Here’s an amazing fact: Female cats who are unspayed are called queens. They must have had some say in the matter, based on what we know about cats and their attitudes. It works out well for humans because when you forget what to do when your cat is in heat, just remember to treat her like a queen. This means giving her space when she needs it, attention when she wants it and ignoring her bossy yowl. You’re basically becoming her private secretary. Her lady-in-waiting. Her support system and her butler, all rolled into one. But whatever you do, don’t let her outside unless you’re in the market for a litter of kittens.
What does it mean when your cat is in heat?
Like dogs in heat, cats in heat are in the fertile window of their reproductive cycle. They are ready to mate! Unlike humans who menstruate, felines in heat do not shed the lining of their uteruses, so there should be no bloody discharge. Heat begins around six months old in female cats.
VCA Hospitals says cats are polyestrous, which means they go through estrus (heat) several times during their fertile season. A cat’s fertile season actually depends on where they live! Their cycles align with daylight hours. Typically, heat begins in spring and lasts through fall; in climates with longer days, heat could reoccur year-round. Heat in cats lasts anywhere from two days to three weeks, but six to eight days is common. Unless she is spayed, a queen will go into heat every one to three weeks until a male cat (called a tom, not a king, just so you remember who’s in charge) impregnates her.
What to do when your cat is in heat
Whatever you do, don’t try to find a solution for a queen in heat. She’s in it. There’s no getting out of it until it ends. All you gotta do is treat your cat like a queen while she’s in heat. By that we mean:
1. Do indulge her
Dr. Evan Ware, Medical Director of University Animal Hospital, says a cat in heat deserves the royal treatment. He recommends extra brushing and cuddling (if your cat is into it). Basically, any bonding time that soothes your queen is a good idea. If she’s in estrus during the spring and summer months, a good daily brushing can help get rid of extra fur. If it’s autumn, providing a warm lap consistently—or a new cat condo!—could alleviate some of the frustration she’s feeling.
2. Don’t invade her space
That said, some queens in heat want nothing to do with their humans. Sorry, honey. It ain’t about you! She wants to mate and that’s it. If you notice your cat pulling away when you try to pet her or running out of the room when you enter, don’t take it personally. Leave her be (while still monitoring her behavior, of course).
3. Do make sure she has a hiding spot
Sometimes, when you’re in a funk because your body is going cuckoo, it feels nice to escape. While queens are in heat, having a secure, secluded hiding spot where they can lay down and chill is a must. She may spend a ton of time here, but chances are this will be her haven when she isn’t trying to escape out the front door or pawing at you for attention.
4. Do engage her in play
Take your queen’s mind off her predicament with a game! This is an ideal time to engage her in a hunt (laser pointers are often irresistible). Cats in heat are operating on instinct and nothing else. Tap into this zone with interactive toys, her favorite wands or a new game you’ve never played before. Getting her to focus on something else may stop her yowls - at least for a little while.
5. Do lock your doors and windows
For real. Dr. Ware says your queen will try everything she can to escape. Her mind and body are telling her to mate and mate now! Make sure your cat is safe and secure at home. Keep windows locked (it may even be wise to avoid opening them too wide because cats can destroy screens and wiggle through small openings). Don’t let your kitty dart out if you open the front door. You’ll definitely feel like an evil witch holding the queen hostage, but it must be done.
6. Don’t let her hang out with toms
Keep your queen away from tom cats! You may notice male cats lingering outside your home. They’ll jump at any chance to mate with your yowling female. Ensure they maintain a respectable, Victorian-era appropriate distance.
7. Do keep her litter box extra clean
Some queens in heat spray to mark territory. They want to let toms know they’re ready to go. To avoid your bed becoming her new favorite litter box, keep her current box as clean as possible. Even if she does consider spraying, hopefully this will entice her to stick to a routine.
8. Don’t experiment with too many supplements
Catnip can be a soothing balm for kitties. The actual plant used to produce catnip belongs to the mint family and can calm some cats (not all, but some). If this works for your queen, provide her with catnip toys for days. You can also try an all-natural supplement like Jackson Galaxy’s Holiday Stress Stopper, designed specifically to help felines feel safe and grounded. However, experimenting with a ton of new products at this time isn’t wise. Try one at a time. Your cat’s health is priority number one.
9. Don’t lose your temper
Living with a queen in heat isn’t a relaxing promenade through the grounds. It may feel like battling a dragon who won’t stop yowling. Be patient and remind yourself this is just a phase (unless you forgo spay surgery, in which case this will happen again). Give your queen what she needs to feel supported!
10. Signs and symptoms of a cat in heat
Not to frighten you, but you’ll know when your queen is in heat because you’ll hear her. Yowling - a constant, desperate wail - is the biggest indication heat is here. Her vocalizations are meant to attract mates. She is not in pain! Estrus in felines isn’t like a human period; no cramps, bloating or nausea (lucky). Remind yourself of this when the guardian in you wants to cure her of her ailments.
Other signs your cat is in heat include:
Rubbing hindquarters on furniture or people
Displaying a mating position with rear end and tail in the air
Constant pacing or rolling around (restless energy)
Licking or grooming genitals more than normal
Loss of appetite or disinterest in food
Spraying urine to mark territory
Scratching at windows or doors to be let outside
Of course, if your cat has already been spayed and is exhibiting these behaviors, it is definitely time for a vet visit.
Preventing pregnancy while your cat is in heat
Like true royalty, queens in heat have one thing on their minds: producing offspring to continue their legacy. Hill’s Pet Nutrition says queens can have up to two litters every year if allowed to mate while in heat. Litters can have as few as one kitten or as many as 12 kittens. So, unless you’re willing to provide each kitten with a happy home, preventing pregnancy is highly recommended to avoid an influx of unhoused cats.
Getting your queen spayed is a super safe, quick and effective procedure! Not only does it prevent pregnancy, but it also protects them from developing health problems later. Andrea Looney, DVM, a lecturer in anesthesiology at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, says early spay surgery, around three months or so, can “virtually eliminate [a queen’s] risk for mammary cancer later in life.”
Unlike humans, ovulation in cats is triggered by fertilization. This means as soon as a queen mates, she can get pregnant, though it often takes a few mating sessions for this to happen. However, when in heat, queens can mate several times in a very short window. In fact, some litters have kittens with multiple fathers. So, it happens fast.
At the end of the day, we worship our pets like royalty anyways. Might as well kick it up a notch when our queens are in heat.