Like humans, a cat’s body goes through different changes when it reaches reproductive maturity. Now, if you’re a pet parent with an unspayed cat to worry about, you’re most likely wondering when all these start. When do cats go into heat?
If that’s what you want to know, that’s what you’ll get and more. Besides that, we’re also here to give you all there is to know about a cat’s heat cycle, its five phases, how often this happens, and the signs to watch out for.
When Do Cats Go Into Heat?
Females cats will experience their first heat or first estrus cycle during puberty or when they reach sexual maturity. On average, this occurs when they’re about six months of age. But, as always, it’s not the same for all.
Generally, short-haired cats (like Siamese cats) experience their first heat earlier than long-haired cat breeds (think Persian cats). Some will be going into heat or have their first heat cycle as early as 4 months, while others will go through their first cycle when they’re 18 months of age.
This applies to female cats, but what about male cats? Do tom cats go into heat?
The answer is No. However, you will notice unneutered male cats acting strangely and showing seemingly “in heat”- like behavior, but this is only in response to female cats in heat.
Once an unneutered male reaches reproductive maturity, which is around the same time as a female cat (think 4 months), you can expect a tomcat to be mate-ready anytime.
Estrous Cycle: What Is It?
Female cats that are of age and unspayed (with their reproductive organs intact) will go through a normal cycle called the estrous cycle. Unlike dogs that go through 4 phases, a queen’s estrous cycle consists of 5 phases.
5 Phases Of A Female Cat’s Estrous Cycle
When the estrous cycle kicks off, the estrogen levels of an unspayed female cat surge. When this happens, your pet cat (according to PubMed Central) may go through 5 phases, namely:
This phase happens subtly for one or two days, making it difficult to detect. During this time, you’ll notice male cats making advances on your queen but the female cat, at this point, won’t show any interest.
This is the time when an unneutered female cat will go into heat and will be receptive to breeding. This phase lasts for about a week. But this can be different from one cat to another.
For some, this can last for a few days (think 2 days). Others’ heat cycle may last for a few weeks (think 19 days). An example of a breed that often has prolonged heat cycles is the Siamese cat.
A queen that does not ovulate will go through this phase. At this time, queens are not in any way interested in breeding, so you can expect your cat back to her old self. This phase often lasts for around 2 to 19 days.
Queens that mate and ovulate go through this phase that is also known as luteal phase.
Cats are induced ovulators. This means that breeding stimulates the release of an egg. Once a cat ovulates, a cat can get pregnant. Pregnancy lasts for 65 to 67 days. On the other hand, the absence of fertilization after ovulation can result in pseudopregnancy which can last for 40 to 50 days.
This phase is characterized by a lack of cycling activity. This is common among queens that live in the northern hemisphere in seasons when daylight hours are shorter (think October to November).
Heat Cycles & How Often They Occur In Female Cats
Besides the cat’s breed, the cycle's onset and how often it will occur will also depend on various environmental factors, including the season and the cat's geographic location.
Cats are seasonally polyestrous. That’s why such a thing as “kitten season” exists. Also known as breeding season, it’s during this time when queens undergo multiple cycles.
If you’re in the Northern hemisphere, you can expect a female cat to have her estrous cycles from late spring or early summer (around February or March) to early fall (around October).
On the other hand, those that live near the equator and are exposed to longer daylight hours will go into heat all year round. The same applies to indoor cats since they are constantly exposed to artificial lights.
How To Know If Your Pet Cat Is In Heat
You’ll know for sure that your pet cat is in heat since she’ll show noticeable signs of being in heat. This includes:
Overly Affectionate. When going into heat, most cats become more affectionate. You’ll most likely find them rubbing their heads and necks on you or anything near them.
Excessive Vocalization. To attract a mate, most cats will not only meow excessively but will create an unusual sound that almost sounds like a howl.
Spraying Urine. A cat in heat will also spray urine on surfaces to lure other cats (tomcats of course) to her home.
Besides that, a cat in heat will also show other signs, namely:
- Poor appetite
- Swollen vulva which they’ll lick frequently
- Raises her rear in the air with the tail moving from side to side when her back is stroked
What about vaginal discharge? A cat in heat will rarely bleed. If a cat in heat bleeds, it should only be a tiny amount. If it’s a lot, contact your vet right away.
The signs of heat will disappear within 24-48 hours after your cat ovulates. If not, heat cycles can last from a few days to a few weeks. When the cat is in heat and they fail to mate, it’ll take a break for 2-19 days and go back into heat again.
Spaying & What It Does To Your Cat
So what does spaying have to do with all this? An unspayed cat equates to multiple heat cycles which equates to unwanted behaviors and unwelcome visits from other cats. Eventually, this will also lead to your cat getting pregnant and having kittens – not just one litter since cats can have kittens at most thrice a year.
What happens if you get your cat spayed? Besides reducing unwanted behavior and pregnancies, your cat will also be healthier and will live a longer life.
Food For Thought
If the rear of your pet cat goes up in the air and its tail starts to sway when stroking her back, you know that your cat is in heat. If you don’t want your cat to get pregnant, get her spayed.
Most veterinarians suggest spaying your cat once it’s six months old. If you want to make sure, ask your vet when it's best to get your cat spayed.
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