You've heard of the dog days of summer; what about "kitten season"? No, it's not a fifth season—it's the time of year when cats give birth, flooding animal shelters across the nation with homeless litters. Kitten "season" is really three seasons in one, starting in spring, peaking in late spring or early summer, and ending in fall. "In New Hampshire, kitten season lasts from early spring through late fall," says Jen Corbin, adoption center manager at the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Stratham, New Hampshire. "We are actually seeing kittens earlier and earlier each year." Domino Effect So why does kitten season occur? "The warm weather coincides with female cats' heat cycles," says Cory Smith, program manager of animal sheltering issues at The HSUS. "When female cats go into heat, male cats come running from near and far. Cats' reproductive hormones are very powerful." And no matter where the cats are, they don't have far to go. "In every community in the nation, there is an over-abundance of unsterilized cats both owned and un-owned, says Smith. "A frenzy of mating takes place each year." The easiest way to help reduce the overwhelming numbers of unwanted cats is to spay and neuter your own cat and encourage others to do the same. "It makes a huge difference," says Smith. "Even if your cat only goes outside occasionally, or there's a chance that he may get out, it allows plenty of opportunity for him to mate. Unaltered cats are driven by their hormones and tend to sneak outdoors primarily in search of a mate. Mating just once can start a domino effect that can result in dozens, even hundreds or thousands of unwanted animals." These unwanted cats and kittens, when not left on the street to fend for themselves, often turn up in high volume at the local animal shelter. Shelter Strain Kitten season presents many challenges for shelter staff and the cats in their care. Resources already hard to come by—like food, money and space—are often stretched to their limit as shelters, that often take in thousands of animals every year, are inundated with homeless cats. Typically, the adult cats feel the most immediate effects, as they are often overlooked by potential adopters when kittens are in abundance. "During kitten season it becomes more difficult to place adult cats. Even when people come in with the intent to adopt an adult, their heads are turned by the cute, active kittens, and the adult cats are passed by," says Corbin. As shelters struggle to accommodate as many cats as possible, the risk of illness also increases. "As we reach our capacity, the close quarters cause the cats additional stress, and they begin to spread germs, get sick—and the whole population suffers," says Corbin. The animals aren't the only ones who feel the effects of stress. The burden often carries over to staff and vet services as they attempt to cope with the overwhelming number of cats. "Often the staff takes home the overflow and become overwhelmed as they care for animals during the day and the night," says Corbin. "The burden also affects our local vet population as we scramble to find enough vets willing to help us get the cats spayed and neutered." An End in Sight? The vast numbers of cats that shelters accommodate across the nation during kitten season will not drop overnight. But there are many ways to help reduce cat overpopulation and to bring much-needed relief to the animals, and to the people, affected by kitten season. Here's how you can get involved: Spay or neuter your cats Kittens as young as 2 months and weighing two pounds can be safely altered. Check with a local vet or spay-neuter clinic for more information. Help your local shelter Donate supplies, money or your time. Contact your local shelter to find out what's needed most. Care for homeless or wild cats in your area Work with your local animal control or feral cat group to help control your neighborhood's feral and stray cat populations. Keep your cat safe indoors and learn how to provide safe outdoor time. Become a foster parent Contact your local shelter or rescue group to learn more about becoming a foster parent for cats or kittens in need. Adopt Open your home to new cat or adopt a playmate for your existing pets. Why you should spay or neuter your pet What do "spay" and "neuter" really mean? Female dogs and cats are spayed by removing their reproductive organs, and male dogs and cats are neutered by removing their testicles. In both cases the operation is performed while the pet is under anesthesia. Depending on your pet's age, size, and health, he or she will stay at your veterinarian's office for a few hours or a few days. Depending upon the procedure, your pet may need stitches removed after a few days. Your veterinarian can fully explain spay and neuter procedures to you and discuss with you the best age at which to sterilize your pet. Spaying or Neutering Is Good for Your Pet Spaying and neutering helps dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives. Spaying and neutering can eliminate or reduce the incidence of a number of health problems that can be very difficult or expensive to treat. Spaying eliminates the possibility of uterine or ovarian cancer and greatly reduces the incidence of breast cancer, particularly when your pet is spayed before her first estrous cycle. Neutering eliminates testicular cancer and decreases the incidence of prostate disease. Spaying or Neutering Is Good for You Spaying and neutering makes pets better, more affectionate companions. Neutering cats makes them less likely to spray and mark territory. Spaying a dog or cat eliminates her heat cycle. Estrus lasts an average of six to 12 days, often twice a year, in dogs and an average of six to seven days, three or more times a year, in cats. Females in heat can cry incessantly, show nervous behavior, and attract unwanted male animals. Unsterilized animals often exhibit more behavior and temperament problems than do those who have been spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering can make pets less likely to bite. Neutering makes pets less likely to roam the neighborhood, run away, or get into fights. Spaying and Neutering Are Good for the Community Communities spend millions of dollars to control unwanted animals. Irresponsible breeding contributes to the problem of dog bites and attacks. Animal shelters are overburdened with surplus animals. Stray pets and homeless animals get into trash containers, defecate in public areas or on private lawns, and frighten or anger people who have no understanding of their misery or needs. Some stray animals also scare away or kill birds and wildlife. Fix That Bunny! When being conscientious about the pet overpopulation, don’t forget to spay or neuter your pet rabbit. Altering rabbits can reduce hormone-driven behavior such as lunging, mounting, spraying, and boxing. Spaying females can prevent ovarian, mammarian, and uterine cancers, which can be prevalent in mature does. Also, rabbits reproduce faster than dogs or cats and are the third-most surrendered animal to shelters. Spay or neuter surgery carries a one-time cost that is relatively small when one considers its benefits. It's a small price to pay for the health of your pet and the prevention of more unwanted animals.