How do you know if a cat is in heat?

posted: 05/15/12
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When your cat's in heat, there's no mistaking it!
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A cat in heat emits unmistakable sights and sounds, none of them funny. Her hormones are dictating her behavior, and your formerly sweet kitty is acting like a teenage girl crushing on Justin Bieber. Between the cat's cries to potential mates and her mood swings, you can't get any peace, and neither can she. You can hardly wait till her heat cycle ends -- or will it ever? Here's what you can expect from a cat in heat:

The Age of Feline Puberty

You may have a young female cat whose playful nature and slender body spell kittenhood, so of course you can't imagine she's old enough to be part of the mating game. But puberty in cats can arrive surprisingly early. Siamese cats can reach puberty by time they are 4 months old. For a feral kitten, or one that spends most of her time outdoors, the presence of intact male cats may bring on sexual maturity as early as 4 months. In general, a female cat can reach the age of reproduction by time she is 5 to 6 months old. She can experience estris, or heat, and become pregnant, although she is scarcely more than a kitten herself.

Signs of feline heat

Loud, wailing meows are a good indicator that your cat is in heat. She is calling out to all males within range that she is receptive to a love match. A body posture of tail and rear end raised also shows she's ready for action. She'll be more affectionate, rubbing her head and body against you, a handy chair, or other cats in your home. And she may seem agitated. Although male cats are noted for "spraying," females in heat may do the same. Their tails will shudder and they'll mark walls or furniture with their estrogen-laden urine. You may see a slight discharge, mucus-like in consistency, sometimes with a small amount of blood.

What will get your cat out of heat?

Once a cat reaches puberty, increased levels of estrogen, a reproductive hormone, cause her to go into heat. With heat cycles lasting from seven to 10 days, your cat's discomfort may be intense. Even as her cycle winds down, she will experience the identical situation within another two or three weeks, so spaying -- surgically removing her ovaries and uterus -- is the best means of ending her frustration. An indoor cat in heat will do anything to escape her home so she can find a mate. Until she mates, or is spayed, her body will continue its cycle of fertility.

How often cats go into heat

A cat's brain's pineal gland secretes the hormone melatonin, which decreases as daylight increases. Triggered by the reduction in melatonin, reproductive hormones in the cat's brain migrate from her pituitary gland to her ovaries, awaiting fertilization. Feline heat cycles are affected by the changing seasons, so unspayed female cats suffer an almost continuous shift in hormonal activity. Cats can breed nearly year-round, although early spring through autumn is the peak "kitten season," dreaded by animal shelters that are inundated with unwanted litters.

During the warmer weather months, with increasing daylight, cats will go into heat every two to three weeks. A cat that gives birth may go into heat again within a week of her kittens' arrival, but more often, her next heat will be three to four weeks later.

Controlling heat

Keeping your unspayed cat indoors will prevent her from mating -- provided she never manages to escape, but her discomfort and hormonally inspired behavior will continue with each heat cycle, multiple times every year throughout her life. To ease her distress -- to say nothing of your own eardrums as you listen to those loud feline mating calls -- have her spayed. This simple surgical procedure, easily accomplished by any vet, will prevent her from becoming pregnant and adding to the feline overpopulation. She will also have a healthier future by avoiding the risk of mammary cancer or uterine disease.

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