Animal control experts say if you see a stray cat or abandoned litter, you should call your town shelter right away. NewsdayTV's Virginia Huie reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

Kitten season has arrived on Long Island, with hundreds of baby cats born with the spring weather, but some rescue groups say mild winters mean cats are giving birth through most of the year.

Relatively mild winters the past few years with little snow and warmer temperatures have increased the number of kittens reported to rescues and shelters, which organizers fear may be filled to capacity by this summer.

“It never stopped,” said Linda Stuurman, president of the Last Hope Animal Rescue, based in Wantagh. “Kittens are being born year-round now. There used to be a pause from December to April, but that’s long gone with the latest winter, the past five to six years.”

Experts said cats have heat cycles throughout the year, but breeding seasons can vary based on daylight and temperature. 

Many shelters on Long Island may not have a lot of kittens available yet for adoption because the babies are too small and must first be fostered and nursed to health.

The Smithtown Animal Shelter received one of its first litters of kittens of the year on Wednesday when a resident saw a newborn rolling around in his backyard.

The shelter found a litter of four kittens, about 3 days old, crying and huddled in a window well. The kittens were cold and had been abandoned. The shelter set up cameras to look for the mother, who has not yet returned.

The kittens are being fostered by a shelter employee and must be bottle-fed every two to three hours. Kittens generally must weigh at least 2 pounds and be 8 to 10 weeks old before they can be adopted.

“The wave is just beginning with warmer weather when cats start to mate to mark the beginning of kitten season,” Smithtown animal control officer Denise Vibal. “We usually start to have babies when it gets nicer outside and there is more daylight … now the rush is going to start.”

The Smithtown shelter adopted out between 50 to 100 kittens per month through the summer, while the Last Hope Animal Rescue may see up to 500 kittens per year.

In addition to caring for the kittens, advocates say trap, spray and neuter programs are vital to limiting Long Island’s feline population. The kittens themselves can also give birth about six months later if they are not spayed and neutered.

Jim Oliva holds a rescued kitten at Catpurrcinos Friday in...

Jim Oliva holds a rescued kitten at Catpurrcinos Friday in Huntington. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Jim Oliva, president of the Feral to Family Rescue and the owner of the Huntington adoption cafe Catpurrcinos, has more than a dozen kittens available who are being born earlier.

“We start getting kittens in January and it never stops. Now it’s getting warmer, and they’re more visible and people will see kittens in their backyard. There are more kittens and cats in need than people who can help right now,” Oliva said. “That’s why there’s such an explosion on Long Island right now.”

For North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, April is known as “the calm before the storm,” when the rescue group can see up to 2,000 kittens annually from throughout the tristate area.

When the group reaches capacity, it works with residents and foster families to train them to care for kittens and also properly trap, spay or neuter and release. The group said anyone who discovers kittens should monitor if they are still with their mother before they are disturbed. Kittens shouldn't be separated from their mother until they are weaned and eating solid food.

Rescue groups can also help instruct residents on how to trap the mother, get her spayed and, if she is feral, release her back to a place where there is a reliable food source. 

“The mild winter definitely played a factor, and we’re still seeing effects from the pandemic when spaying and neutering may have been paused,” said Sylvia Ottaka, North Shore’s senior director of rescue and community outreach. “We’re going to have a pretty huge kitten season this year.”

With Virginia Huie

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