If you have a female cat that has not been spayed, your cat has probably had at least one heat cycle. If you also feel like their heat cycles seem to be never-ending, you may start to wonder how many times your cat can go into heat during the year. Here’s what you need to know.
Female cats go into heat every two to three weeks during the mating season which can last from spring to fall. Every heat cycle lasts an average of six days. Because of this quite rapid reproductive cycle, one cat may have as many as 3-5 litters in a year.
However, cats’ heat cycles are also influenced by the number of daylight hours and not just other natural elements, for example, temperature.
It is possible for especially indoor cats to go into heat year-round. This is because cats are exposed to so many hours of artificial light every day.
If you’re a new cat owner, you may want to know which signs to look out for when your cat is in heat. This will help you to make sure that your cat doesn’t get pregnant and have an unwanted litter that you will need to find forever homes for.
How Do Cats Act When They Are In Heat?
Here are six common signs that show that your cat is in heat:
- Loud Meowing and Yowling — Even otherwise quiet cats will be very vocal if they are in heat. Not only do they meow more, but they will do so very loudly, usually adding some extra-loud yowling as well in the hopes of attracting a mate. This is probably the first sign that you will notice when they go into heat.
- They Are More Affectionate Than Usual — Cats in heat will rub up against everything — including you — to spread their scent. This is because cats’ scents change when they are in heat. Therefore, they want to replace their “usual” scent with this new scent to attract a mate.
- They Spray Urine — Females in heat may also “spray” vertical objects, like furniture, in much the same way that unneutered males do. This is also to spread their scent and should not be confused with them not wanting to use their litter box.
- Excessive Licking — Not only will your cat groom themselves more than usual, they will also excessively lick their genitals. Cats in heat has a swollen vulva and/or a slight discharge.
- Loss of Appetite — Some cats lose their appetite when they go into heat. Only tuned in to find a mate while in heat, you could find that their appetite changes for up to two weeks. (If their appetite doesn’t return to normal, take them to the vet.)
- They Want To Escape — You’ll also find that your cat tries anything and everything to escape the confines of your house. You have to basically keep an eye on them 24/7 when they are in heat to make sure that they can’t get out anywhere. This is also not a good time to let them out into an outside cat enclosure either, as stray tomcats may show up in your backyard!
Now that you know what signs to look out for, you may also wonder how your cat’s reproductive or heat cycles work.
How Your Cat’s Heat Cycles Work
A cat’s heat cycles consist of various stages. A female’s first estrous or heat cycle takes place when they hit puberty at about six months old. Depending on the time of year, your kitten may reach puberty when they are a bit younger or a bit older.
The estrous stage of a female cat’s cycle is technically the days that they are in heat.
Each of these heat cycles lasts about six days.
If your cat doesn’t mate during this time, they will go “out of heat” for an average of 14 days. This is the next stage of estrous.
After this time, your cat will again go into heat for about 6 days.
On average, then, an estrous cycle lasts about three weeks. However, the heat cycle can be as long as six weeks.
During the time that your cat is in heat, you may also find various tomcats in your yard. They will spray the area with their urine to mark “their” territory.
The tomcats may also try to get into the house to mate with your cat, even spraying the doors of the house with their urine.
Should your cat get pregnant, they will go through a gestation period (the length of time a cat is pregnant) of between 64 and 71 days, with an average gestation of 9 weeks. Once your cat has given birth, they will again go into heat some two to three weeks later, once the kittens start to wean.
When During Her Heat Cycle Can My Cat Get Pregnant?
Because cats are induced ovalators (meaning that the eggs release from the ovaries only when breeding takes place), a cat can get pregnant at any time during the days in which she is in heat.
For the eggs to be released (ovulation), however, a female must mate three to four times during a 24-hour period.
Once ovulation is completed, the cat will go out of heat within a day or two.
As a female cat can mate with different tomcats during the time in which she is in heat, a litter of kittens may have several different fathers.
Cats are also indiscriminate when it comes to mating, which means that inbreeding can easily take place, with, for example, siblings mating with siblings.
This means that your cat can still get pregnant no matter what relation an unneutered male has to it.
Cats will continue to go through heat cycles their whole lives if they are not spayed. A cat with a lifespan of 15 years can give birth to up to 180 kittens during their lifetime!
How Can I Prevent My Cat From Going Into Heat?
The only way you can be sure that your cat will not go into heat or get pregnant is by spaying (sterilizing) them. This operation is done under general anesthetic.
Veterinarians prefer to perform the spay operation (called an ovariohysterectomy) when kittens are about six months old before they go through their first heat cycle. Kittens younger than six months old can also be spayed, as well as adult cats.
Cats are usually spayed as adults if they are rescue cats which were not spayed as kittens. Rescue cats are usually, as a rule, spayed or neutered at the rescue center.
Spaying can also reduce your cat’s chances of getting certain reproductive cancers.
By spaying your cat, you can not only ensure that your cat doesn’t have any kittens, you can also ensure that there are fewer unwanted kittens that need to find forever homes.
What Can I Do If My Cat Is Already In Heat?
If your cat is already in heat, there are some steps that you should take to ensure not only their safety and comfort but also your sanity.
Whatever you do, your final aim should be to calm your cat down and ease their restlessness and anxiety.
- Keep your cat inside your home at all times, where they will be kept away from tomcats. You may need to keep them isolated to a specific part of your home, for example, the bedrooms or other rooms at the back of the house. It’s even better if your home has more than one floor. This can help that they don’t escape if you open the front or back door of your home. You should also try to keep your cat away from windows or glass doors where they may see tomcats, as this will make them even more excitable.
- Give them lots of attention. Attention and physical contact should help to calm your cat and relieve some of her restlessness.
- Distract your cat by playing with them. If physical contact alone isn’t enough to keep your cat attractive, some new toys and enjoy playing with them can help you while away the hours.
- Keep the litter box odor-free. Clean the litter box more often as this will encourage her to “mark” the box rather than your furniture!
- Catnip — whether dried or fresh — can have a great calming effect on some cats. You can also use catnip spray, toys or catnip drops.
- Switch on some cat videos. You can try to play some cat-targeted videos on YouTube to distract your cat, especially during the time that you’re not at home. Some cats also love music or specific types of music and this can help to calm their restlessness and anxiety.
- Don’t shout at them or otherwise berate them. Remember that your cat cannot help that they are in heat; it’s a biological thing. If you go and shout at them to be quiet, for instance, you could make them even more anxious and restless instead of calming them down.
What If My Cat Gets Pregnant?
Should your cat get pregnant, there are some signs that you will notice during the first month of pregnancy:
- 2 to 3 weeks after mating, her nipples will enlarge and redden,
- About a month after mating, her belly will be visibly larger as the pregnancy starts to show,
- During the first few weeks of their pregnancy, your cat may lose their appetite or vomit often, especially in the mornings (not only humans get morning sickness!). Should this continue or they really struggle to eat or stay hydrated, you must take them to the vet.
If you’re not sure whether or not your cat is pregnant, take them to the vet for a checkup that consists of the following:
- The vet will feel their tummy, although this is not always the best way to find out if they’re pregnant very early on in the pregnancy.
- Your vet can also do an ultrasound to see if your cat is pregnant. This can be done from about two and a half weeks after conceiving.
- X-rays can also be done from a certain point in the pregnancy and should show the number of kittens that your cat is carrying.
Even if you are sure that your cat is pregnant, you should also take them to the vet for a checkup of their overall health and to make sure that their vaccinations are up to date.
That their vaccinations are up to date is very important because some illnesses can spread from the mother to the kittens.
Your vet may also be able to help you with someone to contact with regard to getting the kittens forever homes once they are old enough.
When Is There Something Else Wrong With My Cat?
If you find that your spayed cat displays some of the signs of being in heat listed above, you need to look for other reasons why your cat is acting the way they are.
These signs may include not urinating in their litter box or meowing a lot more than usual.
After checking the common reasons for not urinating in their litter box (for example that their litter box is dirty and they need clean litter), you should take a closer look at your cat and:
- Make sure that your cat isn’t hurt — If your cat is in pain, they may also try to alert you through meowing or even yowling. Check to see if you can find what is wrong before taking them to the vet. However, if you find them hiding (rather than trying to get out of the house), you can be sure that they are feeling very under the weather and they need a vet’s attention as soon as possible.
- Make sure that your cat doesn’t have a urinary tract infection (UTI) — If your cat has been spayed and they suddenly lick at their genitals, it can be a sign that they have a urinary tract infection. This can be very serious, so get them to the vet as soon as you can.
Now that you know what to look out for when your cat goes into heat and what you can do to calm them down, you can start to speak to your vet about the options you have — like spaying — that will not only help your cat, but also help you keep your sanity during cats’ mating seasons.