Tackling the rise in unwanted cats and kittens

Posted 22nd February 2024

RSPCA Milton Keynes and North Bucks (RSPCA MK & NB) branch tell Pulse Magazine about the difficulty of dealing with increasing numbers of unwanted cats and kittens – and every cat owner can play their part in helping to turn the tide, as Pulse’s Sammy Jones discovered…

Everyone loves a cute kitten, right? Those little fluffy bundles of beauty melt hearts.

Sadly, their cuteness is also their downfall, as people introduce them into their homes without really thinking about those kittens turning into bigger balls of fluff that can sometimes live for the best part of a couple of decades, and the associated expense of food and veterinary costs over their lifetime.

We’ve talked about the importance of getting your pet neutered before, and yet the message never quite reaches everyone. It’s not an option. It’s a necessity.

People love their pets, but when the household purse strings need to be tightened, or when their kitty’s belly starts bulging because they didn’t get her spayed?

It turns out that not everyone loves their feline friends quite as much as they claim – and they can be discarded to fend for themselves.
And that, quite simply, has led to a crisis in stray cats and kittens with charities like the RSPCA left to manage the fallout.

“It’s not a time to be complacent about neutering,” says Caroline Wells from RSPCA MK & NB branch, “We’ve taken in more pregnant cats and nursing queens than ever. “During Covid, more people took on animals and since the pandemic rescues like ours have been left to pick up the pieces – there are too many animals in a country now struggling with the cost of living crisis.”

And the numbers really are staggering: “In Milton Keynes in 2023 we re-homed more than 700 animals, and of those 300 were kittens!
“Sadly we’ve suffered some losses too – most of those have been long term foster cats whose medical conditions have deteriorated or kittens that had little or no chance of survival. Although we get some cats brought in from out of our area and linked to Inspectorate cases, the majority of cats we take in are from Milton Keynes.”

Irresponsible cat owners will always find a reason to leave their cat intact; ‘I can’t afford it,’ or ‘My cat doesn’t go outside’ are two of the most familiar excuses.

But they hold little weight with charities buckling under the pressure of so many felines to care for.

“There are many health issues linked to cats being ‘entire’, so even if your cat does not go outside, in order to reduce the risk of testicular cancer in males and pyometra and ovarian cancer in females, you really should consider getting your pet neutered,” encourages Caroline. “If you are concerned about the costs, you may be able to come to an arrangement with a veterinary practice, or you can consider contacting the major cat rescues to see if they are running any schemes that might be able to help you financially.

“The secondary effects of neutering are very positive – cats may be more inclined to roam a smaller area or just stay home. Male cats won’t smell, cats often become more affectionate, and because animals are less likely to roam and consequently fight for territory, they are less likely to catch other transmitted diseases such as FIV.”

What about those with religious beliefs who don’t agree with neutering? How would you encourage them to change their viewpoint?
“We understand that some believe neutering is prohibited or forbidden under certain religions. Some of this links to how the operations may have been performed in previous times. Thankfully 21st Century medicine has progressed to the point that spay and neuter surgeries are humane and painless, and remove the problem of unwanted pets.

“Pet ownership has increased immensely year on year, and alongside this, so has the population of animals without homes. It benefits people of all cultures to have an understanding of the current crisis and, no matter what their religious beliefs, to consider what a positive impact neutering their own animal will have to society.”

It doesn’t take long for a little issue to become an overwhelming problem when cats are ‘thrown away.’

“In 2023, we took more than 50 cats from the estate of Fishermead. We were very lucky that we had a team of volunteers and support from some of the community who helped us bring in cats that were living as ferals. Sadly this happened because just a couple of cats weren’t neutered a few years ago and then spent year on year procreating.

“Each year the young from these litters then bred too. Campbell Park Parish Council supported our proposal to hold an Animal Advice Clinic and as a result of this several more cats were spayed.”

At the mercy of the elements and predators, stray cats and kittens suffer unnecessarily too: “We are seeing more and more situations where cats are born with illnesses linked to cat flu – this can cause problems with various aspects of the kitten’s health, but in particular eyes and respiratory issues. Sometimes these conditions are so severe the kittens don’t make it. It is heartbreaking for all the team at RSPCA Milton Keynes and North Bucks branch to lose any animal but especially when situations like this could have been completely prevented if the mother cat had been spayed.

“Last year we saw kittens killed by foxes, cats and kittens knocked down crossing the grid roads, and others being dumped. “One thing that has been really sad for our volunteers is that some members of the public are obstructive. On odd occasions we may need to access an area in a private garden or ask a householder if they can remove food that has been left out. Our volunteers are often met with negativity and, on occasion, actual abuse.”

Ask Caroline for heartbreaking stories and she could relay desperately sad tales all day long.

“One cat had been straying in an area for several months. It was only when residents noticed the cat was limping that it was brought up on a residents page. One of our volunteers was notified and the same day went out to investigate. The following day the volunteer was back with a trap and we had two members of our trapping team on site trying to catch the cat.

“After two and a half hours the cat was finally trapped and taken to Vets Now for emergency treatment. Heartbreakingly, after a seven day stray hold the cat, named Frosty by our volunteer, was diagnosed as being in liver failure by our vets and was humanely euthanised.”
RSPCA MK & NB group are doing all they can to trap and bring cats in from the streets of the new city, but every cat abandoned can result in many more kittens to contend with.

“We really are appealing to the entire population of Milton Keynes to play your part in this animal crisis and get your pets neutered,” Caroline added, “Please don’t leave it to others to pick up the pieces – join us to help resolve this awful situation.”

Why neuter?
– Prevents females from coming into season, attracting unwanted male attention which can lead to pregnancy or false pregnancies.
– Prevents the risk of testicular cancer in males and uterus infections and cancers in females.
– Reduces urine marking and roaming in male cats.
– Reduces mess – unspayed female animals can be messy when they come into season, as they can bleed for up to three weeks.
– Stops birth defects.
– Reduces the risk of theft – neutering can reduce the risk of them being stolen for breeding.
– Avoids expensive vet bills for problems during or after pregnancy.