December 17, 2013
Cat Owner Ignorance Leads To Thousands Of Unplanned Litters
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A new UK-based study has found cat owner ignorance could be resulting in the unplanned births of over 850,000 kittens in Great Britain each year.
Published Monday in the Veterinary Record, the study is based on data from nearly 720 cat-owning households collected via a cross-sectional telephone survey. Almost 60 percent of these households had a female cat and about 13 percent of these owners said their female cat gave birth to one of more accidental litters.
In total, the study reported 128 litters produced by 91 female cats. Sixty-five of these cats gave birth to 102 unplanned litters, meaning slightly less than 80 percent of all litters were considered an accident.
Researchers found unplanned litters were more than twice as frequent in households with multiple cats and more than four times as frequent if the owner erroneously thought a female cat should give birth to a litter before being neutered. Male cat owners were more than twice as likely as female owners to report this belief.
The researchers said if they were to correct this belief, it would prevent over 210,000 litters and more than 850,000 kittens from being born in the UK each year. The scientists noted as many as 150,000 cats in the UK found their way into animal welfare facilities from 2009 to 2010 and unplanned litters account for as many as one in seven cats being given up by an owner.
The study also found 49 percent of cat owners surveyed either agreed with the idea that a female cat should give birth before being neutered or were unsure. There is currently no evidence suggesting having a litter benefits feline health.
Also, nearly 84 percent of respondents mistakenly said the youngest a cat could become pregnant was five months, with an additional 26 percent saying an unneutered female cat couldn't get pregnant before turning one year old. The study authors said it is possible for a four month old kitten to get pregnant.
One in seven respondents also mistakenly said unneutered related cats wouldn't mate with each other, with over 24 percent saying they were unsure.
"The vast majority of litters born to cats in the UK are not planned," the study authors wrote. "This study suggests that improving cat-owner knowledge of the reproductive capacity of cats is likely to have a significant impact on the numbers of accidental litters."
They added that correcting the commonly held but mistaken belief cats should have a litter before neutering would have the single biggest impact on unplanned cat pregnancies.
According to a September report from the Humane Society of the United States, Americans have been adopting more pets and euthanizing fewer animals over the past few decades. From 1970 to 2010, the number of dogs and cats living in homes has risen from 67 million to an estimated 164 million. Meanwhile, the annual number of animals being euthanized in shelters has also decreased from between 12 to 20 million to approximately 3 to 4 million, the Humane Society reported.