Is your unneutered female cat suddenly all over you? Have you noticed a group of male cats congregating at your back door? These could all be signs that your female cat is in heat. Read on to find out what we mean by the term “heat”, learn more about your cat’s reproductive cycle and how to avoid any unwanted pregnancies. 

What exactly is “heat”?

“Heat”, or oestrus, is part of a female cat’s reproductive cycle. It describes the period of time when she will  be receptive to mating and display behavioural changes indicating she is ready to breed. 

What age can a cat come into heat?

Kittens become sexually mature a lot earlier then you may think and can breed from 4 months of age! As soon as a kitten comes into heat she can become pregnant, so this is why it is recommended to keep your kitten in until she has been fully vaccinated and neutered (spayed).

How will I know if my cat is in heat?

Only sexually mature, un-neutered female cats (queens) can come into heat, and if they do, they will typically show some of the following behavioural changes:

  • Increased vocalisation – cats in heat will become more vocal to attract males. Some may wail, howl or let out a mating call, which continues until they are either mated or their heat ends. (This can easily be confused with being in severe pain).
  • The mating position – this is when a female cat lies down with her elbows on the ground but her bottom in the air. Her tail may move from side to side to reveal her genital area
  • Affectionate and clingy – cats in heat are usually extremely affectionate, rubbing around your legs, rolling on the floor, purring and not leaving your side
  • Rubbing against furniture – cats in heat may start rubbing their face or hind quarter area on furniture in an attempt to leave their scent for male cats
  • Urine spraying – some female cats may spray urine on to vertical surfaces to let male cats know they are in heat

Some of these behavioural changes can also be seen with other problems, so if you aren’t sure if your cat is in heat, it is best to talk to your local veterinary practice.  

How long will heat last?

Heat and the associated behavioural changes will last approximately one or two weeks. During this time, if the female cat is mated she may become pregnant (which lasts an average of 63 days) and if she is not mated, she will usually come back into heat about two weeks later.

How often does a female cat come into heat?

Cats are seasonally polyoestrous, meaning they have multiple reproductive cycles during the breeding season. Reproductive activity is thought to be triggered by increasing day length, so in the UK, cats are more sexually active from March to September time. 

When can a cat get pregnant during heat?

Whenever a cat is in heat they can get pregnant. A female cat can mate many times when she is in heat and with several different male cats. Cats are induced ovulators, meaning that the act of mating stimulates their ovaries to release eggs. It is therefore possible for a queen to have a litter in which the kittens have several different fathers!

Will littermates breed with each other?

There is a common misconception that cats will not breed with their relatives. Unfortunately, this is not true; once a cat reaches sexual maturity, they will breed with their littermates, their son or daughter, or their mother or father. To prevent inbreeding and to help to control the cat population, it is extremely important that male and female cats are neutered.

What should I do to stop my cat from coming into heat?

It is recommended to neuter a female cat before they have their first heat to eliminate the risk of accidental pregnancies, reduce the risk of breast cancer and womb infections, and to prevent roaming and unwanted behaviours. Female cats usually undergo their neutering (spay) procedure around 4-6 months of age before they reach sexual maturity. 

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If you have any concerns about your own cat, want to discuss neutering, think she could be in heat, or is pregnant, contact your local veterinary team who will be happy to provide advice.

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