Is your cat in heat? How can you tell? Female cats that are not spayed will eventually come into heat, also called estrus or oestrus. The signs of a cat in heat are very clear once you know what to look for.
What Is Feline Estrus?
Female cats that have not been spayed undergo reproductive hormonal changes in preparation for breeding. This process is called estrus, or heat, and typically begins around six months of age.
In general, cats experience estrus twice a year in the spring and fall. They may enter heat repeatedly during each season.
An unspayed female cat of breeding age is called a queen. When the queen goes into heat, she experiences specific bodily changes to indicate to males that she is receptive to breeding.
There is no easy way to measure a cat's hormone levels at home, but you can observe her changes in behavior. There are many behavioral symptoms to watch for if you suspect your queen is in heat.
How to Tell If Your Female Cat Is in Heat
Immediately preceding estrus, your female cat may become unusually affectionate, by sidling up and rubbing her hindquarters against furniture, stuffed toys, and other cats. She is not particular, and may even pick one or more of her favorite humans.
She may spend excessive time licking her genital area. Note: This behavior on its own can be a symptom of a urinary tract disorder, which can be serious if not treated promptly.
If your cat exhibits this behavior without any of the others on this list a trip to the vet is in order.
The queen will vocalize loudly. This "calling" may go on for several days unless she mates. She will then assume a mating position: head down, forelegs bent, rear quarters raised to expose the perineum with the tail raised and held to the side of the body.
This raised posture is called lordosis. Her rear legs will tread rhythmically as if walking in place.
The queen may also spray vertical surfaces with a strongly scented fluid. She will accomplish this by backing up to the surface and raising her tail high. The tail may quiver, and she may perform the rhythmic treading described in step four.
To the untrained eye, a cat in heat often may distress or painful. She may have a noticeable decrease in appetite. She may overgroom and appear anxious, especially if she repeats heat cycles over a long period of time without mating.
A feline estrus cycle typically lasts about a week but may be longer or shorter depending on the cat. If your female cat does not mate, she will go into heat as often as every two to three weeks for several months each year. This will continue until she either mates or is spayed.
Should You Spay Your Cat?
The short answer here is yes. Unless you are a professional breeder of pedigreed cats, you should avoid letting your cat mate. The United States has a major pet overpopulation problem, so it's irresponsible to add to this by letting your pet cat reproduce.
Most vets recommend spaying your female cat no later than the age of six months.
If your cat is already in heat, she can likely still be spayed despite a mild increase in risk and cost. Spaying your cat will not only cease the uncomfortable heat cycles; it can prevent certain serious medical problems in the future.
If You Can't Afford to Spay Your Cat
One can argue that you can't afford NOT to spay your female cat. What happens when she finds a mate and gives birth to kittens nine weeks later? Can you afford to care for a litter of kittens? The cost of raising one cat isn't cheap. You already have an idea since you're concerned with the cost of spaying your girl.
Fortunately, most communities have low-cost spay options. Some animal welfare groups will provide coupons for certain veterinary offices to provide low-cost spays. There are also low-cost clinics in some areas.
Ask your veterinarian about the most affordable spay options in your area. You may be able to have your cat spayed for a cost as low as her monthly food. Don't let your financial concerns prevent you from taking good care of your feline companion.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT