Cats in Heat
In cats, the term “in heat” is the more common way of referring to the estrous cycle, or the period of time when your cat is fertile and able to become pregnant. Note that this can only occur in intact females (those that are not spayed). While not necessarily as dramatic as heat cycles in dogs, heat cycles in cats come with their own set of difficulties to owners, and for this reason it is important to understand what is going on, especially if you have an intact female cat.
Cats are considered seasonally polyestrous breeders, which means that they will have multiple estrous cycles (or heat cycles) only during a certain portion of the year. Typically, this will begin in the winter and continue until early autumn, and most females will give birth to kittens the following winter and spring.
A typical heat can last anywhere from 3-16 days, with an average of about 7 days. During this period of time, the female cat will exhibit various behavioural changes, including:
- rubbing up against couches, other pieces of furniture, and people
- increased vocalizing
- lordotic posture: the cat will lower the front half of her body close the floor, and raise her hind end in the air (it almost looks as though the cat is bowing). Often, the cat’s tail will be elevated as well.
Many people will describe their cats during this period of time to be uncomfortable, as the cats will appear agitated and unable to settle.
It is during this period of time that the cat is able to be bred. If this occurs successfully, the cat will become pregnant and give birth approximately 63 days later. If the cat is not bred (and this is important) – she will go through a period called “interestrus”, which is the interval of time between estrous periods. What this means is that if the cat is not bred, she will go into repeated estrous cycles or heats every 12-30 days; it is because of this reason that people often say that cats always seem to be in heat.
It is important to note that unlike dogs, cats do not experience any bloody discharge (that is, cats do not bleed during their heat cycle). For this reason, some people might assume that heat cycles in cats are milder than they are in dogs, because owners don’t have to worry about keeping their houses clean from the bloody discharge that occurs. However, the vocalizing that happens when a cat is in heat can be very loud and constant, and many people will find this just as, if not more aggravating, than bloody discharge.
The easiest way to deal with unwanted estrous behaviour is to spay your cat. A spay (or ovariohysterectomy) is the removal of the uterus and the ovaries, and this procedure will completely eliminate estrous or heat cycles. If you choose not to have your cat spayed, then be prepared to experience the above behavioural signs every two or three weeks during the time of the year when your cat is able to be bred. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to soothe your cat while she is in heat; some people say that giving your cat lots of extra attention during this time will help reduce the amount of vocalizing that occurs, but the success level of this “treatment” seems to vary greatly depending on the individual cat. Regardless of how you choose to handle your cat while she is in heat, it is strongly suggested that you keep her indoors so as to prevent the birth of any unwanted kittens.
By Kyla Townsend – Pets.ca writer