Argh! My cat’s in heat!
By:Dr. Edele Grey
Author: Dr. Edele Grey
Dr. Edele Grey is a veterinary surgeon with seven years of experience. She professionally works mostly with horses but has treated pets of all sizes including terrapins, llamas, and others. Dr. Grey graduated with honors from the University College Dublin, Ireland, has completed further education in Equine Sports Medicine. In her free time, she enjoys writing about pet ownership and educating people about veterinary care of animals and preventing disease.View all 5 articles Learn about our editorial process
Updated on: 17/04/2020
Your kitten is being overly affectionate the past few days but won’t stop yowling like a banshee at 2 am?! If your kitty hasn’t been neutered then she may be reaching sexual maturity and entering estrus. Estrus is more commonly known as a ‘heat’. These periods of time signal that your female kitten is sexually mature and fertile. Kittens reach puberty around 4-6 months of age though this could be as late as 12 months in some, due to age and the time of the year. Kitten’s can become pregnant during their first heat, so if you don’t want her to breed you need to take some extra care to prevent matings. Cat’s are seasonally polyestrous which means that queens come into heat regularly during the Spring and Autumn months in they are not mated nor pregnant. Some cats will cycle through heats all year round if they are indoor cats or live in warmer climates.
How do I know when my cat is in heat?
Typical signs of a cat being in heat include being overly affectionate and rubbing her face on furniture to scent her territory, increased and prolonged vocalization while being demanding of your attention. Some cats may be irritable or aggressive toward her human slaves when in heat due to the cacophony of hormones and her frustration if unable to mate. Almost all queens in heat will roll on the floor while wiggling their bottom in the air, particularly when stroked. Some cats will spray urine around the home and constantly beg to go outdoors to try to attract a tomcat.
The mewing and yowling are to let another cat’s that they are sexually fertile and looking for a mate. The hormonal surges your kitten is experiencing influence their scent spreading (face rubbing and urine spraying) and attention-seeking behaviors which will subside once the heat is over. Unlike dogs, we rarely see any blood spots when queens are in heat.
How long does a cat stay in heat?
Estrus usually lasts for an average of 6 days in cats, though this can vary from a few days to weeks. The duration of your cat’s heat depends on a few things; cat’s in their first heat may have prolonged or very short heats due to their developing reproductive organs and hormone production.
Mating will also affect how long your queen remains in heat. Cat’s are known as induced ovulators which means that a queen must be mated in order to release eggs for fertilization. Most females require 3-4 matings within a 24 hour period to induce this release. Once the queen has ovulated, her heart will stop within 1-2 days. If a female hasn’t been mated in a heat cycle, she will return to heat again around 3 weeks later though their cycle can last from as little as 1 week to 6 weeks throughout the season.
How can I help my cat when she’s in heat?
Estrus can be a stressful time for your queen, particularly if she is unable to mate. The desire to mate is primal during this time, however, unwanted matings are prevented by their human companions to reduce the massive overpopulation of stray cats and unloved kittens in an area that can be incredibly frustrating for your kitty. Encouraging hunting behavior with games and her favorite toys can help to take her mind off the urge for breeding. Your queen at this time will also be a feline Houdini to be with her potential mate; secure windows, pet doors, screens, and any escape routes to prevent unintended matings or other dangers of being outdoors (depending on the area in which you live with regards to traffic and predators)
If your cat in heat is being extraordinarily demanding for affection, you can pamper your queen with lots of attention, stroking and grooming if she enjoys a brushing (even if she normally hates being brushed, you may find she enjoys it during her heats). If your cat is on the opposite end of the spectrum and very irritable, if you provide a quiet space out of the way from the general traffic of the home she may prefer the peace and quiet while being able to watch what’s going on.
When in estrus, your cat will have a strong urge to mark her territory to attract a mate (as hormones heralding her fertility will be in her urine) which may lead her to spray urine, sometimes in the most inappropriate of locations in your home. Keeping your queen’s litter box clean with no scent of urine will encourage her to continue marking the box rather than your curtains or walls. When cleaning you should avoid cleansers containing ammonia as these may actually exacerbate the urine spraying behavior in an area.
Some studies have shown that cat’s love soothing music which is worth a try when your kitty is in heat. The worst-case scenario is she feels the need to serenade you while you play some smooth jazz! Herbal remedies or synthetic pheromone sprays or diffusers may help to calm your cat though these should be used in moderation and their effect varies widely depending on the cat. Some cats are calmed by catnip if this is the case you can try it out occasionally to help ease her stress levels.
How can I stop my cat from coming into heat?
Neutering is the best way to prevent your cat from continuing with heat cycles which helps to prevent unwanted litters of kittens, the spread of sexual diseases among cat’s and helping your eardrums when your kitty’s stressed in estrus. You can neuter your cat at any stage from 4 months (some shelters may neuter at 12 weeks to ensure the kitten doesn’t enter puberty and become pregnant before being neutered in their new home).
Neutering a queen in the heat is not ideal as there’s an increased risk of surgical complications including excessive bleeding though it is still possible and can be done. If you don’t ever plan on breeding your queen, neutering is the best option to avoid a lot of problems down the road including health problems such as uterine infections (pyometra).
Is my cat in pain when she’s in heat?
The truthful answer to this is we don’t know. Unfortunately, our kitties can’t tell us when they hurt but we can imagine that from their strange behaviors and the loud yowling in the middle of the night that something is going on. These behaviors can be explained as calling to find a potential suitor or signaling that they are sexually available to local Tomcats. Queen’s don’t show any other signs of pain so pain relief wouldn’t be indicated for your pet. If your queen becomes dull or you’re concerned about her showing abnormal or pain-related behaviors then you should contact your local veterinarian’s office for advice to ensure nothing untoward has happened (such as a uterine infection).
When your female cat is in season, you need to be patient with her. This is a frustrating time, particularly if she is unable to breed and this isn’t something she chose to have happened to her. Estrus is an entirely primal and hormonal phenomenon and we need to remember that your cat will act instinctively not thinking about the fact that you need to be at work at 8 am while she’s calling for a tomcat at 3 am. It will help you both if you give her some extra snuggles and attention while she’s going through this and lots of play will also help to tire her out a little to encourage some more sleep at night. The added benefit of this is that you will develop a stronger bond between you both.
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