signs your cat is in heat
Behavioral Problems

How Do Cats Behave When They Are in Heat?

The behavior of a cat in heat can be surprising as some cats seemingly undergo complete personality changes. Cats enter heat multiple times a year, between spring and fall. It is critical that you recognize the signs.

Cats in heat are more affectionate, although they can become aggressive without warning. The cat will lose interest in food. Cats in heat start urinating outside the litter box to announce their presence to intact toms. The main side is loud, constant caterwauling, and attempts to escape from the house.

If you do not plan to breed your cat, it is advisable to get her spayed. This will save all parties a lot of discomfort and frustration. If you choose not to do so, learn how to keep your cat as comfortable as possible.

Cat Behavior While in Heat

A cat’s heat cycle is known as entering estrus. Cats display a range of signs that they are in heat, but not every cat will show all of these actions. Any combination certainly suggests that a cat is in season, though. You will need to take all necessary precautions.

It should be noted that male cats do not enter heat. Cat heat behavior symptoms are the exclusive domain of females. Mature tomcats can be sexually active all year around. This means that unneutered males can become restless if they scent females in heat.

when do cats go into heat?

Verbalizing

The most prevalent characteristic of a cat in heat is vocalization. Cats in heat are not quiet. They wail, almost constantly, with the noise sounding akin to a human baby’s cry. This is known as caterwauling.

Caterwauling is basically a, “come and get me” plea to local tomcats. Your cat is announcing that she is in season. The sound will attract any number of intact males to your property. This makes it important to protect your cat from these attentions.

These male cats will also likely respond in kind. They will release long and loud meows in response. This is the male announcing they have heard the cry and have arrived to mate. A back-and-forth will follow, potentially for several hours.

Restlessness

The cat will likely pace up and down, never settling down for long. This is because the cat cannot get comfortable. Being in heat is akin to having an itch that the cat cannot scratch.

This desire to pace could lead to your cat getting underfoot. Avoid stepping on your cat’s tail or paw. As we will discuss shortly, cats in heat can grow aggressive. You are likelier to be bitten or scratched than forgiven.

Help your cat by giving her somewhere to direct this energy. Play with your cat twice as much while she is in heat. This will burn energy and take your cat’s mind off her estrus cycle. Play energetic hunting games to keep the cat occupied. Offer a range of new toys, too.

Mental stimulation is vital. Give your cats senses a workout. New scents, sights, and sounds to investigate will help though, at least in the short term.

Escape Attempts

A cat in heat will take any opportunity she can to escape the home. This must be managed carefully. If your cat gets out, she will immediately seek out a tomcat for breeding. She will likely not have to travel far. Countless suitors will likely be waiting in your neighborhood.

Close and seal your cat flap with your cat is in heat. Close all windows, ensuring your cat cannot escape this way. Pay close attention when opening your front door, too. Your cat will likely make a run for it. Cats in heat can move lightning-fast when she sense an opportunity.

Be mindful of outdoor spaces, too. If you let your cat into the backyard, secure fences. This is to keep your cat in, and neighborhood males out. If you have a balcony, deny your cat access. The cat may grow overexcited and take a fall from height. 

Presenting

Presenting is the act of a female cat raising her hindquarters. This is to allow easy access for mating. Cats in heat will present near-constantly. Oftentimes, the cat will lie down first, stretch, then present.

Presenting can be mistaken for other behaviors. For example, a cat may show her anus to an owner. This is an act of affection. The cat is releasing scents from her anal glands. Cats use these scents as a critical communication tool. Often, a cat showing her rear is expressing happiness.

In addition, cats often arch their backs and display their rump when being petted. This, again, is often a sign of pleasure, although it could also suggest overstimulation. Learn your cat’s body language and vocal cues to prevent miscommunication.

If your cat is presenting in front of other animals, be mindful. Sooner or later, an active tomcat will accept this invitation. While this will conclude your cat’s heat cycle, you’ll have a litter of kittens to manage.

Attention Seeking

Cats in heat typically become much more affectionate. Your cat will look for petting and grooming more than usual. Expect to find your cat circling your feet and climbing into your lap with frequency.

There is no harm in returning this affection. In fact, it is a great chance to enhance your bond. If your cat usually resists handling, make the most of this period. Once the heat cycle concludes, the cat will return to her previous behavioral patterns. 

This affection is not solely reserved for owners. Cats will also become more affectionate with other felines. This can be dangerous if you have unneutered toms in the home. Cats in heat are not picky about who they mate with. Siblings may breed.

Some breeders actively encourage this. It preserves bloodlines and thoroughbred qualities in the resulting litter. The kittens can experience birth defects and health issues, though. It is advisable to keep unfixed feline siblings apart during a female’s heat cycle.

how long does a cat stay in heat?

Aggression

When a cat enters heat, her hormones go into overdrive. This means that your cat may experience mood swings. She can may switch from loving and affectionate to aggressive in a moment.

This is all part of the heat process. Your cat means you no ill will. She is just a slave to her hormones and instincts at any particular moment. It is always advisable to understand a cat’s body language, but it’s especially critical during heat.

Do not walk on eggshells around your cat but be mindful of her emotional state. If your cat is showing signs of irritability, distract her or walk away. Accept that your cat will be periodically cranky for a week or two during estrus. 

Marking

Another common behavior of a cat in heat is marking. This will involve urinating and spraying outside the litter box.

Cat urine is a key form of feline communication. The scent smells strong to humans, but even more potent to other cats. The scent of cat urine also contains critical messages. The cat is announcing that she is in heat.

A feral or stray cat in heat will mark everywhere she passes. This is so any and all males in the area are aware that she is in the vicinity. Obviously you’ll be keeping your cat indoors at this stage. The cat will still instinctively mark, though.

Combat this by providing multiple litter boxes and keeping them all clean. This gives your cat a distinct territory to mark. If the litter is unscented, the cat will look to change this.

Do be prepared for urinating on furniture and carpets, though. Be vigilant about quickly and calmly cleaning this up. Remove the scent as quickly as possible, or the cat will continually mark the same area.

Lack of Appetite

Cats in heat often lose their appetite. This is not something to be unduly concerned about. The fact is, your cat has other things on her mind. Any time spent eating is time spent not looking for a mate.

If your cat is eating something, even if it’s a little less than usual, it’s fine. You must also make sure that your cat drinks enough water while in heat. Cats often fail to hydrate sufficiently, and a cat in heat will be distracted.

If your cat is developing anorexia as a result of this inappetence, seek help. Your cat may need an appetite stimulant. Do not rely exclusively on treats to convince your cat to eat. A heat cycle will pass, but obesity can create long-term problems.

Once your cat concludes her estrus cycle, her appetite should return to normal. If your cat is ravenously hungry, she may have fallen pregnant. Cats carrying kittens always eat more. Be mindful of this, seeking a test if you have any doubts.

Excessive Grooming

The final action of a cat in heat is excessive grooming of the genitals. Your cat’s vulva will visibly swell during the estrus cycle. The cat will look to soothe this by licking it. Grooming is also a way for cats to ease the stress and discomfort of being in heat.

During this grooming, you may notice a clear discharge from your cat’s vulva. This is perfectly normal and healthy during the estrus cycle. Bleeding should not occur, though. If your cat starts to shed her uterus lining, seek medical attention.

You can aid your cat by assisting with grooming during this process. Gently rub unscented wet wipes on your cat’s vulva during her cycle. This keep your cat comfortable and clean.

How Long Do Cats Stay in Heat?

Cats do not have a strict mating season. Their bodies are governed by the weather and light, though. Most cats begin their first annual heat cycle around March, with the onset of spring. The cat will then move in and out of heat until around September.

If you wish to delay your cat entering heat, replicate autumnal conditions. Keep your cat home, in a cool and dimly lit room. This leads to separate challenges, though. Your cat will not thrive without a natural body clock.

A feline heat cycle can last up to two weeks, usually followed by two weeks of respite. The periods between cycles can be as little as a few days. A cat’s estrus cycle undergoes four stages, which are outlined in the table below:

Proestrus:Proestrus is the precursor to a cat entering heat, lasting around two days. The cat will not yet be interested in mating but will start becoming restless.
Estrus:A cat in estrus is in heat. Your cat will display some, or all, of the behaviors discussed above. This is the longest part of the cycle, and the period in which cats are fertile.
Interestrus:Interestrus is a cooling-off period after the intensity of estrus. This can last around two weeks. After interestrus, the cat will re-enter proestrus. Cats only enter interestrus if they do not mate during estrus.
Metestrus:Metestrus is an alternative to interestrus. If the cat mated during estrus, she will enter metestrus for up to 40 days. If the cat fell pregnant during estrus, she will give birth in around 60 days.
Anestrus:During anestrus, the cat’s reproductive cycle is at rest. Anestrus usually occurs during fall and winter. This is the calm before the storm. The cycle will begin again in spring.

Some felines will experience longer cycles, and others shorter. Estrus is, by far, the most intense of these periods.

Is Heat Painful for Cats?

Nobody can say for certain whether heat is painful for cats. Cats are skilled at masking pain, rarely displaying overt symptoms of distress. The cat is clearly uncomfortable though, driven by an unsatisfied desire to mate.

We can be certain that the act of mating is actively painful for female cats. This is primarily due to the presence of penile spines in an intact tom. The Anatomical Record confirms that these spines grow more pronounced when aroused.

These spines make it impossible for the female to cease mating. In addition, the tom will bite down on the female’s neck. This is to prevent the female from escaping. This is why female cats howl and scream during intercourse.

If you wish to spare your cat this discomfort, arrange for her to be spayed. Low-cost arrangements can be made if you are concerned by the financial impact of this procedure. If you choose not to spay your cat, make her as comfortable as possible during estrus.

When Do Cats Stop Going into Heat?

There is no such thing as a feline menopause. Intact female cats will continue to experience heat cycles through their lives. Just because a cat is senior, it does not mean you can relax. She will continue to enter heat cycles and behave accordingly.

There are only two ways that heat cycles in cats can be stopped. Your cat will need to be spayed, or mate with an unneutered male. You could simulate this mating, but that is not a process for the faint-hearted.

Even then, mating is a temporary solution to feline heat. The cat will conclude her heat cycle upon mating, regardless of whether she falls pregnant. The cat enter heat again in due course.

Unless you plan to breed a female cat, she should be spayed. This will make life easier for all concerned. Your cat will be considerably more relaxed and more comfortable. In turn, you will not need to manage challenging feline behaviors during the heat cycle.

There are health benefits to spaying cats, too. The procedure reduces the risk of mammary cancer and urinary tract infections later in life. The Journal of the American Veterinary Association also notes reductions in gingivitis, hyperactivity and asthma in cats that are spayed early.

Can a Cat be Spayed While in Heat?

It is possible to spay a cat during her estrus cycle. Most vets prefer not to, though. Some will outright refuse, and others may only do so in a medical emergency. This due to the impact estrus has on a cat’s reproductive organs.

During a heat cycle, the blood vessels in a cat’s uterus are swollen. This makes the surgery more complicated and enhances risk. If the operation is possible, there will likely be additional fees levied. It will take longer and require a larger surgical team.

There is also the risk that a cat in estrus is already pregnant. If your cat escaped the home while in heat, she will likely have mated. Again, some vets will willingly spay a pregnant cat and others will not. A primary consideration is that the procedure terminates pregnancy.

All surgeries have differing policies about when they will spay a cat. Many prefer to wait three weeks after estrus in concluded. Discuss your options with the surgery in question.

When Should a Cat be Spayed?

Opinion varies on the optimum age to spay a cat. Formerly, it was believed that a cat should complete at least one season before the procedure. This line of thinking is growing increasingly less prevalent.

Veterinary Record compares two life stages for spaying a female cat. Undertaking this operation between 8-12 weeks of age is referred to a prepubertal gonadectomy. This is because the cat is yet to enter puberty and reach sexual maturity.

Spaying at the age of 6-8 months is referred to as traditional age. This is when most cats are considered ready for the procedure. Most cats will have experienced at least one heat cycle by the age of 8 months.

There is no upper age limit on when a cat can be spayed. Stray and feral cats of all ages undertake the spaying procedure. Conservation Biology explains how this is known as, “trap, neuter, return.”

how often do cats go into heat a year?

There will need to be additional precautions taken with senior cats. Anesthesia carries risk, so bloodwork and heart assessments must be conducted. If a vet fears the cat will not survive the procedure, it will not be undertaken. This decision is rare, though.

Be aware that spaying may not immediately end all estrus-related behaviors. The cat may enter one final cycle. She cannot fall pregnant. In addition, the cat may remain traces of her ovaries following surgery.

As explained by Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, this is called Ovarian Remnant Syndrome. Estrus-related hormones remain in the cat’s body. Further surgery to remove the residual ovaries will resolve this issue.

What to Do When Your Cat is in Heat

If your cat is in heat, take numerous actions for her protection and comfort. A cat in estrus will only have one thing on her mind. This can lead to the cat acting recklessly, placing herself in danger. If you believe your cat is in heat:

  • Lock all doors, windows and cat flaps – if the cat can escape the house, she will
  • Keep your cat away from all intact male felines, including littermates
  • Provide additional attention and affection
  • Play with your cat as much as possible to burn excess energy
  • Treat your cat with catnip or other favored treats
  • Play music. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery confirms that feline-specific music is soothing to cats

If your cat’s season grows too troublesome for you, short-term relief may be available. These techniques are only advisable if the cat is dangerously distressed. Spaying is always the safest and most conscientious response to troublesome estrus cycles.

Simulating Mating

You can simulate mating at home using a Q-tip. This will trick your cat into thinking that she has encountered an intact tom. Upon conclusion of the process, your cat’s estrus cycle will conclude. To attempt this process, have a sterile Q-Tip to hand and follow these steps:

  1. Relax the cat with soothing words and petting
  2. Place the cat on the ground and wait for her to present
  3. Gently insert the Q-tip into the cat’s vagina
  4. Rotate the Q-tip, or move it gently in and out

If the cat tries to escape, let her go. The cat will not accept this treatment. If the cat starts to yowl, remove the Q-tip. The cat will then roll on her back. The cat now believes she has mated. Her heat cycle will cease, restarting in around 30 or 40 days.

Never attempt to simulate mating in a cat outside of her estrus cycle. In addition, do not take this approach unless you have your cat’s complete trust. If you have any doubts, focus instead on keeping the cat comfortable.

Teaser Tomcats

One other option is to arrange safe mating. Some male cats are sterilized by vasectomy, not neutering. These are known as, “teaser toms.” Your cat can mate with these cats without the risk of pregnancy. A reputable feline breeder may have a teaser tom available for hire.

Again, though, this is a temporary solution. Your cat will enter heat again as soon as her next cycle is due. In addition, intercourse with a teaser tom is still painful for a female cat. These male cats have their penile spines intact.

The behavior of a cat in heat will quickly become unmistakable. It may also be challenging to manage. It is a personal decision as to whether you decide to spay your female cats. If you choose not to, familiarize yourself with the symptoms of the estrus cycle. You have a duty of care to keep your cat safe and comfortable during this period.