The website Cat-World defines estrus or heat as the period when a female cat is receptive to mating. It starts after the cat enters puberty.
The exact age when a cat hits puberty varies depending on the breed.
Some breeds, like the Siamese, can enter puberty and thus go into heat when they are as young as four months old.
Bigger breeds like the Maine Coon and some of the longhaired breeds may not first go into heat until they are at least ten months old. Six months, however, is the average age of feline puberty.
How can you tell when a cat is in heat?
Unlike humans, cats don’t have periods. They do, however, display characteristic behaviors. The Catster website lists the behaviors of a cat in heat:
- Rolling around on the floor
- Licking their genitals
- Acting unusually affectionate
- Rubbing against people, furniture, or other animals
- Crying more often and more loudly to attract a mate
- Not eating
- Assuming the mating position if somebody strokes her
A cat in the mating position will lie on the floor with her rump in the air and her tail off to one side to allow the male easy access.
While intact male cats are infamous for spraying in order to mark territory, some female cats will do the same thing to attract a mate.
Similarly, she will make repeated attempts to get out of the house in order to find a male cat.
The below video shows a Siamese cat in heat:
How long does a cat’s heat last?
According to the Advanced Animal Care website, a cat’s heat usually lasts between seven and ten days. If she hasn’t mated by the end, she may go into heat again as early as three weeks later.
How often does a cat go into heat?
Dr. Cheryl Yuil, a veterinarian writing for the VCA Hospitals website, describes cats as “seasonally polyestrous.”
That’s a fancy way of saying that they go into heat several times during their breeding season.
A cat’s breeding season depends on environmental factors like the number of daylight hours and the temperature.
For example, cats that live in the Northern Hemisphere can mate anywhere from January until fall.
Cats that live in the tropics can breed all year round, and the same is true of indoor cats.
According to Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby, a veterinarian writing for the Spruce website, cats are most likely to mate during the spring and fall.
What are the stages of the heat or estrus cycle?
A cat’s estrus cycle has five stages:
- Metestrus or Diestrus
Proestrus lasts about a day or two. The cat is just beginning to show signs of estrus but isn’t ready to mate yet.
Interestrus is the period between two cycles of heat if the cat doesn’t mate. It lasts about two weeks.
Metestrus is the period between two cycles of heat if the cat does mate. If she doesn’t get pregnant, it lasts between 30 and 40 days. If the cat does get pregnant, the gestation period lasts around 60 to 64 days.
Anestrus describes the period outside the breeding season. It lasts about two or three months and typically covers the period between late fall and much of winter. The cat’s reproductive system and hormones are inactive.
Cats are induced ovulators, which means they don’t release an egg unless they actually mate. If the cat mates more than once, it will release more eggs.
Consequently, cats reproduce in litters, and littermates can have different fathers. The last fact explains why kittens in the same litter can look very different from each other.
Do male cats go into heat?
No, they don’t. Smelling the secretions that female cat in estrus arouses them, however.
Once aroused, they will seek her out. Intact males thus spend a lot of time roaming.
Since the female’s scents draw every intact male in the area to her, male cats also spend a lot of time fighting each other for the right to mate.
Intact male cats are notorious for spraying the house and yard with a, particularly pungent urine to mark their territory. Once a cat has developed this noxious habit, training them to stop is extremely difficult.
What is pyometra?
The PetMD website describes pyometra as a disease caused by a bacterial infection of the uterus.
It is most often seen in older cats that have repeatedly gone into heat without mating.
The physiological, hormonal, and anatomical changes that accompany estrus increase the cat’s susceptibility to such infections.
While some cats with pyometra may show no symptoms, others may show such symptoms as dehydration, lethargy, fever, and loss of appetite.
Blood-tinged pus may drain from the cat’s vulva, but the cat’s grooming habits may cause the owner to miss this symptom.
In some cases, the pus may accumulate within the uterus and cause an enlarged abdomen accompanied by pain.
Pyometra can be life-threatening, and the only way to save the cat is to remove the infected uterus, along with the cervix and Fallopian tubes.
Spaying the cat before she gets sick is the best way to prevent her from developing pyometra.
How do you stop a cat from going into heat?
The only way to keep a cat from going into heat or getting pregnant is to have her spayed.
According to the WebMD website, vets now recommend having a cat spayed before she reaches puberty.
Doing so will reduce her chances of developing certain types of cancer. Thus, many vets will spay kittens providing they are at least eight weeks old and weight at least two pounds.
When a vet spays a cat, they remove the uterus and ovaries. The procedure is sometimes more formally called an ovariohysterectomy.
The vet will administer general anesthesia before operating. They will then make an incision in the abdomen and remove the cat’s ovaries and uterus.
Afterward, they will close the incision with stitches, staples, or skin glue. The procedure generally takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
The cat can generally go home the same day after surgery, and she will be fully recovered within a week.