet cats…they’re born from free-roaming community cats! If you care about saving kittens, prevention is key. Here’s what you need to know about spaying and neutering:

  • It’s not just for your indoor cats. If you want to prevent kittens from being born on the streets, you need to ensure that all the community cats in your neighborhood are spayed and neutered. This is done through a process called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR.) Through TNR, cats are humanely trapped, taken to a veterinarian for spay/neuter and vaccination, eartipped (to identify them) and then returned to their outdoor home. When you TNR the cats in your community, you’re helping reduce the number of cats born outdoors, and also helping to keep those community cats safe from euthanasia. After just 3 years of TNR programming, the Fairfax County Animal Shelter saw a 41% reduction in kitten intake. Wow!
  • Pediatric spay/neuter is important! Some old-school vets will tell you that you can’t spay a cat until 6 months or even older, but that’s a dangerous and outdated standard. Studies show that it is safe to spay kittens once they reach 2 pounds (typically between 2-3 months of age), and it’s not just safe—it’s actually better for the kitten. Recovery time is quicker, kittens don’t develop mating behaviors like spraying, and there’s no chance for an accidental pregnancy. Remember, kittens can become pregnant as early as 4 months of age…so spay/neuter before they have a chance!
  • We have enough kittens without breeding. If you’re considering breeding your cat, or purchasing from a breeder…think again. When we have 1.4 million cats dying in shelters, and such a high volume of them are kittens, there is no excuse for supporting breeding. 

Remember that prevention is just as important as immediate action. Ensure that every cat and kitten over 2 pounds, whether friendly or feral, gets access to spay/neuter resources. Look up your local spay/neuter clinic and TNR groups to get started!