The first heat cycle in cats, or estrus, occurs at puberty or sexual maturity — around 6 months old — although the onset of puberty can vary depending on the individual cat or breed.
Many owners spay their cats as soon as possible (around 8 weeks old) so they don’t experience the heat cycle (not to mention it helps curb overpopulation with accidental breeding). If you plan on breeding your cat or have not gotten her spayed for other reasons, your cat will experience heat cycles.
How to Identify the Heat Cycle
When considering the estrus cycle, you might expect bleeding. Although a small amount of bleeding and discharge may occur, it is not common. The changes caused by the heat cycle are more behavioral. Some examples of behavioral changes include:
- Increased affection
- Rubbing against people or objects
- Rolling on the floor
- Demanding more attention
- Raising the hind quarters when rubbed or scratched
- Becoming vocal, even yowling at times
- Increased urination or marking on objects
- Attempts to escape to the outdoors
This video shows a cat in heat meowing to a male cat. Grab some ear plugs:
Urinary markings serve a purpose to other cats. The pheromones and hormones released in the urine serve as indicators of the female cat’s reproductive status. The scent can be so strong at times that you may notice male cats hanging around outdoors even if your cat is an indoor pet.
The ovulation cycle is different from that of humans. Ovulation is stimulated by mating, and it is normal for a cat to mate several times during a heat cycle. Cats can mate with different males and may even have kittens that are widely varied in breed and appearance. If you’ve ever seen a white cat produce kittens of many different colors or breeds, multiple fathers may be the reason.
How Long Do Cats Stay in Heat?
Heat cycles can vary among cats, but the cycle typically starts around the 5 to 6 month mark. Cats can begin the cycle much sooner (4 months) or later (10 months). Some cats breed all year long, although the most active time considered kitten season starts in March.
The heat cycle can last seven to 10 days and can occur every few weeks. Cats can also go into heat shortly after giving birth, sometimes as short as one week after delivery. This never-ending cycle can cause thousands of offspring if the kittens are also allowed to reproduce. If mating is successful, the heat cycle will end within days.
- Don’t Miss: How Do I Know if My Cat Is Pregnant?
What Can I Do?
Have your cat spayed to prevent reproduction. There are other benefits to spaying, such as reducing risks of mammary cancer, uterine diseases and reducing overpopulation. Spaying can be done as early as 8 weeks of age, but check with your veterinarian. If a cat is already in heat, some vets may wait until the cycle is over before performing the spay.
Cats do not need to have a litter of kittens before they are spayed. Reproducing does not make them more affectionate, alter personalities or solve any problems. It does add to pet overpopulation, and this contribution significantly increases if the kittens are allowed to reproduce. The cycle continues to produce more cats than available homes. Cats can become pregnant during their first heat cycle, and they do not discriminate when it comes to finding an available male — cats will mate with their parents or siblings.
If you can’t afford to spay your cat, call your vet or local humane society to see what options are available. A few times per year, my shelter has a day dedicated to spaying cats, and it is only $10. You may be able to find free services, depending on your situation — but you won’t know until you ask.