Like most animals, female cats go through physical cycles that allow their bodies to prepare for fertilization and birth. In human females, this cycle is called "menstruation." In feline females, it is called "estrus." When female cats are experiencing estrus, they can also be said to be "in heat." This means that they are hormonally receptive to intercourse and reproduction.
When to Expect Your Cat to Go Into Heat
Female cats become sexually mature in their "adolescence," which occurs anytime between 4 and 10 months of age.
If they are not spayed (and unless you want to raise kittens you should absolutely consider spaying your cat!), they will then start to go into heat several times a year. Heat usually lasts between a week and ten days.
While "kitten season" is usually spring, meaning cats are likely to become pregnant during winter, cats can go into heat at any time of year. If your cat does not become pregnant, she may go back into heat again in just a few weeks.
What Is "Heat" Like for Cats and the Humans Who Love Them?
While it's logical to assume that a cat in heat will have the same physical symptoms as a woman having her period, the reality is very different. Here are a few of the important differences.
- Perhaps most important to cat owners, cats do not shed the lining of their uterus -- so heat should not involve any vaginal bleeding. If your female cat is bleeding, contact your vet!
- Humans go through menstruation monthly while cats go through estrus seasonally (generally January through September in colder climates).
- Humans shed the lining of their uterus every month, resulting in vaginal bleeding, cramps, and related symptoms. Cats do not go through this process -- so they do not bleed or experience cramps or other physical symptoms.
Instead, here's what "heat" is like for your cat. As you'll notice, your cat's behaviors -- while normal for her -- are likely to be almost unbearable for you!
- Hormones will make your cat extraordinarily eager to mate.
- To show their receptivity, your cat will yowl, rub against you, and pace. She may also assume a mating position if you pet or stroke her. Yowls and pacing are not signs of pain, but rather signs of their eagerness to mate.
- You may notice your cat losing her appetite, licking her genitals, "marking" her territory (by spraying), or attempting to run out the door. These are all normal behaviors during heat. Bleeding is rare; if you notice vaginal bleeding, do contact your vet.
How to Manage Your Cat in Heat
The reality is that a cat in heat is incredibly difficult to live with. And, because your cat's behavior is absolutely normal, there is no "cure." Yes, it is possible to ask your vet for hormone injections or to provide your cat with toys or pillows that she can shred. The bottom line, however, is that a cat in heat is a cat that is ready to mate and reproduce. If you don't want kittens, the best option is to have your female cat spayed!