I refer to domestic cats as I’m sure the question in the title is targeted at domestic and not wild cats. Although it’s a point worth making because domestication of the cat has led to an almost tripling of the number of litters and to an increase in litter size compared to their wild cat ancestor. European wild cats have a single litter each year with an average of 2 to 4 kittens per litter. Domestic cats produce an average of 4 to 5 kittens in each of their three annual litters.
Similar questions to the one in the title are:
- How fast do cats breed?
- How many cats can one cat produce in a year?
A website states that an average domestic cat has 1 to 8 kittens per litter and 2 to 3 litters per year. This particular website states that a single parent cat can create as many as 420,000 kittens in seven years.
Another calculation by Dr Desmond Morris1 states that if you start with a single breeding pair of domestic cats and assume that they create 14 kittens for each year that they have three litters, in five years there will be a total of 65,536 offspring. This is obviously considerably less than the calculation above but also a very high number.
However, these are simple calculations without taking into account practicalities and actualities. The figures do paint a nightmare scenario but it never comes to fruition for many good and obvious reasons. Firstly, there are enough responsible cat owners to make sure that there are constraints on domestic cats breeding. Also there is pressure and sometimes laws from local authorities to regulate domestic cat breeding through control of numbers. Australia, a country focused on reducing unwanted and feral cats, have the Cat Act 2011 which makes it obligatory to desex domestic cats that are six months of age.
Neutering and spaying of males and females is now very widespread and the default state of affairs in domestic cat households, in almost in every country. That said, in the US, there is an annoying small percentage of cat owners who do not spay their female cats early enough allowing them to have a litter of kittens. In Asia there is a greater acceptance of unregulated or unmanaged community cats. Feral cats are more prevalent in these areas.
However, in the domestic cat world reproduction is heavily controlled while in the feral cat world there is a huge attrition rate against newborns which significantly reduces numbers. In some places feral and stray cats are exterminated and there is a segment of society in the US who see extermination as the answer. In other countries there have been programs of applying oral contraceptives such as in Israel where they claim to have prevented about 20,000 kittens being born annually.
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Therefore, if you ask how many cats one cat can produce in a year or how many cats can one pair produce you are asking a theoretical question. It’s rather pointless to be honest. Let’s say that the domestic cat is a good breeder which is why spaying and neutering is heavily promoted by humane societies, veterinarians and all animal advocates. It is the only practical way going forward in our relationship with the domestic cat.
Despite that there are still far too many unwanted cats in America and in the UK with shelters sometimes struggling to re-home these animals. Although in many cases they are still euthanized. However, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of shelter cats euthanized thanks to a strong policy of no-kill over many years.
1. Cat Watching.