How fast do cats breed?

I’m referring to domestic, stray and feral cats. I am not referring to wild cats because there is quite a big difference. Without some sort of restraint on numbers (and there is always restraint on numbers) a cat population can increase “at a startling rate” according to Dr. Desmond Morris. And according to anybody else because we know that the domestic cat is a very proficient procreator. It is all part and parcel of their super survival abilities.

Extended family of ginger tabby cats sleep on top of each other
Extended family of ginger tabby cats sleep on top of each other. Screenshot
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Female cats are fantastic mothers. Whereas the wild ancestor to the domestic cat, the Asian-African wildcat has a single litter each year with an average of 2 to 4 kittens, the domestic cat may produce an average of 4 to 5 kittens in each of their three annual litters which represent a tripling in numbers over their ancestor.

And so, if we do a simple calculation starting with a single breeding pair of domestic cats, we come to the conclusion that in five years there would be a total of 65,536 cats based upon the following assumptions:

  • All the kittens survive;
  • There is an equal number of male and female kittens;
  • They all start breeding when they are a year old.

The number could be a bit higher because females sometimes start a little younger to breed.

This is a THEORETICAL figure but it does highlight the cat’s breeding efficiency. It is this efficiency of procreation which has caught many a cat hoarder out to the point where they have to give up and admit defeat with a local cat rescue organisation.

Domestic cat procreation - theoretical
Domestic cat procreation – theoretical. Chart in the public domain (deemed).

If you don’t spay and neuter the cats that you horde, you’re going to be in big trouble very quickly. But this very rarely happens in reality because male cats are neutered and female cats are spayed almost every time. Even as long ago as 1986 it was believed that more than 90% of male cats had been neutered in the UK.

Young man in an apartment in Spain rescued two cats and had 96 three years later

Desmond Morris suggested that sometimes veterinarians euthanize some newborn kittens in a litter to reduce the numbers. I have never heard of that. As for feral and stray cats, we know that many are euthanised at shelters. Many are killed by predators such as the coyote in America for instance and of course many die of disease and serious illness which dramatically shortens their lifespan to around 4 years according to PETA who advocate euthanasia of feral cats when TNR is not present.

So, in the words of Desmond Morris there is “a fairly ruthless extermination” of feral and stray cats. And of course, you have TNR programs which are so well managed by so many volunteers in America. These programs stop procreation resulting in a gradual decline in numbers and a stabilisation of the feral cat and stray cat population where they operate.

It is said that Israel has been operating an oral contraceptive project against stray cats in their country. It is claimed that it prevents about 20,000 kittens a year from being born.

But despite these factors, there is a feral cat problem in Australia and America to name two countries. In India, 85% of the cat population is homeless. A tragic statistic due to chronically poor cat caregiving and welfare and a lack of sterilisation. Really India can do much better in terms of cat welfare and plastic pollution. Yes, it is on my mind. This ‘feral cat problem’ essentially emanates from two factors (1) careless cat caretaking i.e. ownership and (2) the speed at which cats breed.

Below are some more articles on mating.

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