Overpopulation in cats is recognised to contribute to high numbers of cats entering rescue shelters each year. New research suggests that the high number of unwanted kittens may be due to common misconceptions held by cat owners.
The research led by academics at the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences is published online in the Veterinary Record.
The researchers obtained data from 715 cat owning households in a cross-sectional telephone survey. Demographic and lifestyle factors were assessed for their link with accidental litters and with owner knowledge of cat reproduction.
The study found 128 litters were produced by 552 female cats. Eighty per cent of litters were reported to be accidental. Multivariable analysis identified that respondents were more likely to report an accidental litter of kittens if they believed a female cat should have a litter prior to being neutered, if they had more than one cat and if they rented rather than owned their home.
Misconceptions relating to cat reproduction were common. Despite the fact that female cats can get pregnant from four months of age, 83.5 per cent of cat owning respondents thought that the youngest age a cat could get pregnant was five months of age (or older), with over a quarter (26.4 per cent; 174/659) believing a female cat is unable to conceive until at least one year of age.
Almost half of respondents (49.0 per cent; 334/682) believed a female cat should have a litter before being neutered or were not sure; 38.8 per cent (264/681) thought that unneutered, related cats would not mate or were not sure.
The authors of the study, said: "We found that the vast majority of litters born to cats in the UK are unplanned. The number of unwanted litters being born could be dramatically reduced by approximately 850,000 each year if cat owners did not believe that a female cat should have a litter of kittens before being neutered."
The study recommends that improving cat owner knowledge about how cats breed is likely to have a significant impact on the number of accidental litters born and as a result potentially reduce the number of unwanted cats entering animal welfare organisations each year.
Paper: Poor owner knowledge of feline reproduction contributes to the high proportion of accidental litters born to UK pet cats, C. Philippa Welsh, Timothy J. Gruffydd-Jones, and Jane K. Murray, Veterinary Record published online 16 December, 2013.