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What Does it Mean When a Cat is in Heat?—By Dr. Leslie Brooks

What Does it Mean When a Cat is in Heat?—By Dr. Leslie Brooks

You may have noticed your cat acting strange, being excessively vocal, or acting more affectionate than usual. If your cat is not spayed, it could mean they are in heat.

But what exactly does that mean and why does it make your cat behave differently? That’s what we’ll discuss in this article.

Which Cats Go into Heat?

A female cat that is not spayed will begin her first heat cycle anywhere between 5-10 months of age. Around this time her reproductive organs are fully matured and her sex hormones begin circling throughout her system.

She is in heat when she enters the fertile period of her reproductive cycle. Her body signals to her that it is time to find a mate because she is fertile and able to become pregnant.

This causes her to want to seek out a male cat to mate with, which results in this strange behavior. If she does have access to male cats, she will most likely become pregnant. In fact, if she is not spayed, she might even have two litters of kittens per year.

Considering they can have upwards of 8-10 kittens per litter, that’s a lot of cats you may have to take care of!

How Often Can a Cat Go into Heat?

A cat can go into heat every 2-4 weeks. Each heat cycle can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. However, they will usually only have heat cycles in the spring and autumn seasons.

Having a cat in heat can truly become quite a nuisance, though, as they may be more vocal and active at night while you are trying to sleep.

Signs of Cats in Heat

  • More vocal than usual, with a wailing meow
  • Restlessness
  • More affectionate than usual
  • Crawling low to the ground and posturing with her rear end up
  • Extra grooming of the genital area
  • Asking to go outside or trying to sneak out the door
  • Spraying urine on walls or furniture

 What Should I do if My Cat is in Heat?

Give your cat extra attention to try to keep her calm and meet her needs of affection. If you are wanting to breed your cat, let her mate. Otherwise, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian to schedule her to be spayed as soon as possible once her current heat cycle is over.

You can have her spayed during the heat cycle, but some veterinarians prefer to wait until the cycle is complete. This is because there is more blood flow to the reproductive organs during a heat cycle, which could cause more blood loss and make the spay procedure a little more difficult.  

How do I Prevent My Cat from Going into Heat?

Cats that are not spayed go through heat cycles. Therefore, having your cat spayed will prevent them from going into heat and having heat cycles. More importantly, spaying your cat prevents them from having litters of kittens, and thus fewer cats in animal shelters.

Also, spaying your cat prevents them from developing certain life-threatening diseases, which we will discuss more in the next section below.

What Does it Mean to Spay my Cat?

A spay procedure involves surgically removing the cat’s reproductive organs, specifically the ovaries and the uterus. Once they are removed, your cat will no longer have any heat cycles and will no longer be able to become pregnant.

A spay procedure is one of the most common surgical procedures performed on cats and it is a very safe procedure. Your cat will be put under anesthesia and monitored very closely throughout the surgery. They will also be provided with pain medications to help with discomfort as they wake up and recover over the next few days.

Side note:  There is a condition called “ovarian remnant syndrome”, which is when a tiny part of an ovary was not completely removed during the spay. This is extremely rare, but has been known to occur on the rare occasion in some cats. If this happens, your cat will show signs of heat again at some point in their life.   

Health Considerations

In addition to preventing your cat from going through heat cycles, spaying your cat can also prevent certain life-threatening health conditions from developing in your cat as well. By spaying your cat, you prevent your cat from getting the following diseases:

  • Mammary Cancer
  • Ovarian and Uterine Cancer
  • Pyometra
  • Complications from Pregnancy

Spaying your cat before her first heat cycle drastically decreases her chance of developing mammary cancer later in life and 100% prevents her from developing ovarian and uterine cancer.

Each of these cancers can cause your cat to suffer, have decreased quality and quantity of life, and is expensive to treat.

Cats who are not spayed are at risk of developing a nasty bacterial infection in their uterus, called Pyometra. This can happen shortly after a heat cycle and is life-threatening if not treated.

The treatment for a Pyometra is to spay your cat. The problem is that now, the spay is more risky and expensive since your cat is sick with an overwhelming infection.

That is why it’s important to spay them before they have a chance to develop an infected uterus.

Finally, not every pregnancy and birth process is smooth sailing. Plenty of cats have complications during pregnancy and during the delivery process, needing surgical intervention and c-sections.

This can be expensive, they are high-risk for the health and life of your cat, and oftentimes the kittens do not survive.

 

FAQ

How old do cats have to be to go into heat?

They can go into heat as early as 5 months or as late as 10-12 months.

At what age should I spay my cat?

To make sure you spay your cat before her first heat cycle, you should have her spayed before she is 6-7 months of age.

How often do cats go into heat?

Cats usually go into heat in the spring and autumn and they can go into heat every 2-4 weeks during that time. Some cats can even go into heat year-round.

What are reasons to spay my cat?

To prevent litters of kittens, to prevent ovarian cancer, to prevent uterine cancer, to prevent mammary cancer, and to prevent pyometra (an infection in the uterus).

Conclusion 

Cats go into heat multiple times a year when they are of reproductive age. When they are showing signs of heat, it is because they are in the fertile stage of their reproductive cycle and are seeking out a mate. The way to prevent your cat from going into heat is to have them spayed. Spaying your cat prevents litters of kittens and negative health conditions in your cat.



Article by Dr. Leslie Brooks 👩‍⚕️
Veterinarian