If you’re a parent of a female cat, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘in heat’ before. In short, it refers to when your feline friend is fertile and ready to mate. It also comes with behavior changes that can be difficult to deal with if you’re not prepared.
If you’re asking yourself, “how long are cats in heat?” in exasperation, we’re here to help! Keep reading to find out how long your cat will be in heat, what symptoms to look for, and how to keep them comfortable throughout their cycles.
How Long Do Cats Stay in Heat and How Often?
On average, a female cat can be in heat for 4 to 7 days. If your cat is in heat for as short as 2 days or as long as 3 weeks, that is also still considered in the normal range. Cats go into heat numerous times a year, which is known as polyestrous. Importantly, only unspayed female cats of reproductive age—also known as queens—can go in heat.
What It Means For A Cat To Be “In Heat”
There are many factors to consider when trying to work out whether your cat is in heat or not. These factors include internal hormonal changes and external physical and behavioral changes.
Signs & Symptoms
Internally, a female undergoes many hormonal changes throughout her heat cycle. However, It is easier to track a female cat’s heat cycle by looking for physical and behavioral signs, which may include:
She verbally cries out, which is distinctly different from meowing.
Exhibits flirtatious behavior, such as rolling around on the ground and rubbing on objects with her tail behind high in the air.
If an indoor cat, she tries to escape and if an outdoor cat, begins to roam farther than her normal route.
When petting, she raises her rear end into the air and treads with her back legs
She may urinate more frequently or even mark by spraying urine on upright objects, which is an attempt to attract male cats.
How Long Are Cats In Heat: Cycle Breakdown
There are 5 stages that are part of the estrus cycle. The number of cycles or the order of cycles may change if your female cat becomes pregnant while in heat. The stages include:
Proestrus - 1 to 2 days
Estrus - 2 to 14 days
Diestrus - occurs when a female cat is pregnant, 12 to 13 days after mating
Interestrus – 2 to 3 weeks
Anestrus – dormant period (light dependent)
The proestrus stage lasts 1 to 2 days. This is where queen “attacks” unneutered male cats, also known as toms. Even though she attracts them, she isn’t receptive to any mating just yet. In this stage, the queen doesn’t physically show any signs.
Estrus cycle is a fancy way of saying heat. Heat can last between 2 to 19 days, but generally 1 week. This is when a queen physically attracts males and is receptive to mating. You should be able to notice whether or not your cat is in this stage—-she makes it very obvious! This is when you will notice her rolling around and rubbing on things, elevating her rear end and being very vocal.
A lot of internal changes occur during this stage. When the queen mates during this stage, it automatically induces ovulation through hormonal changes.
Did you know that a queen generally needs to mate about 4 to 6 times during estrus to become pregnant? This certainly doesn’t mean that the queen only mates with one male; the queen can mate with numerous males before giving birth, and a litter of kittens can be born with different fathers.
It only takes 1 to 2 minutes for cats to mate. This can also happen multiple times in a short space of time. Once ovulation has occurred, the female cat will transition out of heat within 1 to 2 days.
The diestrus stage is very important, as this is when the queen fertilizes the eggs. Within 12 to 13 days after mating, the embryos become implanted in the queen’s uterus. Not all embryos survive, but roughly 84% are successfully implanted in the uterus. This stage only takes place if the queen is pregnant. This is when progesterone becomes the dominant hormone for her to fertilize the oocytes (immature egg cells).
Interestrus is between 2 to 3 weeks. This stage only commences if the queen neither mates nor becomes pregnant during estrus. This is the period a queen will go into between heats.
Internally, her hormones change. The queen’s estrogen level drops and she no longer attempts to physically attract a mate. After about 2 days to 3 weeks, she will reenter the first stages of heat. This marks the continuation of the cycle again where she will enter proestrus, estrus, and then interestrus throughout the mating season or until she becomes pregnant.
Anestrus is the period when a queen’s reproductively dormant period is. This means her reproductive hormones are not active and there is no estrus cycle.
How Often Do Cats Go In Heat?
If your female cat is unspayed, then you could expect her to have her first heat cycle as young as 4 months of age. The average age for a female cat to have her first heat cycle is around 5 to 9 months.
Female cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means that they have numerous cycles during the breeding season. Two important notes to remember that play a big role are geography and environmental factors, such as daylight and temperature. Queens may even have their cycle throughout the year if they are in more tropical parts of the world.
There are a few factors, such as anatomy, that play a role in when your cat goes on heat. Shorthaired breeds generally begin their cycle earlier. Some longhaired or larger breeds might not present in heat until they are around 18 months of age.
For outdoor cats or feral cats, heat cycles generally take place from spring to fall. This is due to the queen’s hormone production, which is stimulated by increased light as the days become longer. When the days are shorter, the queen isn’t stimulated enough to go on heat. If a queen doesn’t become pregnant, she can go on heat as often as every 2 to 3 weeks.
Indoor cats are continuously exposed to artificial light, which typically induces a continuation of the heat cycle throughout the entire year.
How To Calm a Cat In Heat
Generally, your queen will feel out of sorts during her season. If it is her first season, she might even feel confused. One of the best ways to assist your female cat during her heat cycle is to keep them happy and distracted. This is when you can bring out some games, healthy treat-filled toys, and entertain your cat with activities around the house.
How to Prevent a Cat From Being in Heat
The best way to prevent a cat from being in heat is to get her spayed. Normally, this decision is made when the female cat is still young. It can happen as early as a veterinarian deems that it is safe, but it is typically ideal to do no later than 4 to 6 months of age.
Now you know everything you need to know about your female cat in heat. You can spot the symptoms that indicate your cat is in heat, know how to calm a cat in heat, and how to prevent your cat from getting pregnant by spaying.
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