Caring for Your Cat When It’s in Heat
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on April 8, 2019
Posted in Behavior Management
Although it’s usually recommended to spay or neuter your cat as soon as possible, some female cats that are brought in as strays or adopted from a new litter go into heat before their pet parents can get the procedure done.
For a female cat, being “in heat” is part of her natural reproductive cycle. This process can result in some behavioral changes that may be concerning to new cat owners. It’s important to understand what’s happening to your cat while she is in heat and how to keep her calm and happy until you can have her spayed.
Identifying when your cat is in heat
“Heat” is a portion of your female cat’s estrous, or reproductive, cycle. Female cats become sexually mature around six months in age (although this can occur earlier or later in some cats), after which their estrous cycles will begin.
A cat’s hormonal cycle can be stimulated by certain things, such as sexual stimulation or a period of time when she is in the sun for many hours a day. However, indoor-only cats may have a more irregular hormonal cycle. Generally, spring and autumn are considered the common times for cats to go into heat.
When your cat is in heat, it can become pregnant. Cats do not ovulate until they are mated, but their bodies are ready to ovulate and induce pregnancy during this period, which can last between 3 and 14 days. If your cat is not impregnated while she is in heat, she may experience another estrus period in a few weeks. This will usually continue throughout the breeding season.
Because of the hormones influencing your cat to mate, she will be eager to find a male cat and may display numerous behavioral changes. This is how most pet parents are able to identify that their cat is in heat.
Most cats in heat become restless, meowing and pacing throughout the house, as well as showing changes in appetite. They may also become more affectionate than before, rubbing around your ankles or furniture and demanding attention. Some cats even get more aggressive than usual and will act more territorial.
Your cat is also likely to start raising her backside more often and rolling around on the floor. Female cats may also spray, or mark on vertical surfaces, to leave their scent and attract males.
Most commonly, though, is the female cat’s vocalization. Cats in heat tend to be much louder, howling or giving distressed cries at all hours of the day to attract attention from male cats. These signs may lead you to believe your cat is in pain.
Note that it is not common to see vaginal bleeding from cats, because cats do not shed their uterine lining. Your cat may release some discharge, but most of the signs of heat are behavioral in nature.
How to care for a cat in heat
Once you notice that your cat is in heat, it can be confusing on what to do to appease her. Many cat owners become annoyed or distressed during this time, particularly because of the consistent yowling.
As soon as you can tell that your cat is in heat, do not let her go outside. If you do, she could easily attract a male cat who may get her pregnant. Be aware that your cat may even try to escape in search of a mate, bolting toward open doors or pawing at windows.
Additionally, if you also have a male cat that is not neutered, keep the two cats away from each other at all times, or you may have a litter of kittens on the way. It’s a good idea to get your male cats neutered as soon as possible, especially if you’re bringing in an un-spayed female cat.
In addition to preventing pregnancy, you’ll want to do things to help calm your agitated female cat down. To soothe your cat, try giving her warm blankets and bedding to relax in, using pet-safe heating pads or creating other cozy spots in the home.
Distractions, such as new toys or one-on-one bonding time, can also be useful in calming your cat. Also make sure to give your cat lots of love and affection, brushing or petting her often.
Remember to spay!
Although it is relatively simple to care for a cat while she is in heat, a better solution is to have your cat spayed as soon as she reaches the age of sexual maturity. Spaying your cat ensures that she will not go into heat in the future and cannot get pregnant. The procedure is also useful in reducing your cat’s risk for cancers and can help her lead a longer, happier life.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan