Cats In Heat: What Does It All Mean When It Happens And How Long Will This Last?

If your cat isn’t spayed and she’s acting strangely, there’s a chance she’s in heat.

If you’re not keeping your cat together for breeding and aren’t ok with the work and stress involved, then get her spayed.

Simple.

The first time I experienced my cat going into heat seemed like my sweet feline friend had suddenly been replaced by a strange wild animal!

And I’m not alone.

The heat cycle of an unspayed female cat (otherwise known as a queen) is a source of confusion for many cat owners.

So to clear up some of that confusion, let’s dive into the details of your cat’s heat cycle and unpack some common questions and concerns.  

Cats In Heat Table of Contents:

What is really happening during your cat’s heat cycle?

Let’s go over the various stages of the feline estrus cycle in more depth and see what’s really happening in your cat’s body during her cycle.

Anestrus Stage:

A cat is in this stage during periods of time when she is not sexually active and does not enter into a heat cycle.

When you think of your cat’s normal behavior, you are most likely picturing her during this stage.

A queen does not attract tomcats during anestrus and has no interest in mating.

A cat is most frequently in this stage from September through January.

Proestrus Stage:

This stage is not observed in all cats.

Some transition straight from anestrus or intestrus into estrus (heat).

You know your cat is likely in proestrus if she is very vocal and rubs frequently and affectionately against people or furniture BUT does not yet display an interest in male cats.

In fact, she may even react aggressively to toms during this time.

Physically, your cat’s ovaries are starting to become active during proestrus in preparation for bleeding.

But unlike dogs and many other mammals, a queen will not bleed or create discharge.

Proestrus can be skipped entirely or can last up to 4 days.

to orange tabby cats mating outside on a cement slab

Estrus Stage:

This stage is what is commonly referred to as “heat”.

Your cat will display a full range of behavioral changes during this time.

She will become extremely vocal and may yowl incessantly.

Increased level of affection, agitation, and energy are also common. It’s normal to notice your cat urinating more frequently during estrus as well.

You may see her assume a breeding pose, with her front-half near the ground and her rear in the air.

This stage typically lasts from 1-2 weeks.

Interestrus Stage:

If your cat is not bred during estrus, she will enter the interestrus (or interfollicular) stage.

At this time, a queen will show no interest in mating and may be aggressive to any approaches from male cats.

This stage lasts from 1-2 weeks, after which your cat may enter the proestrus and estrus cycle again.

Diestrus Stage:

If your cat is bred during estrus but does not become pregnant after ovulation, she may experience a diestrus stage (also known as metestrus or pseudopregnancy).

A cat in this stage will not be sexually active – instead, your cat may appear to be in the early stages of pregnancy. Even experienced breeders may have trouble distinguishing these pseudopregnancy symptoms from the real deal.

This stage can last from 5-7 weeks.

How Often Are Cats In Heat and Cycle Frequency

Queen cats begin to experience heat cycles once they reach sexual maturity. For the typical cat breed, puberty hits between the ages of 5 and 9 months.

The duration and frequency of a female cat’s heat cycle are dependent on many factors including:

  • age
  • breed
  • time of year

Below is a cat going into heat until the owner spayed her a month later:

 

Heat Cycle Frequency

Like many animals, cats are seasonally polyestrous.

A technical term that means they are seasonal breeders.

Queens typically experience multiple heat cycles each year between the months of January and September but fewer (if any) heat cycles during the winter months.

Female cats are triggered into heat by the longer periods of daylight in the spring and summer months.

Indoor cats exposed to strong artificial lights throughout the year may occasionally be triggered into beginning a heat cycle at any time.

Female cats do not go into menopause so they are able to breed throughout their life (although they will go into heat less frequently as they get older).

How Long Are Cats In Heat?

Each complete estrus cycle lasts about 2 to 3 weeks on average. This includes an active heat that usually lasts from several days to a week, followed by a “rest” period of 1 to 2 weeks.

After this, the female cat may go back into heat.

This means your queen could go into heat as often as every two weeks over the course of a 6- to a 9-month breeding season.

What behaviors can you expect from a cat in heat?

Many cat owners express concern about the behavioral changes they observe in their cat during a heat cycle.

The first time a female cat goes into heat, she may display strange behaviors you’ve never seen from her before.

The agitation and yowling of a queen in heat can be very alarming when you don’t know what to expect…

You may even worry that your cat is:

  • in pain
  • is sick
  • is injured

But rest assured…

These behaviors are completely normal!

The behaviors you observe from your cat during a heat cycle are her attempts to attract a mate, rather than a result of pain or discomfort.

Here are some common behaviors you may notice when your cat’s in heat:

  1. Loud, continuous meowing, yowling, and whining that are easy to confuse with sounds of distress or pain.
  2. Assuming a mating position (head and forearms near the ground and elevated rump).
  3. Rolling around on the floor and rubbing against walls and furniture.
  4. Increased levels of affection. Your normally shy and aloof cat may become extremely affectionate, demanding attention from owners and strangers alike.
  5. High levels of energy.
  6. Frequent urination, including spraying urine on objects to “mark” them with pheromones that are attractive to male cats.
    TIP: Keep the litter box extra tidy so your cat won’t search for other places to mark… like your sofa.
  7. A decrease in appetite.
  8. Obsession with any male cats nearby. In fact, your cat may try to escape to find a male.

Differences In Heat Cycles By Breed

The breed of your cat can have a huge effect on her heat cycle.

Factors that vary by breed include the age of sexual maturity and the length of the breeding season.

To understand your cat’s heat cycle, it’s important to consider her breed.

Here are a few examples of different breeds’ unique heat cycles.

Siamese:

This breed reaches sexual maturity earlier than most, often as early as 4 months of age.

siamese cat focusing while sitting on edge of couch

Though they are less fertile during the winter months, Siamese queens often continue to have heat cycles throughout the entire year, regardless of the season or duration of daylight.

Persian:

This breed matures much slower than average.

A Persian cat may not reach sexual maturity until she’s 18 months old!

Persians also experience less frequent heat cycles and longer anestrus periods.

They rarely enter heat during the fall and winter months.

Exotic Shorthairs:

Cats of this breed reach their physical adult size fairly quickly, but they do not usually reach sexual maturity until about 10 months of age.

Shorthair cats don’t typically experience heat cycles during the fall and winter months.

They are also more likely to experience what is known as a “silent heat” where they enter the estrus period but don’t display the behaviors typical of being in heat.

This can make it challenging for breeders to know when they’re fertile.

Soothing a cat in heat

If your cat’s annoying behaviors are driving you crazy, try to be patient and do your best to soothe her.

Below is a video I came across on youtube that uses acupuncture to help relieve your cat for a few hours:

 

These tips and tricks can help reduce some of her bothersome behaviors and ease the stress (and the noise!) that comes with going into heat.

Separate your queen from any male cats nearby by keeping her inside. (A female cat in heat is more at risk for contracting infectious diseases from male cats, so don’t let her go outside!)

Spend a little extra quality time with your cat.

She may be calmed by petting, grooming, and physical affection.

Help your cat burn some energy with extra playtime.

You can also purchase her some new interesting toys to keep her occupied.

Provide her with a warm towel or heating pad to sit or lay on.

Try to recreate the winter season (when cats typically do not go into heat) by decreasing her exposure to light and lowering the air temperature.

If you’re worried about your queen’s behavior during heat, consult your vet.

There are medications and hormonal injections available that will calm your cat and ease the symptoms.

What are potential queen problems during the heat cycle?

Other than displaying bothersome behaviors that may annoy you, it is very rare for a queen to experience any problems during her normal heat cycle.

There is an exception to this.

You may experience complications or challenges if you are actively trying to breed your cat during heat.

If you don’t want your queen to become pregnant during her heat cycle, it is extremely important that she be isolated from tomcats!

Even viewing a potential mate through a window can result in increased agitation and other extreme breeding behavior.

If you’re thinking about breeding your queen, here are a few important things you should know:

  • Some queens who are particularly timid or submissive may fail to display appropriate estrus behavior to encourage the breeding behavior in males.
  • Queens who are bred too young are more likely to experience health problems as a result of pregnancy. Because of this, most breeders wait until a cat is at least a year old before considering breeding.  

Are there benefits to letting a cat go into heat before spaying?

There is a common myth that you should let your female cat experience her first few heat cycles (or even give birth to a litter of kittens) before spaying her.

Some people believe that this will result in your cat having a more friendly and affectionate personality.

This just isn’t true!

There are NO advantages to allowing your cat to go through her estrus cycle (heat) before spaying.

Instead, you will be dealing with disruptive, bothersome behavior during heat for no reason.

Worse yet…

a orange tabby cat and black cat about to mate outside near a brick wall

You may find yourself dealing with an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy.

Spaying is a major surgery, but it is a safe, routine procedure when done by a competent vet.

If you do not plan on breeding your female cat, it is always best practice to have her spayed once she reaches sexual maturity (typically at about 4-6 months old).

Older cats can also be spayed.

If your cat enters a heat cycle before you have a chance to get her spayed, it is best to wait until the cycle has ended before spaying.

Because of the physical and hormonal changes during a cat’s heat, there is an increased risk of excessive blood loss during the procedure, which could endanger your cat’s life.  

Related questions:

Do male cats go into heat?

No, male cats don’t go into heat. However, if they smell your queen in heat, they will likely exhibit aggressive behavior. Neutering your male cat can improve his behavior.

Can sibling cats mate?

Unfortunately, once kittens reach puberty, they can (and will) mate.

In fact, a female kitten could get pregnant when she is as young as 4 months old.

So she could deliver a litter at just 6 months of age!

It’s very important to separate male and female kittens once they reach sexual maturity.

Can cats still have heat symptoms even after spaying?

Yes, but it’s rare. There are several possible causes for these heat symptoms, and it’s best to consult your vet.

However, it’s worth noting that your cat can’t become pregnant, even if she exhibits behaviors associated with the heat cycle.

Are there other benefits to getting my cat spayed?

Aside from preventing an unwanted pregnancy, spaying also lowers your cat’s risk of mammary and uterine cancer. Your cat’s behavior will typically improve as well.

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