Outdoor cats start breeding once the days get longer. That means lots of kittens—many of whom are looking for forever homes.
woman holding four kittens
Credit: skynesher / Getty

Kitten season is firmly here—and it might be the best chance for you to adopt the type of kitten you've always wanted.

Depending on where you live, spring and early summer coincides with the beginning of outdoor cats' breeding season, which after a few months becomes kitten season. Why? Simply, there are so many kittens born between early spring and mid-fall. So many.

Because of such an influx of new cats, United States shelters can get pretty strapped for time and resources, so they welcome monetary donations and people who volunteer to foster the new babies. It's a busy time, but it's also the "most magical" time of the year, says Brett Kruger, the feline team manager at IndyHumane (Humane Society of Indianapolis).

With so many kittens in the shelter—Indyhumane is currently housing 60—you'll have the best chance to find the kitten or kittens you've always wanted, she says. A shelter in a larger city will have weeks old cats of all shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities in the summer and fall months.

"Now is the best time to adopt," Kruger says.

When Is Kitten Season?

That depends on where you live, Kruger says. Cats who live in the southern states, where it's warm basically all the time, will breed year round. In the parts of the country that experience a version of all four seasons, outdoor cats (and mostly indoor cats who venture out) will begin to breed once it starts to get warm again. Responding to environmental stimuli during the longer days, female cats will go into heat and then the fellas will come along.

"Within a couple months, you start having litters and litters of kittens," Kruger says. 

And many of those litters end up in shelters, including Indyhumane. Currently, the society is overseeing the care of 210 kittens, the 60 in the shelter and another 150 in foster homes. In the dead of winter, Indyhumane might only house three kittens, Kruger says. She adds that kitten season in Indianapolis will last from March through November, which is probably about the same for most of the United States.

With the season lasting more than half the year, outdoor female cats—whose pregnancies only last a couple months—can sometimes birth multiple litters in one season.   

All told, thousands and thousands of baby cats are born. For shelters taking in newborns, that's a lot of time, money, and resources spent on housing, feeding, and caring for the kittens. It's why they can use some help.

How to Help During Kitten Season

Some of these might be obvious—giving time, money—but we'll start with the one that might seem counterintuitive for many well-meaning pet owners.

Leave That Kitten Nest Alone

When a momma outdoor cat gives birth to a litter, she'll construct a kind of nest for her small family. It's not uncommon to come across their little home when the kittens are alone, but that's normal. The mom needs to hunt and find water. Not to mention, she might be nearby, waiting for you to leave.

"The best thing to do is be patient. Don't get upset. Don't freak out," Kruger says. 

Do not—do not—quickly scoop the kittens up and bring them to your nearest shelter. Instead, look closely to see if they look clean and appear to weigh a healthy amount. See if they're warm to the touch, too (while being careful, of course). If they look healthy, leave them in the care of their mother. She's what's best for them, Kruger says.

Her milk, filled with antibodies, helps their newborn immune systems develop, and she keeps them on their frequent feeding schedule. Her cleaning the kittens also serves as a stimulant, letting her babies know when to go to the bathroom, Kruger says.

If newborn kittens are shuttled to a shelter, all that responsibility falls to shelter staff and foster families, Kruger says. That's spending between five and 10 minutes feeding the kittens a special replacement formula every two hours and mimicking their mom's cleaning to encourage them to pee or poop. Aka: a ton of work.

That's why otherwise kind-hearted, well-meaning people bringing in litters of kittens has become a "pretty big problem" for shelters, Kruger says. However, you can still help your nearby kitten family. You can leave out food and water or even build them a new shelter. Kruger suggests filling a styrofoam cooler with straw to make a new waterproof home.

Obviously, if the kittens look to be in poor health and you're fairly certain the mother is permanently absent, contact your local shelter for help. If you're unsure what to do, Indyhumane has a flowchart to give you guidance.

Keep Your Local TNR Program in Mind

The best way to make kitten season easier for everyone is to spay and neuter indoor and outdoor cats alike. It will prevent future kittens and, generally, allow cats to live healthier lives, Kruger says.

Cats can be neutered or spayed when they're about 2 months old, so if you still have a small family of kittens near you and you think the babies are old enough, contact your local shelter to see if it has a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program. It can take in the cats, spay and neuter them, and return them back to their outdoor homes where they're used to living.

A good TNR program will also reduce the spread of disease as altered cats are no longer seeking out mates or fights. 

Think About Fostering

Along with the shelter, a foster home is one of the best, safest places a months old kitten can live, Kruger says. Shelters will need room during the height of kitten season, and more foster homes can help with that. Members of the public providing care allows shelter staff to attend to the animals who need more serious help.

"Fostering goes so far," Kruger says. 

It's also an ideal option for someone who might not be ready for a full-time pet yet or someone who has a few months free of other responsibilities, therefore having the necessary time to feed and care for the kittens. (Maybe a college student during the summer break, Kruger suggests.)

Give Money To Your Shelter or Rescue Organization

Caring for animals is expensive—just ask Kruger about the replacement formula for newborn cats. ("Those aren't cheap.")

When you give shelters or rescues money, they can decide where it's needed most. 


Have your heart set on a lovey, orange kitten?

"Right now? We can find those very easily," Kruger says.

These next few months are when you'll have the most selection of kittens to bring home, including ones who are well socialized and ones who might need a little time to warm up to us humans. Remember, you might want to think about getting two kittens, that way they'll each have a friend for exercise, play, and enrichment when you're not around.

First time adopting a cat? Great news: Kruger will stick around and walk you through that process, too.