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When Do Cats Go Into Heat?

If you have a female kitty who isn’t spayed and you don’t want to find a home for more kittens, you should definitely keep reading. Cats who come into heat have one-track minds, and they can be very persistent about finding a mate. If you think that Her Royal Highness Princess Purrfection would never leave you to run off with the local tom, think again. The harsh reality is that strong hormonal signals are encouraging her to do, well, what comes naturally.

To help you avoid a surprise litter, we’ll go over at what age cats can have their first heat cycle, what the signs of heat are and when to spay your cat to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

What Does It Mean When a Cat Is in Heat?

If a cat is in heat (or in estrus), she is at the stage of her reproductive cycle (called the estrous cycle) when she can become pregnant. Hormonal changes during heat stimulate behavioral and physiological changes that help her attract male cats in the area and let them know she’s ready to breed.

At What Age Do Cats Go into Heat?

Heat cycles in cats begin when they reach sexual maturity (like puberty for humans). This is typically around 6 months of age, but, depending on their breed and other factors, a cat’s heat cycle could begin anytime from 4 to 10 months of age. It is absolutely true that a cat can become pregnant during her first heat.

How Often Do Cats Go into Heat?

Once cats are sexually mature, the time of the year that they go into heat depends on where they live. Cats are long-day breeders and seasonally polyestrous, which means they only breed during periods of longer daylight hours and they have multiple cycles during this breeding season. That’s why in the Northern Hemisphere, cats will start their heat cycle around February and continue through October (pausing during winter), and why “kitten season” starts in spring. It’s normal for cats to cycle from two to four times per mating season.

If you have an indoor cat, her environment is more regulated and less affected by daylight. It means that indoor cats may not have a mating season — instead they could begin an estrous cycle (and come into heat) at any time of the year.

How Long Does the Heat Cycle Last in Female Cats?

Cats are usually in heat for about a week, although a heat can last anywhere from for a few days to three weeks. They will have repeated heat cycles if they don’t become pregnant. Most cats (who don’t become pregnant) will have estrous cycles two to four times per breeding season. An interesting fact about a cat’s reproductive cycle is that cats are induced ovulators, which means eggs are only released from their ovaries once they breed with a male cat.

If cats become pregnant, their estrous cycle will end. After giving birth, queens can come into heat again within a few weeks. Lactation (when kittens are drinking milk) won’t stop her coming into heat, so if your cat recently gave birth, make sure you keep males away if you don’t want her to become pregnant again.

Signs of a Cat in Heat

If your cat is in heat, the first thing you will probably notice is a change in her behavior. Some cats will become a lot more affectionate and will want more snuggle time and attention. Other cats will get cranky and will want to be left alone. Cats in heat will usually rub their body on objects (and you) a lot more, will roll around on the floor more often and will pee and spray urine (mark) more in an attempt to attract potential suitors. They will also make loud vocalizations — you could even hear her caterwauling. You might also notice her hindquarters go up in the air when you touch her back.

Other signs include your cat, who never wants to go outside, suddenly clawing at the window screen or trying to scoot out the door as you open it. You might also see some tomcats hanging around outside that you’ve never seen before. Your cat is getting their attention with her caterwauling, and she’s trying to sneak out of the house to go meet them.

Do Cats Bleed When in Heat?

Cats generally don’t bleed at any point in their estrous cycle. You may notice a small amount of discharge or blood, but anything heavier should be checked out by your veterinarian.

Prevent Pregnancy by Keeping Intact Male Cats Away

If you don’t want your cat to become pregnant and you have an intact male cat who has contact with your unspayed female cat, you will need to keep them separated during your cat’s heat. Keep in mind that both of them will be trying to find their way back to each other, so you’ll need a foolproof plan for keeping them apart. Your cat doesn’t know that inbreeding is frowned upon, so keeping males away includes your cat’s brothers, sons or father (in other words, all male cats). Male cats can breed at any time after they’re sexually mature, which is why intact males tend to roam a lot — they’re looking for (or can smell) a female cat in heat.

Pregnancy in Cats

If you think your cat may be pregnant, you should contact your vet. Gestation in cats is around 65 days and the average litter size is four to six kittens. Given the opportunity, female cats can be bred by multiple males, which means the kittens can have different fathers. It’s why some kittens in a litter can look so different from one another!

How Do You Prevent Cats from Going into Heat?

The best way to prevent pregnancy (and heat behaviors) in cats is to have them spayed. The removal of their ovaries prevents them from coming into heat and from becoming pregnant. As well as preventing pregnancy, spaying can improve your cat’s health and longevity. By spaying females (and neutering males) cat owners can also help address the cat overpopulation problem, including reducing the number of community cats.

When Should You Spay a Female Cat?

The optimal age for spaying is before your cat becomes sexually mature. Because some female cats can experience their first heat at 5 months or even 4 months of age, the general recommendation, which is supported by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, is to spay cats by 5 months of age. It is a myth that you should wait until your cat has her first heat before having her spayed. You’re just increasing the chance that you’ll have unwanted kittens on your hands.

Cats can also be spayed after they’ve reached sexual maturity. There is an increased risk if they are pregnant at the time of the surgery, so it’s important to keep males away if you’re planning on having your cat spayed. Even senior kitties — who are healthy enough for surgery — can be spayed. Unlike human females, senior cats don’t go through menopause, so being older won’t stop them from potentially becoming pregnant.

If you don’t want to hear the pitter patter of tiny paws across your floors, it’s best to spay your cat as soon as your vet recommends it’s safe to do so. Spaying also takes the stress out of keeping your female cat in — and male cats out — of your house!


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