Animal Shelter Answers All Cat and Kitten Questions

 Late spring and early summer are known as ‘kitten season’ in most parts of the United States and Fairfax County is no exception. Adult cats are most active during this time of the year and unaltered free roaming or feral cats will mate, producing many litters of kittens. Fairfax County citizens are often curious about the county’s policies regarding cats. We spoke to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter’s Community Outreach Program Manager Kristen Auerbach to get the scoop on cats in our community.

Question: Are cats required to be licensed in Fairfax County?
KA: Unlike dogs, cats in Fairfax County are not required to be licensed. Cats are legally allowed to be free-roaming with or without identification.

Question: Does the Shelter accept stray cats?
KA: During the ‘kitten season’ between May and October, the Shelter does not accept healthy stray cats. The rate of return on stray cats is only around 20 percent so most stray cats that enter the Shelter are never reclaimed. If the Shelter took in healthy strays during this time of the year, many cats would have to be euthanized for lack of space. And because there are no licensing laws in Fairfax County, cats are legally allowed to be free-roaming. If a cat is sick, injured, or in danger, the Shelter will accept it.

Question: How does the Shelter obtain the cats it adopts out to citizens?
KA: If cat owners are no longer able to keep their cat for any reason, including change in family circumstances, moving, or allergies, they can surrender the cat to the Shelter, where it will be evaluated by the staff for adoption. Cats may be adopted from the Shelter or transferred to a rescue.

Question: How many cats can stay at the Shelter?
KA: Currently, the Shelter has enclosures to hold approximately 55 cats. Once construction is complete, there will be 40 holding enclosures and 40 ‘cat condos’ for the adoptable cats.

Question: Is a feral cat different than a stray cat?
KA: A friendly stray cat is a cat that has been socialized by people at some point in its life and is able to be approached and handled. A feral cat is a cat that has not had contact with humans, does not tolerate interaction with humans, and is virtually ‘wild.’ Feral cats are unlikely to be able to be socialized to become house pets – most are very fearful of humans, but might make good barn cats on a farm.
Some of the free roaming cats in a community are “community cats” who are fed by multiple people in a neighborhood. A community cat is a cat that does not have a specific home but is cared for by members of the community. While the Shelter supports a community cat program, we believe the best place for a cat is in someone’s home receiving regular veterinarian care, protected from threats from predators, automobiles and the elements.

Question: How is the Fairfax County Animal Shelter helping cats in our community?
KA: The Fairfax County Animal Shelter runs a program called Trap-Neuter-Release. Participants in this program work with the Shelter to spay and neuter feral cats and provide basic medical care before returning them to their home territory where they can live out their lives without adding to the cat overpopulation problem.

Question: If there are unwanted stray cats on a person’s property, can the Shelter come and remove them?
KA: Because cats are legally allowed to be free roaming in Fairfax County, Animal Control does not trap stray cats that have ventured onto private property. From May through October, healthy stray cats will not be accepted to the Shelter. To discourage cats, residents should take the following steps:
1. Do not leave out any food items, including scraps, cat food, or dog food.
2. Consider using a cat repellent, commonly sold at hardware and home goods stores.
3. Check with neighbors to make sure they are not leaving out food for cats.
4. Minimize shelter opportunities by closing off holes in sheds and garages.

Question: What should I do if I find a litter of kittens without the mother?
KA: Unless the kittens are in immediate danger (i.e. in a busy roadway), do not touch or move them. The mother cat is most likely nearby and has left the kittens to hunt or eat. It is common for mother cats to leave for a short time, usually to return within a couple of hours. Well-meaning citizens often bring litters of infant kittens to the Shelter. While Shelter staff members and volunteers are trained to care for tiny kittens, they are no substitute for the mother.

Question: How can Fairfax County residents help cats in our community?
KA: Prevention is the best solution to pet overpopulation. Residents should spay and neuter their pets and keep pet cats indoors. If you are interested in fostering cats or kittens while they wait for their forever home, contact the Shelter at 703-830-1100 or visit the website at

Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
Technical Questions: Web Administrator

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