Female cats that have not been spayed will go into heat (estrus) for the first time when they hit puberty, around 4-6 months old. They will then have multiple heats each year, during the breeding season.
During this part of the reproductive cycle, cats are fertile and can become pregnant. They may also exhibit some odd, and often fairly dramatic behaviors. Cats in estrus may vocalize loudly, seek attention constantly, spray urine and even try to escape the house! These signs can be worrying, confusing and even frustrating for pet owners.
In this guide, we’ll explore the stages of feline estrus, the signs that your cat may be in heat, and what you can do.
Phases of Estrous Cycle in Cats
A cat’s estrus (reproductive) cycle, also called a heat cycle, lasts on 14-21 days on average. It occurs in four stages:
This is a brief stage (1-2 days) which precedes estrus. The female cat may be attractive to males, but is not yet fertile or willing to mate.
This is the fertile period of the cycle, where the female is ready and receptive to mating, and can become pregnant if mated. It lasts for 3-14 days. During this stage, your cat may show various signs such as rolling around on the floor, showing more affection and vocalizing. They may actively seek out a mate.
Interestrus or Diestrus
If the cat isn’t mated, the interestrus period between heat cycles lasts 2-3 weeks.
If the cat is mated and ovulates, she will enter the diestrus phase. The fertilized eggs become embryos, and implant in the uterus. Pregnancy lasts 62-64 days.
This is the stage in which the queen is reproductively dormant: she doesn’t experience any heat cycles. Cats are seasonal breeders, and don’t cycle during the colder months with shorter day lengths. She won’t go into heat during this time, and can’t become pregnant.
8 Signs Your Cat Is in Heat
In cats, the physical signs of estrus are hard to spot. Cats don’t bleed when they’re in heat. The more obvious clues are behavioral, and can be quite dramatic! 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. It is generally around six months of age but can be as early as four months.
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 or pacing
- Treading her back legs
- Urine spraying or marking
- Decreased appetite
What to Do When Your Cat Is in Heat
Cats in heat can show behaviors which are persistent, dramatic, concerning – and occasionally outright annoying! Many owners worry that their cat is in pain, due to behavior such as yowling and agitation, but these are all part of a normal heat cycle.
It can be hard to know what to do to help. Some ways to try to deal with a cat in heat include:
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to stop a cat in heat from meowing, pacing, rolling around, and raising her rear into the air and you may just have to simply wait it out.
Once your cat’s out of heat, spaying her will keep her from ever going into heat again.
Should You Spay Your Cat?
You can stop your cat from coming into heat and from becoming pregnant by having her spayed. This is a simple operation performed by a veterinarian, where the cat’s reproductive organs are removed via a small incision.
Intact female cats will undergo multiple heats each year. During these times they will vocalize loudly, roll around, urinate on things and constantly try to escape. If she does manage to get out, this can be dangerous as she may roam far from home to find a mate. Pregnancy in very young cats can also be harmful to their growing bodies, and that’s not to mention the responsibility that comes with a litter of kittens!
If you don’t plan on breeding from your cat, spaying is recommended. As well as all the behavioral advantages, spaying also eliminates the risk of uterine and ovarian cancers, and reduces the risk of other medical conditions such as uterine infections.
Frequently Asked Questions
When do cats go into heat?
Cats usually have their first estrus around 4-6 months of age. They are seasonal breeders, mostly cycling in the lighter, warmer months of the year - March - September is the peak time in the Northern Hemisphere - although they can cycle all year round.
How often do cats go into heat?
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 numerous heat cycles in one season. In some geographic regions, the feline breeding season may be year-round.
Do cats bleed when in heat?
No, cats don’t bleed during estrus. If you notice blood from your cat’s vulva, seek advice from a veterinarian. The signs of estrus in cats are mostly behavioral, such as vocalizing and attention seeking, rather than physical.
Do cats spray when in heat?
Yes, female cats may spray urine when they are in heat. This is an attempt to attract a mate, and can go alongside other changes such as loud vocalizations and rolling around the floor in strange positions.
How long does a cat stay in heat?
The length of a feline heat can vary from just a few days to a few weeks, but the average time in estrus is around a week.