Do cats go into heat?

A first time cat owner would be concerned at the pet’s manifestation of unusual behavior. An owner of a female cat would wonder why the pet has suddenly gone very vocal so much so that it is disturbing the sleep not only of the owners but also neighbors within hearing distance. The pet may also appear restless. Calling and restlessness are signs that the cat is in heat. Because of the higher levels of estrogen, the cat’s urine will be smellier. The cat will be seen licking the genital area more often. Cats are polyestrus animals. During the breeding season cats would go into heat every two to three weeks.

The age when a cat reaches puberty varies. Female cats typically attain sexual maturity between 5 to 12 months. Some breeds though would come into first heat when they are only four months old. Cats are prolific producers. After attaining sexual maturity, a cat would almost always be in heat especially during the breeding season. A cat that was not mated or one that was mated but did not get pregnant would enter the heat cycle repeatedly. The cat would go into heat over and over again unless it is spayed. Dogs would go into heat cycle at regular intervals throughout the year. This is not so with cats as feline heat cycle can depend on the presence of other cats. The mating season is also significantly influenced by the number of daylight. 12 hours of day light is an optimal condition for breeding as the cat’s hormonal system is activated by daylight hours. In the Northern Hemisphere, cats generally go into heat from March to September. Cats generally go in and out of heat continuously during the spring.

A female cat’s heat cycle is comprised of four stages – proestrus, estrus, metestrus and anestrus. Proestrus is the phase where the cat is preparing to go into heat. The cat is not yet ready to be mated but the ovaries are already active in follicle formation. During this phase estrogen and the follicle stimulating hormones are at work. These hormones help in the development of the eggs. Signs that the pet is in the proestrus stage is a slightly swollen and moist vulva though vaginal bleeding will not occur. Restlessness, increased appetite and manifestation of affectionate behavior are other signs. This phase will be followed by estrus or what is commonly called by breeders as “heat” or “calling”. This period that usually lasts from 10 to 14 days is characterized by physical and behavioral changes. Cats in heat will urinate frequently, would be more affectionate and would make the “call”. The vocalization is aimed to attract the attention of the male cats in the area. At this stage, the cat will be seen taking the mating position even if male cats are not around. The female cat would lower the front legs to the ground and with the tail held high would point the rump in the air. These are signs that the cat is ready to be mated. Metestrus stage follows after the cat was mated. If the cat gets pregnant, this stage would last 60 to 65 days. If the cat was not mated or did not become pregnant, metestrus would last for 30 to 40 days. The period of sexual inactivity is called anestrus. This stage is the rest period in the cat’s heat cycle. The pet would not be in heat and the ovaries will be inactive as well.

Going into heat is a normal physiologic function that intact cats would periodically go through. Some cats may appear uncomfortable during this time but the cat would not really need medical attention as the heat cycle is not an illness.

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