The heat cycle -- also known as the feline estrus cycle or female reproductive cycle -- is a period of hormonal fluctuations in a female cat’s fertility and sexual behavior. Throughout the feline breeding season, female cats go back and forth between being in heat (fertile/ready for mating) and not in heat (unlikely to get pregnant/not ready for mating). As a cat owner, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of cats in heat in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies, or in the case of breeders, to plan for a new litter of kittens.
When Do Cats Go Into Heat?
Female cats can go into heat as early as five months or as late as 18 months. The age at which your cat first goes into heat can depend on the breed. For example, Siamese cats go into heat earlier than longhaired breeds such as Persians.
Your cat’s breeding season will depend on a number of factors, including daylight hours, environmental conditions, and the presence of other cats. A female cat’s hormonal system is activated when there are 12 hours of daylight or more, so in the northern hemisphere the breeding season is from Spring to Fall, while in the southern hemisphere the breeding season is from Fall to Spring. During the breeding season, a cat will continue to cycle between in heat and not in heat unless she mates.
Symptoms of Heat
Cats in heat exhibit a number of distinct symptoms. These symptoms are present to alert male cats that the cat is ready for mating.
- Meowing or crying. The vocalization of a cat in heat is unique -- the cat often sounds to be moaning or in pain.
- Frequent urination and/or marking.
- Assuming a crouched, receptive posture (known as standing estrous).
- Treading with the back legs (this appears as “walking in place”).
- Moving the tail to one side to expose genitalia.
- Clear vulval discharge.
- Restlessness/pacing around the house or yard.
- Interest in leaving the house/attempts to leave the house in an effort to get outside and find male cats.
- Head and face rubbing on objects or people.
- Rolling or writhing on belly or back.
- Excessive affection and physical contact with owner and/or other pets.
- Unusual aggression toward owner.
How to Avoid Heat Cycles
The heat cycle is a normal part of every female cat’s life and cannot be avoided without medical intervention. Spaying your cat is the most widespread practice for stopping a cat from having heat cycles, as no ovaries means no fertility. A cat’s heat cycle can also be stopped with certain forms of birth control, such as hormone injections from your veterinarian. This option is common among owners of pedigreed cats or those who want to stop the heat cycle only temporarily.
More on Female Cats and Cat Care
What to Feed a Female Cat
Why Cats Meow
Finding the Right Cat Breed for You
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.