Cat in Heat: Signs, Symptoms, & Care

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Calico cat in heat lying on her back

Female cats that have not been spayed will go into heat (estrous) for the first time when they hit puberty.

During this reproductive cycle, cats exhibit unmistakable and sometimes annoying behaviors that leave cat owners with a lot of questions. This article will answer some of the most common questions about cats in heat.

But first, let’s take a look at what’s going on during a cat’s heat cycle.

Cat Heat Cycle

A cat’s estrous (reproductive) cycle, also called a heat cycle, can last anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the cat.

A cat’s entire heat cycle occurs in 3 phases:

  • Proestrous (a brief stage that precedes estrous; the cat is not yet fertile),
  • Estrous (the fertile period).
  • Either interestrous (the time between estrous and the next cycle if the cat does not ovulate) or diestrous (occurs after estrus if the cat does ovulate).

Anestrous refers to the stage that a cat does not experience any heat cycles (the ovaries are not active). This is generally wintertime for the northern hemisphere.

Signs & Symptoms of Cats in Heat

The symptoms of heat are more behavioral than physical.

Signs that your cat is in heat include:

  • Excessive and/or loud vocalization (howling, yowling and meowing).
  • Rolling on the floor and sticking her hindquarters up in the air.
  • Attention seeking (asking for lots of touching and petting).
  • Indoor cats trying to escape the house.
  • Agitation / pacing.
  • Treading her back legs.
  • Urine spraying or marking.
  • Lack of appetite.

Q: What Does It Mean When A Cat Is In Heat?

A: Saying a cat is “in heat” or “in season” is a way of describing the period when an un-spayed female cat (called a “queen”) is receptive to mating. In scientific terms, this is called a cat’s estrous (reproductive) cycle.

Q: Do Cats Bleed When In Heat?

A: No. Unlike humans and dogs, cats do not shed the lining of their uterus when they are in heat, so they do not experience vaginal bleeding.

Q: At What Age Do Cats Go Into Heat?

A: A cat will experience her first estrous cycle when she reaches sexual maturity. The exact age at which a cat goes into heat for the first time varies, but it is generally around 6 months of age.

Cats can go into heat as early as 4 months old, however. This is why veterinarians recommend that you have your kitten spayed early. Kittens can be spayed as young as 8 weeks.

Q: When Do Cats Go Into Heat?

A: This cycle can occur at any time of the year, but the peak “kitten season” for cats living in the northern hemisphere is spring and summer, generally March to September.

Since feline pregnancy lasts only about 60 days, cats may start going into heat as early as January.

Q: How Often Do Cats Go Into Heat?

A: Cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they can go into heat many times throughout the breeding season. Since feline pregnancy (gestation) is so short, cats can have more than one litter of kittens in a breeding season.

Typically, a cat may go through two or three heat cycles in one season. In some geographic regions, the feline breeding season may be year-round.

Q: What Happens When A Cat Is In Heat?

A: A cat in heat experiences a surge of reproductive hormones that tell her it’s time to find a mate and breed. These hormones can cause distinctive and sometimes irritating behaviors.

Q: How Can You Tell If A Cat Is In Heat?

A: Signs to look for include excessive vocalization (howling, yowling and meowing, often very loudly), and agitation (pacing, indoor cats trying to escape the house).

Your cat may seek extra attention, requesting lots of touching and petting. She might roll around on the floor, stick her hindquarters up in the air, tread her back legs, and spray urine.

Finally, these symptoms may be accompanied by a loss of appetite.

Q: Do Female Cats Spray When In Heat?

A: Yes. It’s common for female cats to spray or “mark” things with urine when they are in heat. Often, they spray outside of the litter box or spray vertical objects like walls, furniture, and trees.

Spraying is a way for the cat to communicate to nearby male cats that she is available for mating. The urine contains pheromones and hormones that male cats can smell from miles away.

Q: How Long Does A Female Cat Stay In Heat?

A: The length of a cat’s heat cycle varies. Some cats are in heat for just three days; other cats stay in heat for up to 20 days. On average, though, a cat stays in heat for about a week.

Q: Do Cats Stay In Heat After Mating?

A: No. If a female cat breeds during her heat cycle, she almost always becomes pregnant. This is because cats are induced ovulators and the act of breeding stimulates their body to ovulate (release an egg).

Ovulation generally will occur if a female cat mates three or four times in a 24-hour period. The symptoms of the estrous cycle will subside within a day or so.

Q: Are Cats In Pain When In Heat?

A: It’s hard to say. Th e specific behaviors noted with heat cycles (yowling, agitation, inappetence) certainly seem unpleasant, but then again, the cat is feeling a strong urge to mate and trying hard to attract a male.

Q: How Do You Calm A Cat In Heat?

A: Cats in heat can be extremely annoying to cat owners. It can be hard to know what to do to help. It’s nearly impossible to stop a cat in heat from meowing, pacing, rolling around and raising her rear into the air.

Some ways to try to deal with a cat in heat include playing with her, offering her catnip and simply just waiting it out. Once your cat’s out of heat, spaying her will keep her from ever going into heat again.

Q: Can You Spay A Cat In Heat?

A: Yes, you can spay a cat that is in heat, but it’s not preferable to do so. Many veterinarians will ask you to wait until your female is out of heat, then bring her back to be spayed.

When a cat is in heat, there’s a lot more blood flow in her reproductive organs. This can make it harder for the veterinarian to perform the surgery. There is also a higher risk of bleeding issues when spaying a cat during a heat cycle.

It’s best to wait for a week or two after signs of heat subside before spaying your cat. But don’t wait too long or the cat may go into heat again before she can be spayed.

Q: Do Male Cats Go Into Heat?

A: No, male cats do not go into heat. But intact male cats (Tomcats or Toms for short) go crazy when they smell a female in heat, doing everything in their power to find and mate with the fertile female cat.

Stray Toms have even been known to try to break into the home of a fertile female cat. During this period, it’s very important to keep your female cat inside and away from all intact male cats if you want to prevent pregnancy.

How to Deal With a Cat in Heat

Cats in heat can exhibit behaviors that often make them less enjoyable as pets. Cats that are unspayed will go through multiple heat cycles every year and run the risk of becoming pregnant every time.

Spaying your female cat will ensure she doesn’t have an unwanted pregnancy and eliminate the unpleasant side effects of going into heat.

Jackie Brown

About Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is a freelance writer specializing in the pet industry. She writes on all pet and veterinary topics, including general health and care, nutrition, grooming, behavior, training, veterinary and health topics, rescue and animal welfare, lifestyle, and the human-animal bond. Jackie is the former editor of numerous pet magazines and is a regular contributor to pet magazines and websites.

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