How to help a cat in heat – a beginner’s guide on female cat heat cycle

If you ever experienced a cat in heat, you’ll probably never forget it. It’s intense, and let’s be honest, sometimes extremely annoying.
And it can be quite scary for new cat owners, who have no idea what to expect and are often completely unprepared for this new situation. I’ve actually had a few new cat owners, who thought their cat was poisoned or something and is now dying.

I often get asked if the cat is in pain. Don’t worry, she’s not, even if it may seem like it. Signs of pain in cats are very subtle and often hidden, as opposed to this loud behavior. However, they might feel some discomfort.

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While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

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What does it mean when a cat is in heat

Cat in heat is in the fertile period of her reproductive cycle and is looking to mate.

Cats enter their first heat cycle when they reach puberty. This usually occurs at around 6 months of age, but it can vary individually.

Cats are a bit different than dogs in heat. Cats are seasonally polyestrous, meaning they have multiple cycles during their breeding season. The breeding season varies according to environmental factors such as location, temperature, daylight hours…

Another thing you need to know if you have 2 or more cats – cats can and will mate with their siblings (or other family members) if they have the chance! So don’t leave cat siblings alone together when the female is in heat, or you will end up with unwanted kittens.

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Cat reproductive cycle

The feline reproductive cycle has 5 phases – proestrus, estrus, interestrus, diestrus, and anestrus.

Cats are also so-called induced ovulators, which means ovulation is stimulated by mating. It was previously believed, that cats don’t ovulate unless they mate with a male. However, now we know that it it’s not always the case. In some cases, cats can ovulate even without mating. Yes, cats are complicated…🤷‍♀️

Now, let’s have a look at how it all works.

→ Proestrus

Proestrus is the first phase, where the cat already attracts males, but is not ready to mate yet. As opposed to the dog reproductive cycle, it’s much harder to recognize. It also lasts only for a day or a so.

→ Estrus

This is the actual “heat”. It is the phase when the cat is willing to breed. Cats don’t ovulate unless they mate with a male. The main hormone responsible for her sexual behavior is estradiol.

→ Interestrus

If the cat didn’t ovulate during her estrus phase, the next phase is interestrus. During intestrus cats don’t display any sexual behavior. The queens usually return to proestrus after ca 3 weeks (but individually it can range from 3 days to 7 weeks).

→ Diestrus (or Metestrus)

If the cat did ovulate during her estrus phase, she goes into her diestrus phase. During this period the dominant hormone is progesterone. Diestrus usually lasts around 35 days if she’s not pregnant, but again, it’s very individual. Did I already say that cats are complicated? ☺️

If she’s pregnant, the pregnancy will last 60 to 63 days.

→ Anestrus

This is the time of sexual rest and It’s often seasonal.

How often do cats go into heat

Cats have multiple cycles during their breeding season.

Some cats may have their cycle all year round, especially if they are living indoors.

This means that cats can actually go into heat as often as every 2-3 weeks, sometimes year-round and they continue to go into heat well into their senior years. It usually comes as a shock to new cat owners, so I’ll just let it sink in for a while 😛 If you have an indoor unsprayed cat, you can go through this demanding, annoying, and very loud phase every 2-3 weeks.

Cats can go into heat as often as every 2-3 weeks, sometimes year-round and they continue to go into heat well into their senior years.

For how long does a cat stay in heat

Cat heat cycle usually lasts several days. I think the official literature says around 6 days on average, but it’s really individual, some cats can be in heat for weeks. If the cat didn’t mate, she will go out of the heat for a short time. And the whole cycle begins again.

Signs that your cat is in heat

Some cats have light vaginal swelling or very light bleeding, but mostly the signs of heat are behavioral.

Most cats in heat are very affectionate and constantly demand attention. They will roll on the floor and rub against people, furniture, or wall.

When stroked along the back, they display the typical mating pose where they raise their hindquarters and tail into the air and tread with the back legs.

The most annoying part is the vocalization. Cats in heat try to attract a male to mate by constant loud meowing, yowling and howling.

They may also spray walls, furniture, or even people with strong-smelling urine.

This will attract not neutered male cats to your home yard. They may spray urine on the house to mark the territory as theirs or may even attempt to enter the house. And they will fight among themselves, so be prepared for loud noises from outside your window, especially at night.

On the other side, cats in heat are escape artists. So be sure to secure your house not just from male cats trying to get inside, but also from your own cat trying desperately to get out.

However, cats are strong individuals, and some react differently. Some can get aggressive, some try to hide all the time, and some throw themselves at windows and doors in an attempt to get out…

What to do when your cat is in heat

I’ve had a few clients, who were adamantly against spaying their cat… until the first heat cycle and a few sleepless nights. Then they got angry because we wouldn’t spay a cat in heat..

I’m sorry, but there’s an increased risk of surgical complications and most veterinarians just won’t spay a cat in heat for medical reasons. 🤷‍♀️

Talk to your vet about the best time when to spay your cat if you want to avoid this stressful situation in the future. And believe me, being in heat without the option to mate is extremely stressful for your cat.

So how can you help your cat when she’s in heat? Here are a few tips that may help:

1. Make sure she’s comfortable

Some cats want to hide, so make sure your cat has a nice, private and safe place where she can spend her time when she needs privacy and quiet.

2. Keep her litter box clean

As mentioned above, cats tend to spray furniture with urine. By keeping the litter box clean, you’ll encourage your cat to keep marking it instead.

3. Herbal remedies

Well, to be honest, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.
If your cat likes catnip, you can give it a try.

We also had some success with the Rescue remedy (made for animals without alcohol).

However, please talk to your vet before using any herbal remedies, and do not dose your cat constantly. Talk to your vet about dosage and for how long can you safely give your cat in heat any kind of remedies.

4. Try to keep your cat occupied

Both the urge to mate and the urge to hunt are instinctual. Try to keep her occupied with toys that stir her hunter instinct.
You can also try toy puzzles for mental stimulation.

5. Give her extra attention

Extra petting or brushing may help your cat manage the stress and keep her calmer.

You know your cat, and even if it may seem like you’re suddenly living with a demanding she-demon, it’s important to be patient and kind to your cat. Being annoyed and angry will only worsen the situation. That tiny body is full of raging hormones without the possibility to get a natural release by mating. She didn’t ask for this and it isn’t her choice to be stuck inside with her human roommate, so please be kind. And if things get really bad, talk to your vet 😊

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One Comment

  • Helen Diggs

    Interested in getting my cat spayed,so sad to experience this time with her, ( my Granddaughter didn’t fulfill her appt.) ANY information helps!

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