How do you know your cat is in heat?

By Valdette Muller| October 7, 2019 | Blog

Unspayed female cats will eventually reach a fertile period in life, which extends well into old age.

Hormonal changes that prepare cats for breeding, (which is a process called estrus or oestrus) begins at between six and ten months of age. 

Since cats are efficient reproducers, their estrus, or heat cycle, can occur every 12 to 22 days, yikes! At this point your cat can successfully mate with one or more healthy suitors over the course of these 12 to 22 days. 

Since there is no easy way to measure a cat’s hormone levels at home, changes in your cat’s behaviour can be an indicative sign that she is in heat.

The following behavioural patterns are:

Overly Affectionate

Immediately preceding estrus (your cat’s heat cycle), your female cat may become unusually affectionate, even overly so. She may sidle and rub her self against furniture, objects around the house such as stuffed toys, other cats or dogs, and maybe even you. You can distinguish this behaviour from pure restlessness (a sign she may be in pain and need to see the vet) by the way she lifts her tail or even occasionally assumes a mating position (rolling on the floor in a writhing fashion. 

Excessive Grooming 

She may spend excessive time licking her genital area, even though there is no blood present. In fact, contrary to popular belief, a cat in heat should not bleed. Unlike humans during menstruation, cats do not shed the lining of their uterus during their cycle. However, genital licking can also be a symptom of a urinary tract disorder, which can be serious if not treated. If your cat exhibits only this behavior without any of the other signs of heat, a trip to the vet is very much needed.

Mating Calls and Positions

Your female cat will vocalize loudly. This “calling” may go on for several days unless she mates, which can become quite tiresome. She will then assume the mating position: head down, forelegs bent, rear end raised to expose the perineum, and tail raised and held to the side of the body. This posture is called lordosis. And when she assumes it, her rear legs will tread rhythmically as if walking in place.

Marking Her Territory

Similar to male cats, a female cat in heat may spray vertical surfaces with urine. When she does this she will back up to the surface of her choice, raise her quivering tail and spray. To the untrained eye, this looks like a sign of distress. Do not be alarmed, as this is normal behaviour for a cat in heat (although a nuisance to you, if you value your furniture).

Loss of Appetite

Your cat may exhibit a noticeable decrease in appetite, because her mind is on other things. Pure instinct shifts her bodily need towards reproducing, rather than feeding herself. But monitor her appetite, as this behaviour should last no more than two weeks. Something else may be off if she doesn’t return to her normal eating pattern after that time.

The need to escape

When in heat, instinct will again drive your cat to escape and run towards an open. Outside is where potential suitors lie in wait and her need to attract and mate with them becomes more apparent. During this time, it is not unlikely for an indoor cat to run away for more than one day and up to a week, or more. Do not allow her outside at all while in heat, and close all windows and lock all doors, including pet flaps. To keep her calm (and prevent her from getting pregnant), you need to keep her away from all male cats. Isolation will also keep her safe, she may try to escape your home if she senses a male outside. Make sure to seal all escape routes and watch her carefully. You may even want to distract her with play to divert her mind from her instinct to mate.

How to calm your cat in heat

Use Feliway in your home, which is a synthetic cat pheromone that has a soothing, calming effect on cats. It takes a couple weeks of exposure to begin calming cats down, though, so it is not an immediate fix. If you know your cat is unspayed, you might consider plugging in the Feliway diffuser at the beginning of breeding season (spring). That way, whenever she goes into heat, the Feliway will already be built up in her system.

Use catnip only if it calms your cat down. Cats respond very differently to catnip. Some relax and quiet down when given catnip, but others become energetic and aggressive. If you are unsure about how your cat responds to catnip, avoid this method. It may make the situation even worse.

Note that these are only temporary fixes, but it might buy you an hour or two of peace before you take your cat to the vet.

Pregnancy Prevention

The reality is, unless you are a professional breeder, you should avoid letting your cat mate. Our country has a major pet and stray population problem, so spaying and neutering are highly recommended to the average cat owner. Most vets suggest spaying your female cat at no later than six months of age.

A cat already in heat can still be spayed. Plus, spaying your cat will not only cease the uncomfortable heat cycles, but it can also prevent future medical problems related to reproductive organs. 

If spaying your cat seems like an expensive blow to your budget, some vets offer low-cost spay options subsidized by community organizations. Your vet can advise you on the most affordable options in your area.



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