Cat In Heat (Estrous Cycles): Signs, Symptoms & Care

Medically reviewed by Bartley Harrison, DVM
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Female cats that have not been spayed will go into heat (estrus) for the first time when they hit puberty.

During this part of the 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, lasts on 14-21 days on average..

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

  • Proestrus (a brief stage that precedes estrous; the cat is not yet fertile)
  • Estrus (the fertile period)
  • Either interestrus (the time between estrus and the next cycle if the cat does not ovulate) or diestrus (occurs after estrus if the cat does ovulate – results in either pregnancy or pseudopregnancy)

Anestrus refers to the stage during which the 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 or pacing
  • Treading her back legs
  • Urine spraying or marking
  • Decreased appetite

What Does It Mean When A Cat Is In Heat?

Saying a cat is “in heat” or “in season” is a way of describing the period when an intact female cat (called a “queen”) is receptive to mating. In scientific terms, this is called “estrus.”.

Do Cats Bleed When In Heat?

No. There are two types of reproductive cycles—menstrual and estrus. While women have a menstrual cycle and shed the lining of their uterus as part of this reproductive cycle, the estrus cycle does not involve this shedding and bleeding. If your cat has vaginal bleeding while in heat, it’s best to see a vet.

At What Age Do Cats Go Into Heat?

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.

When Do Cats Go Into Heat?

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.

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.

What Happens When A Cat Is In Heat?

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.

How Can You Tell If A Cat Is In Heat?

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.

Do Female Cats Spray When In Heat?

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.

How Long Does A Female Cat Stay In Heat?

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

Do Cats Stay In Heat After Mating?

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.

Are Cats In Pain When In Heat?

Though the behaviors noted with heat cycles (yowling, agitation, inappetence) often are indicators of discomfort in cats, it is more likely that the cat is just feeling a strong urge to mate and trying hard to attract a male.

How Do You Calm A Cat In Heat?

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.

Can You Spay A Cat In Heat?

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 more difficult 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.

Do Male Cats Go Into Heat?

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.

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About Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is a content creator 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.

16 thoughts on “Cat In Heat (Estrous Cycles): Signs, Symptoms & Care

  1. olivia

    fluffy does not like to climb or jump, always sleeping and is not playful is this normal 11 months and is in heat

    Reply
  2. Lynn M Smith

    I feed stray cats. My dog hates cats but this cat adopted my dog, so she has become part of the family. If
    Angel doesnt like what the cat is doing, she lets her know and all seems to be ok again. I thought for sure that
    the kitty must be in heat since the tomcats are around her constantly when she is outside. I don’t know if I can keep her away from them for 21 days. She was talking so loud IN THE EVENING AND ALL NIGHT LONG. i COULDN’T UNDERSTAND THAT UNTIL i READ YOUR ARTICLE. hOW CAN i NAME HER? I just call her kitty kitty and she seems to know what I’m asking of her. Great article. She seems to not be interested in my dog or myself now. Is that part of the heat process? How will I know when she is out of heat? I can’t get her spade until July 20th,

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Hello Lynn, thanks for the comment! You can tell that your cat is in a (brief) period of non-estrus when she stops yowling, meowing, and acting strange. Becoming less clingy and affectionate can also be indicative that she’s out of heat. You’re right that keeping her away from the male cats will be difficult, and if you don’t want your cat to get pregnant, I would recommend taking her in to get spayed. Kitty Kitty is a fine name, and there’s no rush to find another one. I’m sure the perfect name will come to you.

      Reply
  3. Helena

    Just one thing. Human females – that is us – do not bleed when we are fertile. On the contrary: menstruation is a totally safe period. It is right in between the menstruations, that we ovulate and can become pregnant. No bleeding then.

    Reply
  4. Rita Stone

    I have a female cat that my guy friend brought here from states away. When he left he also left her and her newborn kittens with me, in my already multi cat household. Needless to say, there have been, and still are, many conflicts. That brings me to my question…how do I know that she is in interestrus and safe to be around her 2, now 8 month old, male kittens?

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Hi Rita, thanks for the comment. Cats will remain in estrus for a week or two every 3-4 weeks until they have been bred, and trying to keep her apart from her sons only during this time is not the most effective way to prevent pregnancy. Generally, it’s recommended to keep non-“fixed” male and female cats separated all the time in this case. Having her spayed is the most reliable way to prevent pregnancy.

      Reply
  5. Avatar photoMichelle Hoover

    A starving 6-month old kitten recently showed up at our rental house, and we’ve been getting her healthy again. The vet thought we should wait two weeks to get her spayed because of this. But now she’s in heat. I’ve seen some articles say that you should wait a month after the heat cycle to get a cat spayed, which would mean we have to wait for several months if the heat cycle returns every two to three weeks through the spring and summer. We can’t keep her from the local males for that long. So I’m hoping that when she’s out of the noisy and weird estrus phase and in her interestrus phase, it’s safe to get her spayed? Or we should wait a week after her estrus phase? If we wait two weeks afterwards, don’t we risk her going into the estrus phase again? We also plan to fly her home to the U.S. in mid-February, as there are so many cats here fighting for food (island of Cyprus) and we’re worried she’ll starve again or get hurt. All the shelters and foster houses are more than full! She has to be spayed before we can do this. We’ll be gone for two months and can’t take care of her from mid-Feb to mid-April, so time is of the essence for her spaying. Please let me know what you think. I certainly don’t want to put her in danger.

    Reply
  6. Selina W

    Hi Mallory, My 8month old is in heat for the 2nd noticeable time, showing all the above signs, loud vocalizations for hours etc.
    Here is my question, the 1st noticable cycle she went around head butting everything, rubbing her face and head on anything and everything hard, like corners of walls, table legs etc.. A small bump appeared on her head, was not sure if this was a result of her hitting things, or a hormonal thing causing her head to become itchy, anyway the period passed and the small bump healed in a week or 2, leaving a very tiny bald spot, the hair grew back again and all was normal.
    Until this time around that is, she’s at it again smashing into things with her head, this time there are 3 small lumps or bumps.
    One o top of her nose in between her eyes the other 2 top of her head, I must note these bumps are very small and are not visible but u can feel them with your finger. So is it a part of hormonal process to get itchy lumps on heads, or is it a result of her head butting things at every opportunity? I will take her to a vet after her cycle has ceased, and am considering getting her spayed, as she seems in so much turmoil during this period.
    Thanks for any advice.

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Hi Selina, apologies for the late reply! Hope you and your cat are doing well. From what I understand, this doesn’t seem to be a hormonal response, and it seems much more likely that she’s hurting herself a little bit by doing all of that bumping and butting. Getting her spayed should alleviate all of this, but I would recommend asking the vet as well to make sure there’s no other cause. Take care!

      Reply
  7. VICTORIA CRISWELL

    I HAVE A QUESTIONABOUT MY FEMALE CAT’S “CHINA” AND “KALI” THEY ARE OF THE SAME LITTER ABOUT 1 YEAR OLD NOW THEY’VE OVIOUSLY BEEN TOGETHER SINCE BIRTH I SEEKED GOOD HOMES ONLY FOR THE REST OF THE LITTER OF 6 TOTAL AND WHEN IT CAME DOWN TO THEM I PROLONGED FINDING THEM HOMES AND I REALIZED THEY ARE SO CLOSE I COULD NOT SEPARATE THEM SO HERE WE ARE 1 YR LATER AND CHINA HAS CAME INTO HEAT 2 TIMES NOW AND KALI HAS NOT COME INTO HEAT YET. I KNOW FOR SURE KALI IS NOT A CALVIN FOR A FACT SO MY QUESTION IS THAT NORMAL FOR 2 FEMALES BEING AROUND EACH OTHER TO ONLY ONE GOING INTO HEAT BECAUSE SOME SORT OF FEMALE THING. ANYONE KNOW WHY THIS IS? IM VERY CURIOUS TO KNOW. THANKS IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR ANSWER.

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Hmm, fascinating question. From what I understand, being around another female cat will not inhibit a cat from going into heat. There are a few possibilities here. For one, Kali may have some health issues that are preventing her from going into heat. Secondly, perhaps her symptoms of having gone into heat are more subtle than China’s. The other possibilities are that Kali is actually male or was spayed at some point before you adopted them. I know these other considerations may seem rude, but I have to suggest them—please forgive that! Hope you’re able to find an answer soon!

      Reply

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