Updated - Dec 22nd, 2022
- When a cat is in heat she will display changes in behavior such as yowling, pacing, and assuming the mating position.
- The heat (also known as the estrus) cycle usually lasts up to 7 days, but length can range from 1 to 21 days.
- A cat’s first heat cycle typically begins around 7 months of age, but some may start as early as 4 months old.
- Most veterinarians recommend you spay your cat to prevent an accidental litter of kittens and decrease the chances of potential health complications.
A cat’s heat or estrous cycle is when she is at her most fertile and ready for mating. A cat has her first heat usually around six or seven months of age, with the average length of the heat cycle being anywhere from 7 to 21 days, occurring every three to four weeks.
Whether your cat is currently in heat or you’re expecting it sometime in the near future, here’s what you need to know about caring for your cat during their heat cycle.
Signs of a cat in heat
Chances are, if your cat is in heat, you’ll be able to tell right away. You may notice her incessantly yowling – aka a mixture of wailing and meowing, pacing back and forth, assuming the mating position (raising her rear end in the air), and being extra affectionate. Other signs may include:
- Behavioral changes
- Unusual vocalizations
- Licking genitals
- Loss of appetite
- Urine spraying outside the litter box
- Begging to go outside
- Excessive grooming
If breeding isn’t in the picture, most veterinarians recommend spaying your cat. Not only will spaying save you and your cat from a monthly week of stress, but it’ll also prevent an accidental litter of kittens and may decrease health complications in the long run.
When does a cat go into heat?
After their first heat, a female cat will cycle through heat every three to four weeks unless they become pregnant. While wild cats usually go into heat only during the breeding season, indoor cats may cycle through estrous year-round.
Cat expert Dr. Janet Cutler, Ph.D is a certified cat behaviorist and contributing writer at Cat World. She explains that the heat cycle in cats is dependent on various factors, including weather, daylight hours, and even location.
“Cats will have their first heat cycle when they reach puberty, and that can happen between 4 and 12 months of age. The timing of heat cycles can depend on where you and your cat live, as it can depend on temperature and the number of hours of daylight. In the Northern Hemisphere, cats often have heat cycles from January to fall, but living indoors can affect this and they could have them throughout the full year.”
Cats can be in heat for up to 9 to 10 days if they aren’t bred by a male and can cycle every 3 weeks. Most cats have 2-4 cycles per year, but it’s not uncommon for cats to have cycles every 3 weeks for several months.
Cats in heat can have many behavioral changes. This can include acting more affectionate or demanding affection and rubbing up against people and/or furniture. Female cats may roll around more and raise their behind when pet. Although less common, some cats may urinate more or even spray on surfaces when in heat.
How to care for your cat in heat
When your cat is in heat, she will probably need some extra TLC to help ease her discomfort.
Cats in heat do best in calm environments, so reducing stressful situations like loud noises or strangers in your home will help them while they’re in heat. It’s probably not the best idea to host a party or do an extreme home renovation during the week your cat is in heat. Instead, try creating a soothing place where your cat can retreat and relax.
She may like laying on a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer, or a heating pad. You can also play soft, relaxing music, and try pheromone plug-ins to add to your cat’s soothing experience. To avoid spraying, it’s a good idea to keep your cat’s litter box as clean as possible so they’re encouraged to mark the litter box rather than your sofa. Catnip and extra play time will also help distract her during estrus, so be sure to stock up on catnip, toys, treats, and get ready to spend some extra time entertaining your cat.
Dr. Cutler notes that patience is one of the most important things to remember while your cat is in heat.
“Cats who are in heat can have very sudden and obvious changes in their behavior, some of which people could find a bit frustrating. Trying to stay patient with your cat is very important, as this is simply a change she is experiencing due to hormonal changes in her body. If you do not want your female cat to become pregnant, it’s important to make sure she doesn’t have access to intact male cats. This could mean separation of cats in your home if you have both, or making sure she has no chance of escaping from your home. While many cats in heat become more affectionate, some could also be more irritable and want to be left alone. Giving them access to a quiet, comfortable place to rest could be helpful.”
Ways to comfort your cat in heat
- Offer them a warm towel or blanket
- Play relaxing music
- Keep the litter box clean
- Provide catnip
- Use synthetic pheromone plug-ins or sprays
- Play with your cat
- Provide extra pets and attention
- Give her space when she wants it
- Consider spaying your cat if you do not intend to breed her
Chances are, when your cat is in heat, she will let you know by a distinct change in behavior and increased vocalization.
Though it’s easy to get frustrated, it’s important to be patient with your cat and comfort her. Whether it be through mental stimulation, catnip, and extra treats or attention, offer her ways to help get her mind off of her body. When in doubt, you can always consult your veterinarian for advice while your cat is in heat.