These numbers apply only in a perfect world, which it isn’t.

How many cats can come about from one cat in seven years? Can it really be 420,000 kittens? The numbers are exponential, but one needs to take pause when throwing out what the numbers really are.

I agree, it’s important to shock people into understanding how explosive pet overpopulation is, but it’s a good idea to be as factual as possible because misleading information has a way of coming back to haunt you, kind of like the adage, what comes around, goes around.

When I wrote an article on pet overpopulation last fall, the local shelter kindly gave me a chart, showing the unbelievable extent of cat and dog overpopulation. The numbers on the chart indicated each kitten can have a litter at six months. The results are exponential with one cat with an average of 2.8 kittens per litter creating over 11,606,077 kittens within nine years if left unchecked.

The chart for dogs was similarly disturbing. One dog’s offspring can result in 4,372 dogs in seven years. I, for one, was stunned. I knew unchecked, they could have a lot of kittens and pups, but not quite this many. I also learned that while the mating season has traditionally been from March to October, it’s getting longer. Some have reported, mating season never stops, and is perpetual year round.

So it’s obvious, the numbers are huge, especially for cats, but…..

Upon meeting with some very knowledgeable cat writers, I learned these figures were misleading and incorrect. I was a bit taken back. Was I had? Were the shelters and vets being given false information?

These charts are replicate of a perfect world, and we live in anything but a perfect world, especially for cats, dogs and other companion animals.  The charts are effective. They do make an impression. They make people think about why it is so important to spay/neuter their pets.

They are not totally deceitful because if every cat survived, they would be on target. But they don’t. Kittens die when they are born. They die from disease. If they are allowed to roam outside, they are victim to predators and accidents. If they end up in shelters, they are many times euthanized. The numbers for ferals, cited below, are much more grim.

Alison Grasheim, Deputy Director of Communications, Alley Cat Allies, a national feral cat rescue, advocacy organization, shared the following information. “More than 70 percent of cats who enter our animal control and sheltering system are killed there. For feral cats, that number rises to virtually 100 percent. Spay/neuter is one part of many things communities can do to stop killing animals.

She forwarded an article, that talk about these charts:: “Trying to Herd a Cat Stat”, written by Carl Bailik, published in the Oct. 12, 2006 Wall Street Journal. It says:

“Can a single female cat and her offspring really produce 420,000 cats over just seven years? Hundreds of media reports have repeated that startling stat — in the past month alone…It also turns up on many Web sites for animal advocacy groups who want to see more aggressive spaying and neutering, and urge people to adopt more cats. I did some digging, and discovered that no one wanted to claim ownership of this stray stat. The number is often attributed to the Humane Society of the United States, which lists it on a page of stats on the Humane Society Web site. But the group told me it’s not the source of the figure.”

He goes on to say that even though no one claimed responsibility for creating the charts and stats, it’s been used as an advocacy tool for spaying/neutering cats for at least 18 years. Well let’s add another six to that to bring us into 2012, and make it 24 years.

It’s pretty obvious that this chart is theoretical, based on each female cat living to reproduce and each and every one of her offspring continuing to reproduce for all seven or nine years. If cats are feral, that is never going to happen. And even with our domestic free roaming, or even inside cats, not every cat will survive to a comfortable old age.

The Feral Cat Project  website’s blasts the charts as baseless. It says,

“The much-repeated quote that one female cat can produce 420,000 kittens in just 7 years is unbelievable and baseless. No science supports this projection, only hunches. Science disproves this projection by factoring in true birth rates along with newborn and juvenile mortality. According to wildlife biologists, the reproductive and offspring mortality rates of free-roaming cats are similar to wild carnivores. One female cat averages six kittens per year and 75% of her kittens die before reproductive age. When using these criteria, math experts calculate that one female cat and her offspring will produce 100 cats in seven years, assuming that all adult cats remain alive for all seven years. Although still an overestimate, this figure is far less daunting and realistic.”

However, these numbers would not be applicable to many free roaming cats, that are not feral (wild cats that live in colonies). Many people, especially those that live in rural America, take the chance of letting their kitty out for a little fresh air, corralling them back to safety for the evening. It would appear these cats would have a much higher mortality rate. And of course, there’s the cats that only live inside, and they live even longer, up to 20 or more years.

Mallory Kerley, Media Coordinator of the ASPCA, shared this information. “It’s impossible to determine how many stray dogs and cats live in the United States. Estimates indicate there are up to 70 million cats. The average number of litters a fertile cat produces is one to two a year with the average litter being from four to six kittens. An average dog produces one litter a year with four to six puppies.

Yet, only ten percent of the animals received by shelters have been spayed or neutered, she said. About 75 percent of owned pets are neutered. The ASPCA estimates that five out of ten dogs in shelters and seven out of ten cats in shelters are destroyed simply because there is no one to adopt them.

Even if they are baseless, it’s pretty obvious these charts are designed to shock people into thinking – I should have my cat or dog spayed or neutered. Sometimes shock is the only thing that makes people sit up and take notice.

What do you think about these charts? Should shelters and animal rescue groups continue to use these statistics, even though they are flawed?

 

 

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About the Author

BJ Bangs is an established journalist, photographer, and an aspiring author. She loves everything about cats, including writing about them.

8 Responses to How many cats can come about from one cat? Take pause before throwing out the numbers

  1. Daniel says:

    i’ve just seen one of those scheme before. and it made no sense whatsoever.

    just think about it,cats exists since earth day 1, and Sterilization is a fairly new technique (i’d give it less than 100 years since it has been used on cats) so if it’s true that a couple of cats can generate +26k cats in 4 years, by now, we’d be literally covered in cats.

  2. Great blog!!! I will subscribe to your rss and will return. :)

  3. Chris says:

    Statements provided need to backed up with facts. Just because the ASPCA, or HSUS, PETA, etc, says something doesn’t mean it’s true:

    “The ASPCA estimates that five out of ten dogs in shelters and seven out of ten cats in shelters are destroyed simply because there is no one to adopt them.”

    Actual data provided by independent sources shows there are several times more people looking to add a pet to their family than there are pets being killed in U.S. shelters every year. These are people who haven’t yet decided where they will get their new pet from. The notion that there “aren’t enough homes” doesn’t really hold up too well.

    See this article by Christie Keith from the SF Gate, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2007/10/02/petscol.DTL

    • BJ says:

      Chris:
      Do you have more up to date information on your post. This is something I’d like to follow up on. Thanks for posting.

  4. Hello! I really like your website!! I will definitely return soon.

  5. Kent Butler says:

    NO these spurious numbers should not be used. Citing / using information one knows to be false just to make a point – any point – is irresponsible and unprofessional. You don’t want to sound like a political hack, we’ve got too many of those. (I used those numbers, too, until I discovered they are false.)

  6. Andrea Dorn says:

    Great topic, one that definitely needs discussing!

    I remember seeing this chart waaaaaaay back in the ’70s when I first entered the veterinary field as a vet tech. I didn’t believe it then. Now that I’ve had experience with pedigreed cat breeding and feral cat colonies I know that many kittens die if they are even born alive.

    I had one feral cat that could never raise a single litter past the age of 6 weeks until I finally caught her. When she had her last litter they all became extremely ill at 6 weeks of age and I nursed them back to health. Otherwise they probably would have died in the wild.

    Yes, the overpopulation of cats and dogs is a critical situation but let’s find a more reasonable stat to work with.

  7. BJ These stats are clearly overstated. To be honest, I’d prefer a clarification of these stats, or a more accurate picture, but I wonder if they’d lose their impact?

    thanks for your clarification

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Catpersonable BJ Bangs



A seasoned veteran journalist and photographer, BJ blogs about everything cat, their humans & life beyond, giving reason to Paws for Reflection.


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