Are Cats In Pain When In Heat?

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If your female cat hasn’t been spayed, she’ll regularly come into heat. The sounds a cat makes when in heat sounds like they’re in pain, but are they?

Do cats go into heat? And is it painful when they do? Although we can never be sure, the answer is probably no—the horrible noise they make is to get the male cat’s attention. Let’s look at cats in heat, and how we know they probably aren’t painful.

Quick Overview

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Cats "call" when in heat, which makes them sound like they are in pain.

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Being in heat is not painful for cats, though they feel frustrated.

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Cats that are in heat are likely to escape and be mated, so schedule your cat for her spay operation as soon as possible.

What Is A ‘Heat’ In Cats?

Cats are more fertile in the spring and summer, but they can potentially become pregnant at any time of year.

Female cats that haven’t been spayed will go through a reproductive cycle, just like humans and (nearly) all other mammals. We call this the “heat cycle,” but it’s properly called the “estrus cycle.” The cycle consists of periods where the cat isn’t fertile and periods where she is.

We call the time of the cycle when a female cat is fertile “in heat,” “in season,” or (the proper term) “estrus.” Cats can reach sexual maturity and have their first heat as young as 4 months of age and will cycle every two to three weeks.

Although it is possible for cats to cycle all year, especially if they’re indoor cats, they tend to be more fertile in the spring and summer. Some cats (particularly those living in cold climates with short day lengths in winter) will stop cycling in the winter months and have a spring breeding season.

Don’t let this fool you into thinking your cat can’t get pregnant in the winter though—your cat’s heat cycle might not respond to the seasons and an unspayed female can get pregnant on their first heat cycle.

Also Read: How Much Does It Cost Spay or Neuter A Cat?

My Cat Is Bleeding In Heat—Should I Worry?

A few drops of blood during a cat’s estrus cycle is normal and no cause for concern.

Although cats might bleed a tiny bit while in season, they aren’t on their period (menstruating). Only humans and other primates have true periods, where the lining of the uterus breaks down and is shed. This can be uncomfortable. When a human is menstruating, they are not usually fertile, as their uterus is taking a break. We rarely see blood in cats, but when we do it’s because cats are approaching their most fertile period.

It’s normal for cats to produce a couple of spots of blood while in heat, although it’s common for these to be washed away or go unnoticed. If your unspayed cat is producing more than a couple of drops of blood from her back end you should make an urgent appointment with your veterinarian, as pyometra is a possibility. Pyometra is serious and if left untreated it can be fatal.

Also Read: Pyometra in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, & Diagnosis

How Do I Know If My Cat Is In Heat?

When in heat, cats display specific behaviors meant to attract males for mating.

Cats that are in heat display certain signs. The most common and obvious is that they start to “call”—a loud, meowing, yowling, screaming sound that sounds like the cat is in pain. The spots of blood produced by a cat in season are rarely seen because they are so good at keeping themselves clean, so don’t depend on this as a sign. You might also notice some of the following signs of a cat in heat:

Is My Cat In Pain When She’s In Heat?

Thankfully, cats are unlikely to experience pain when in heat, though they might feel agitated or unsettled.

Although the screaming vocalization that cats in heat make sounds painful, they probably aren’t feeling pain. We can’t ask a cat to be sure, but there’s no reason a heat would be painful to a cat. They might feel agitation, though, as their hormones are telling them they need to mate.

If your cat has escaped while in heat, it’s very likely she was mated, in which case she might be in some pain. Tomcats follow pheromone trails and can hear the sound of a cat in heat from a long way away. Even if you think there are no males nearby, it’s very likely your cat will become pregnant if allowed to escape.

Mating is painful for female cats, as males will bite them on the neck to keep them in the mating position. The male’s penis is also barbed to aid ovulation, but this can make mating painful for females.

However, as long as your cat hasn’t been mated you can be confident her heat isn’t painful, even though the noise they’re making does sound otherwise. The loud meow your cat is making is just her attempt to attract a potential suitor.

Also Read: Do Cats Enjoy Sex Or Mating?

How Can I Help My Cat In Heat?

Spaying your cat will stop the frantic behavior your cat feels during her heat cycle and prevent unwanted litters.

Cats in heat are very noisy and you might be wondering how to calm a cat in heat. Unfortunately, only two things will stop your cat being so frantic and noisy: being mated or being spayed. Unless you want a litter of kittens to deal with, it’s time to schedule a spay appointment with your veterinarian.

Spaying is a routine procedure carried out on thousands of cats every day. Your cat receives a general anesthetic and her uterus and ovaries are removed while she is asleep. Removing the ovaries stops the production of hormones, eliminates your cat’s estrous cycles, and makes the cat unable to become pregnant.

Your cat will usually be able to go home the same day. It’s best to help your cat to keep quiet for a week after they’ve been spayed so everything can heal, but most cats will be back to normal within just two to three days.

Spaying cats has been found to be very low risk, both in terms of anesthetic/surgery complications and long-term. However, if you have concerns about getting your cat spayed your veterinarian will be more than happy to discuss the pros and cons with you.

Also Read: Why Do Cats Scream When Mating?

Cats In Heat: Final Thoughts

Cats will cycle every two to three weeks during the breeding season; spaying eliminates this estrus cycle.

Cats in heat are not in pain, but experiencing an estrus is still not pleasant for cat or owner. Cats in heat are driven by their hormones and their constant calling for a mate is evidence of that.

Since cats will cycle about every two to three weeks, being in heat can feel near-constant for all members of the family. You can permanently stop your cat’s heat behavior by having them spayed, which will also prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Also Read: What Can You Give A Cat For An Upset Stomach?

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I soothe my cat in heat?

The best way to soothe your cat in heat is to take away the hormones by spaying her. In the meantime, you can reassure her by talking to her and petting her. You might also be able to distract her by playing with her and giving her catnip.

Do cats feel pain on their period?

Cats don’t have a period, as they don’t shed their uterine lining like humans do. A cat fertility cycle is different, but they might have tiny spots of blood during their fertile period. This is not painful.

What does my cat feel when she's in heat?

The main thing a cat in heat feels is frustration. Every instinct and hormone is telling her to find a male, so she might be frantic and even aggressive. Cats in heat aren’t painful, although the calling sound they make sounds like they’re in pain, they’re just trying to attract a male.

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About Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt (MRCVS) is a small animal veterinarian and writer who is passionate about helping owners to learn more about their pets in order to improve animal welfare. She loves to write and wants to empower owners to make the best decisions for their pets by giving them all the information they need. In her spare time, she takes consultations on the small island of Guernsey.

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