The term “in heat”, also known as estrous, makes reference to the time when your cat reaches reproductive maturity and is eager to mate.
Depending on environmental and geographical factors, your cat may cycle all year round. As a cat owner, the easiest way to tell is to track certain behavior changes or patterns. In female cats, you will see an increase in affection and neediness, and on males, the exact opposite, more hostility, and a challenging behavior.
Cats usually have their first heat between 4 to 10 months of age, and due to their individual nature, demonstrations are required to attract the opposite sex and show a willingness to engage in sexual activity.
How Can I Tell My Cat Is In Heat?
For your female cat sexual cycle is divided into 4 phases and that is how you will be able to tell when they are in heat:
Lasts around 2 days, during this phase female cats are not ready to mate, however, they will start sending signals such as an urgent need to be pampered more than usual, she’ll become more cuddly, rubbing her body against the furniture people and taking long grooming periods licking her genital area.
Additionally, constant urine to mark her territory, vocalization, rotating itself, adopting mating position where she will arch its spine and lifting its pelvis, decreased appetite since her instincts will make mating a priority rather than eating. Also, your indoor cat may run away during this time, to increase the chances of finding potential mating partners.
During the second phase, the estrous, the female will allow the male to mount her and all the aforementioned behavior are emphasized, especially her moans, which is also known as “calling”, this noise may appear almost like your cat is afflicted and her cries may keep you up all night. Additionally, your cat will feel an urgent need to leave the house to spread her scent in an effort to attract a receptive male.
This phase is considered as “the heat phase”, if there’s no mating it will last from 10 to 14 days, otherwise, it will only last from 4 to 6 days in the event of mating. Cats usually start this phase from spring to fall, however, those living in tropical areas where they have more sun exposure could cycle throughout the year.
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Inside your cat’s body, her uterus is being absorbed, a small amount of blood can be discarded, however, cats don’t have periods like humans do, if you worry about the amount of blood shed by your cat please consult a vet.
The third phase is diestrus, a period of sexual inactivity that could last from 3 to 16 days if the cat was not fertilized or roughly two months if your cat got pregnant.
Anestrum is considered the final phase of the female cat’s heat, no hormones are produced during the stage, and the ovaries rest.
Unlike their female counterparts, male cats experience their heat process in a different way that doesn’t include phases, while they are able to mate anytime as soon as they reach maturity, it’s up to the female cat to decide if she allows him. One difference is male cats act hostile towards people, other animals, or other male cats as they begin to challenge each other for access to mating partners.
Another difference is their marking urine has an unpleasant and fetid odor compared to female cats, male urine comes packed with hormones, enzymes, and pheromones to attract nearby partners.
How Can I Control My Cat In Heat?
The heat cycle is totally normal in healthy cats, we understand you might feel your pet needs help, here are some ideas that will be useful:
- Catnip herb: its active ingredient is called nepetalactone, inhaling its fumes will make your cat feel more playful and less interested in mating at first, eventually, the prolonged exposition to this plant will have a different effect on your pet, making it quieter and less energetic. This substance is somewhat non-dangerous and non-additive to your pet, the only countereffects come when your cat swallows its leaves.
- Keep your female isolated from male cats: you may try to find the possible getaways in your home, to prevent your cat from going out. In case you own multiple cats, this will be more difficult, but you may try building a scape-proof cat patio (catio).
- Use synthetic pheromones: Some veterinarians might recommend medication to reduce the symptoms. Other hormones will help you to mask the information in your cat’s urine marks.
- Get a GPS tracker: this is especially useful to know the whereabouts of your pet in case it goes out and needs to be picked up.
Prevent Unwanted Pregnancies In Cats
Pet population is usually a significant problem when it comes to strays and sometimes house cats that “walkabout” take part in the continuation of this problem. It is recommended to avoid your cat from breeding unless you’re prepared for the responsibility that comes from it.
Your 6 months old female cat can get pregnant 2 to 3 times per year, having around 4 kittens per mating season, which will give you an average of 8 kittens per year. Most of the cats that end up in animal shelters are put down due to the large number of animals coming in compared to the few adoptions given.
Multi-cats owners must know cats do not discriminate against their mating partners, their reproductive instinct will lead them to mate with any cat of the opposite sex. If you do not feel comfortable with them mounting with each other because they are related (brother and sister, mother and offspring) birth control is a solution to prevent inbreeding.
The rise in COVID-19 cases around the globe has made it difficult to access surgical services to animals, when trying to access low-cost or subsidized options, you may encounter long waiting lists, nonetheless, there are many other actions recommended as a contraceptive measure. Let’s see some non-surgical options available to prevent unwanted pregnancies:
Oral Birth Control
Megestrol acetate (MA) is available to be administered orally and stops your cat from going into her heat cycle.
For a cat showing signs of heat, the recommended dose would be 5mg a day for three days, afterwards, the dose should be decreased to 2.5mg a week once a week. The latter will also apply to a cat that doesn’t show signs of heat.
- Add MA to the cat’s food.
- Make sure to use a plastic container, paper containers are known to absorb part of the liquid.
- Limit usage to 30 weeks.
Important Information About MA
- This drug is not FDA approved yet.
- Shelf life is 180 days.
- A vet’s prescription is required to acquire the product.
- Long-term use could cause side effects such as liver disease, diabetes, and cancer.
This method tricks the female into believing she got impregnated by an infertile cat (usually call teaser tom), therefore, ending the heat cycle.
Cat Birth Control Injections
Researchers at the University of Florida developed a contraceptive vaccine named GonaCon, studies have shown it can sterilize a female cat from five months to five years with a 93% of effectiveness.
Scientifically know as Ovariohysterectomy, it’s the procedure of removing the female’s cat reproductive’s system (ovary and uterus) via surgery. Its benefits surpass its risks, from hindering the troublesome heat cycle, preventing cancer, and perhaps stopping the urine marking. In male cats, this process is called neutering and their testicles are removed instead, to reduce the production of testosterone. Vets advise performing this process before your cat starts her first heat cycle, though it can be performed in the future, it is not recommended to do it while your cat is going through the estrous phase due to the amount of blood accumulated into her reproductive system, more time and resources will be needed to perform a safe removal which will lead to a higher cost than a regular spay.
General anesthesia and intubation to help to breathe are required before starting the surgery, a machine is used to monitor her vital signs, an opening is made in the abdomen to access the uterus and ovaries, some surgeons prefer to remove only the ovaries as they are the responsible for the heat cycles.
Once it is safe to proceed, the opening will be closed with stitches, surgical staples, and glue, the breathing tube will be removed, and your pet will return home once it is out of danger.
What To Expect After The Surgery
Your pet might be kept under post-operative care to keep her movement close to nothing, once your pet is discharged and ready to go home, she might:
- Experience loss of appetite within the first couple of days.
- Get a pet cone attached to prevent her from licking the wounds which can get easily infected.
- Need antibiotics or any additional treatment.
Now you understand more about your cat and the heat cycle and its different phases depending on its gender, natural ways of controlling your pet during this process, different methods on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and the side effects of some of the different options there are, you can help your pet to overcome this process in a safe manner, preventing him or her to get injured by other cats.
Making educated decisions on what’s best for you and your furry friend is key to have a long-lasting, happy and pleasant life together.
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Shawn Manaher is a serial entrepreneur but when he isn’t working, he loves dogs. He’s owned different pets over the years, and always gives a part of his heart to each pet.