Is your cat in heat? Here’s what you need to know.

15 October 2020

Cat in heat? Uh oh! Follow our tips to be prepared for your cat's mating behavior and know what you can do to best help your feline friend.

calico cat outside cat in heat

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of raising two adorable baby kittens from infancy – we fed them with a bottle and helped them grow into big healthy, teenage cats. But at some point, my young cats started acting funny; and I soon realized it was because they had reached the age of sexual maturity. Hello, cat in heat! But what to do when you are presented with this funny behavior, and the new mating rituals of your feline furry friend? How do you recognize the signs of a cat in heat? And how to best handle a cat in heat (especially if you want to prevent an unwanted cat pregnancy)? We’ll cover all that and more, in the article below. Plus, discover the best way to keep track of your cat at all times.

What does it mean when a cat is in heat?

You might have heard the term, ‘cat in heat’ or ‘dog in heat’ before. ‘In heat’ refers to when a cat (or dog) is ready to mate and fertile. For cats, this natural cycle already begins around the age of 5 to 10 months old.

cat in heat - two cats cuddling

Maya and Beta – brother and sister.

The first time I ever realized my young cats were in heat was when they seemed to attempt to mate with each other – although they were brother and sister. 😨

Yes, this can and does occur; especially among cats who are not exposed to many other cats in the wild. While in heat, their strong, natural mating instinct will cause them to try to mate with any and every cat of the opposite sex nearby – the cat in heat does not obey any rules about how humans think they ‘should’ behave!

⚠ Get your cats spayed and neutered to avoid unwanted (and possibly inbred) cat pregnancies.

To successfully handle a cat in heat, it’s good to know the signs of a cat in heat.

Cat in heat signs & symptoms

Be aware of the following cat in heat signs and symptoms that your cat might display if they are in heat. Your cat might:

  • start making funny sounds
  • become more restless
  • crawl low to the ground
  • be more affectionate with people, objects, and other animals
  • groom their private parts more frequently
  • try to escape outdoors
  • assume the mating position (behind in the air, tail to the side)
  • urinate to mark territory
  • loose appetite

So whether your unspayed cat is meowing, moaning, or crying, walking funny, rubbing up against you and furniture in your home, or taking extra special care of her lady parts, if your cat displays one or more of these signs, you most likely have a cat in heat on your hands. Now, let’s take a look at feline periods and the heat cycle in cats.

cat in heat calico cat in house rubbing up against person

Do female cats have periods?

Female cats do have a monthly cycle, but one which is quiet different from female humans.  Rather than shedding the uterine lining like human women do every 32 days or so, cats and select mammals reabsorb the old uterine-lining rather than bleeding it out. This takes place during the estrus cycle described below.

A small amount of blood may be shed during the heat cycle of your cat but it is more common for a female cat with a ‘period’ to display the signs of a cat in heat above. Contact your vet if you notice worrisome bleeding in your female or male cat.

The Cat Heat Cycle Explained

All female cats will go through the natural heat cycle unless they have been spayed or are pregnant. This is also referred to as the estrus cycle and during this time, a cat is capable of breeding – that is, mating and having kittens. The stages of the cat in heat cycle are described in detail below:

Proestrus

In this stage, the female cat (known as the queen 👑) might attract male cats (that are unneutered). However, she will not be ready for mating yet. In this stage, which lasts 1-2 days, cats do not show any typical signs of being in heat.

Estrus (heat)

Next, the unspayed female cat enters the heat stage, also known as estrus, oestrus or estrous. For up to a week, she will be receptive to mating and attract the attention of male cats. This is also when she will display the signs of a cat in heat. In case things get hot and heavy, hormone production will be stimulated, which leads to ovulation. Cats may mate several different times during this stage before becoming pregnant. When a female cat does become pregnant, her kittens can have different fathers.

😻 During the estrus phase, female cats in heat will be open for mating – so be sure to follow our recommendations below to ensure you handle your cat in heat with care and caution.

How long are cats in heat? 

The cat in heat or estrus phase – when the cat is ‘calling’ for a prospective mate – can last anywhere from 1 – 7 days. If the cat does not mate, she will likely go into heat again a few weeks later. The whole cycle lasts about 3 weeks, according to Pippa Elliott, MRCVS Veternarian¹, and may continue year round or only from February – October.

Interestrus

In case the cat has not mated or become pregnant during estrus, she will enter the phase of interestrus, or the period between heats. She will display no specific signs of being in heat. In a few days or up to 3 weeks, the cat will go into heat again. The cycle of proestrus, estrus, and interestrus repeats throughout the mating season.

Anestrus

The last stage is called anestrus – this is a dormant period for the cat’s reproductive system. She will not experience any estrus activity, as mating season is often seasonal. The heat cycle tends to last from spring to fall, when the light of long days stimulate your feline’s hormones. During the shorter-day seasons of late fall and winter, your cat may not go into heat at all. However, artificial lighting may cause your cat to go into heat all year.

If you notice unusual behavior in your cat, and aren’t sure if she’s in heat or not, contact your vet for support.

Now that we’ve covered the phases of a cat in heat, lets look at how to calm a cat in heat and prevent pregnancy.

How to calm a cat in heat

The cat heat cycle is a normal and healthy part of the life of every cat. Being in heat is not typically painful. However, you may want to help calm your cat while she is in heat. Here are several ideas to calm a cat in heat:

  • keep your female cat away from male cats
  • let her sit on a heat pack, warm towel, or electric pad or blanket
  • try catnip
  • use Feliway or other synthetic cat pheromones
  • keep the litter box clean
  • play with your cat

How to prevent unwanted pregnancy in cats 

cat in heat after being neutered

Beta, my handsome good boy after getting neutered.

The safest way to avoid unwanted pregnancy in female cats is to have them spayed as soon as they reach sexual maturity. It’s important to get your male cats neutered too, to avoid them causing unwanted pregnancies in your neighborhood queens, a.k.a female cats.

Here is an overview of what you can do to prevent your cat from mating while in heat:

  • Get your cat spayed or neutered before or around the time of their first heat cycle.
  • Monitor where your cat goes with the help of a cat GPS tracker and activity monitor.
  • If possible, separate male and female cats in your home while one or more cat is in heat.
  • Avoid letting your cat outside if you suspect they are in heat.
  • Create a cat enclosure so your cat can be outdoors, but safely protected from other cats

After getting neutered, Beta thankfully no longer tries to mate with his sister – or any other cats around. And thanks to the Tractive GPS tracker I can always keep an eye on his whereabouts right in the smartphone app and retrieve him if needed.

Conclusion

Now you have learned the signs of a cat in heat, how long the heat cycle lasts and its different components, how to calm a cat in heat plus how to prevent unwanted cat pregnancy. We learned that cat in heat behavior can start at an early age – around 5 months old – and that it’s safe for cats to be spayed around this time. The top ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy in your cat include 1) getting your cat spayed or neutered and 2) investing in a GPS location and activity tracker for your cat. This way, your furry friend can calm down from her natural heat cycle, and enjoy exploring her territory while you have peace of mind!

For more insight on how cats in heat behave, check out the video below:

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This post was written by Chelsea Workman, animal (especially cat) lover and Tractive Customer Happiness and Content Manager. She enjoys writing about cats and dogs and helping customers always keep track of their pets. Learn more about the Tractive team.

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