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Cat in heat: here is everything you need to know

Grey cat in heat advice
© Pixabay

If your kitten hasn’t been neutered, it’s time to learn about what happens to a cat in heat. How long does it last? What is it exactly? And how often do cats go into heat?

By Ashley Murphy

Also referred to as estrus, “heat” is a period of time in which a female cat is receptive to mating. Unless she's been “spayed”, a female cat will go through her first estrus cycle at around 6 months old, although it can happen in kittens as young as four months old.

How long are cats in heat for?

Cats usually go into heat during the beginning of spring; it can last up until the end of autumn. A period of “heat” can last anywhere between a few days or a few weeks. If the cat doesn't fall pregnant during this “heat”, she'll start a new one shortly after. This cycle will continue throughout the entire season, or until she’s impregnated. And cats are very good at breeding. Cats are induced ovulators. This means that the female releases an egg after mating, increasing the chances of fertilisation.

7 signs that your cat is in heat

1# Vocalising 

Vocalisation is a way of attracting the attention of a potential mate.  It might be a “meow”, or an intense "yowling noise." It's quite a strange sound, especially if you haven't heard it before. You might think your cat is in pain, or it might have a plaintive, pleading quality. This can go on long into the night. 

2# “Scenting”

If your cat can't stop rubbing up against everything in sight, then they might be in heat. If they’re rubbing against everything with their cheeks and chin, then they're definitely in heat. This is where their scent glands are located, and a cats scent changes during heat; this is her way of telling male cats that she's ready to mate. 

3# Estrus posture 

Also known as the receptive posture, the estrus position is one your cat less subtle signs! Your cat will stretch out her front paws, adopt a submissive position, and lift her backside into the air, exposing her vulva to any passing male cats. It's pretty obvious what's going on here!

4# Deflection reflex 

A cat in heat will often carry her tail to one side, making her more “accessible” to potential mates. 

5# Desire to go outside 

If there are no potential mates inside the house, then a cat in heat needs to go and find some. She'll start demanding to be let out more and will spend most of her time outside.

6# “Swelling”

During heat, a cats vulva may swell and darken in colour. You may also notice a slight discharge. This settles down after the “heat”. If it doesn't, take your cat to a vet. She may have a urinary tract infection. 

7# Spraying 

A cat in heat has a high concentration of pheromones in her urine. Once secreted, pheromones trigger social responses in members of the same species. Pheromones carry different messages. Some of them say stay away, this is my territory. Other pheromones say come and find me, I’m ready to mate. 

Is being in "heat" bad for my cat?

Being in “heat” is perfectly normal for your cat. In fact, it’s nature’s way of encouraging their long-term survival. However, repeated heat cycles can be quite frustrating for your cat. They can also be quite embarrassing, or at least for you!. A cat in heat has only got one thing on your mind; she doesn't care about your house guests. She'll happily adopt the estrus posture in front of grandma!

Is there anything I can do to stop the heat?

You could speak to your vet about medication. This can reduce the "symptoms" of heat,  although there’s no guarantee of its effectiveness. Apart from that, the only other option is spaying. This is a straightforward procedure that removes the cat's ovaries and uterus. Spaying is the only guaranteed method of preventing unwanted pregnancies, but it also has a few long-term health benefits. Spayed cats are far less likely to suffer from certain serious illnesses, including some cancers. Spaying can cost between £50-£100. If you're struggling to meet the cost, contact the kitten neutering database (KIND). It's a national database that provides advice and guidance on subsidised neutering schemes.

It's pretty simple. Get your cat spayed, or be prepared to deal with the consequences of a cat in “heat.”  These are likely to include a surprise litter of new kittens that will need feeding, vaccinations, or re-homing.