Birds do it. Bees do it. And your cat really, really wants to get in on the action too.
If you have an intact female cat – you know exactly what we’re talking about: cats in heat. Yes, that period of hormonal upheaval that transforms your sweet, adorable cat into a yowling, licking bundle of excited feline energy.
Even for the most adoring cat lover, a cat in heat can be a lot to deal with. Here’s everything you need to know to help your cat – and yourself – get through it as smoothly as possible.
When Do Cats Go Into Heat?
If you’ve been waiting until your cat is old enough before you get her spayed, you might want to adjust the timetable.
You see, there is no set age when a kitten reaches puberty. It varies from kitten to kitten just like it does with human teenagers.
There are some factors that can influence how quickly a cat reaches puberty. For example, feral, outdoor kittens tend to reach maturity faster, possibly because there’s more contact with intact male cats.
Some cat breeds are also more likely to hit puberty earlier, like the Siamese cat breed, which can start showing signs of puberty as early as 4 months. In contrast, more late-blooming cat breeds like the Persian may not reach sexual maturity until they’re around 10 months old.
In general, though, kittens usually hit adolescence by the time they’re 5 to 6 months old. At that point, they can go into heat and become pregnant even if they’re still technically kittens themselves.
How Long Does a Cat Stay in Heat?
Your cat is yowling, licking herself in places she usually doesn’t, and rubbing up against everything in the house. And you just want to know how long this terrible period lasts and when will it end, for god’s sake?!
Here’s the answer. Female cats that haven’t been spayed stay in heat for 7 to 10 days.
Which doesn’t seem so long ’til you remember that this heat cycle can happen as often as every 2 to 3 weeks during the mating season, which usually lasts from February to December.
Yes, I know, that’s a mighty long time. But keep in mind that when you have a female cat who hasn’t been spayed, she isn’t behaving badly when she shows signs of being in heat. She is simply signaling her desire to mate to nearby tomcats. She isn’t being naught, it’s just her nature.
That being said, there are a number of ways you can help your cat – and yourself – through this process. But first, you’ll want to make sure your cat is, indeed, in heat.
Here are the signs to look for…
Signs a Cat Is In Heat
When a cat is in heat, they start to behave even more oddly than cats usually do. I remember when my sweet-natured kitten first hit puberty, she took a particular liking to my lunch box – of all things! – and would swat it off the table so she could have her way with it on the floor.
But this isn’t the only way a cat will show she’s ready to mate. Here are some more common signs a cat is in heat!
Increased marking and affectionate behavior
Female cats have a tendency to display flirtatious behavior more when they are in heat. This includes rubbing her paws and head against furniture, her favorite toys and her favorite people.
She may also rub against any other pets in the house.
Increased licking of her genital area
Increased licking is one symptom that concerns knowledgeable cat owners because this may also be a sign of a urinary tract infection, especially if the cat is showing no other signs of being in heat. If she is in heat, though, her genital area may bother her, which leads to increased licking.
Increased vocalization over the course of several days
Female cats emit loud yowls to get the attention of potential mates. This may also be an indication of discomfort while your cat is in heat. This tends to be one of the biggest annoyances for owners of female cats in heat, especially when the cat yowls a lot at night.
She poses as if she is mating
This pose includes a lowered head, bent forelegs, raised rear quarters to expose the area between the anus and the scrotum, and tail raised and held to one side. She may knead her rear legs rhythmically as if she is marching in place.
She sprays vertical structures with a strongly scented fluid
Contrary to popular cat myth, it’s not only male cats that spray – female cats in heat also tend to spray as another signal to any nearby male cats that she is ready for action.
If you see your cat back up to a structure, lift her tail high and kneads her rear legs, she may be spraying this scent.
On a related and equally unpleasant note, female cats in heat can even go as far as to pooping outside the litter box. Yet another way for the female to leave behind clues of her presence for any interested males in the area.
She’s plotting her escape
If she’s an indoors cat, you can bet that she’ll be desperately looking for ways to get outside while she’s in heat. If your normally docile kitten races to the doorway whenever it’s open or is longingly hanging around the windows, there’s a good chance you cat is in heat.
How to Help Cats in Heat
Okay, so you’ve checked the signs and your cat is definitely in heat. What do you do now? How can you help her, sooth her and hopefully, quiet her down?
First of all, if you notice that your cat is engaging in behaviors that are normal for a cat in heat, don’t punish her for a condition that’s not her fault. That only teaches her to be afraid and hide from you while she engages in these behaviors on top of the normal discomfort of being in heat. You can actually help your cat solve this hot, itchy problem she has with a trip to the vet.
The best way to prevent your cat from going into heat is to have her spayed when she’s ready. This not only reduces or eliminates the symptoms of heat, but will also prevent unwanted kittens if she gets out of the house and mates with a tomcat when you’re not looking. A spayed cat also tends to live longer and have fewer health issues later in life than one who hasn’t been spayed.
However, your vet may recommend that you wait to spay your cat until a time when she is not in heat. This is because your cat’s reproductive system is in a more vulnerable condition and susceptible to tearing or bleeding. For this reason, your vet may refuse to spay a cat while she is in heat or the operation may be more expensive because it is more time-consuming and additional supplies like gauze sponges and suture are needed.
If your cat is not ready to be spayed, your vet may recommend hormones that can reduce or eliminate the effects of being in heat. Your vet may refer to “estrus” or “oestrus” when describing your cat’s condition. These are simply synonyms for being in heat.
Your female cat’s heat cycle may be inconvenient and sometimes uncomfortable for you, but you can be sure that it’s even more so for your cat. She may be looking to you to actually do something about it when she becomes flirty around you. Unless you intend to breed your cat, it’s usually desirable to spay her so that she suffers less from the effects of heat and can live a longer, healthier life.