One of the downsides of owning a female cat is that—as long as she remains unspayed—one trek through the neighborhood while in heat is all it takes for her to become pregnant. Female cats in heat also earn a reputation for being angsty, restless, and downright destructive. So, knowing when female cats go into heat can keep these consequences at bay for the time being.
Female cats first go into heat during kittenhood between four and ten months old. A sexually mature cat will go through heat cycles about every three weeks until she falls pregnant or gets spayed. Otherwise, a female cat will continue to go into heat well into her golden years.
In humans, puberty hits girls at around the 11-year mark, and women will continue to ovulate 1-3 times a month until menopause. But it’s no surprise that cats hit significant life milestones at far different rates than us humans. To learn more about when female cats go into heat, read on!
What Is Heat in Cats?
The first few months of a kitten’s life are full of essential growth milestones. It takes little more than a week for a kitten to gain her sight and hearing, three weeks to begin using the litter box regularly, and eight weeks to entirely wean from mom.
In keeping with the rapid growth theme, female cats will begin going into heat (estrus) as early as 4-10 months old—but most definitely before their first birthdays.
Now, you might be wondering, “What is heat, anyway?”
When a female cat goes into heat, that signifies the point of sexual maturity, fertility, and the beginning of a lifelong reproductive cycle. An unspayed female cat will enter the “fertile” portion of her cycle every two to three weeks, and heat will typically last for 2-10 days.
A cat in heat will experience a rapid influx of estrogen, which ultimately triggers the desire to mate with a tomcat. Since female cats are “induced ovulators,” their ovaries will release an egg after every mating session, amplifying pregnancy chances.
Signs of Heat in Female Cats
The internal hormonal fluctuation isn’t the only change that a female cat in heat experiences. Remember that the estrus cycle stems from a cat’s desire to mate, meaning the signs and symptoms of heat in female cats lead back to:
- Vocalizations (like yowling): Yowling is a queen’s very distinct way of letting local tomcats know that she’s fertile and ready to mate.
- Affectionate behaviors (like rubbing): The rapid increase in estrogen triggers affection in cats, and rubbing (or kneading) can deposit her scent if male cats are in the area.
- Spraying: When a female cat goes into heat, her urine will contain traces of estrogen—peeing on the wall makes her “heat status” known to nearby males.
- Escape attempts: Even if you have a strictly-indoor female cat, she knows that fertile male cats are outside the home, meaning escape attempts are far more likely.
Cats in heat might be a little more active and hungry or assume the “mating position” where they raise their butts in the air while kneading. If your cat isn’t spayed, you’ll pick up on the cues that she’s in heat after a few cycles with these unusual behavioral changes.
What Time of the Year Do Cats Go Into Heat?
A female cat can go into heat almost year-round. However, cats typically mate and breed during the spring and summer months when daylight extends longer than ten hours and temperatures remain warm throughout the day.
Combining these factors means domestic cats living in Australia go into heat at different times than those living in the United States.
Kitties residing in the Eastern hemisphere are more likely to have heat cycles between February and December. Meanwhile, cats in the Western hemisphere have far more restricted breeding seasons due to more dramatic weather changes — most often between March and September.
Not surprisingly, female cats who live strictly indoors with artificial lighting and regular temperature control may have heat cycles all 12 months of the year.
How to Stop a Cat From Going Into Heat
The prospect of mating your purebred Maine Coon or Persian a few years down the line may encourage you to keep your kitty intact for the time being. However, housing an unspayed cat also means relentless spraying, odd behavioral changes, and the stress of an unplanned pregnancy.
The only way to stop your cat from going into heat is by getting her spayed.
Most cat owners don’t know that spaying a female cat doesn’t only negate her ability to become pregnant, but it also reduces those stereotypical unwanted “heat” behaviors.
- A 90% lower risk of breast tumors and uterine infections
- Not taking part in the rapid overgrowth of the cat population
- Extending a cat’s lifespan by about 39%
- Healthier growth leading to a larger, more full-grown cat
Many vets recommend getting a female cat spayed before she goes through her first-ever heat cycle. Some veterinarians will even perform this surgery as early as eight weeks old.
Interestingly, research shows that, as a female cat continues to experience heat cycles during her lifetime, a spaying surgery’s positive health benefits gradually dwindle and completely disappear after 2 ½ years. In other words, time is of the essence.
Many cat owners defend their decision not to spay by saying, “Well, she’s going to be an indoor-only cat anyway!” The Jackson Galaxy video below explains why that excuse isn’t in your (or your cat’s) best interest:
Do Female Cats Ever Stop Going Into Heat?
There are only two reasons a female cat will stop going into heat: the cat becomes pregnant with a litter of kittens, or the cat undergoes an ovariohysterectomy (spaying surgery).
Unlike human females who enter menopause around age 50, female cats will remain fertile throughout their lifespan, even after reaching their senior years. A female cat named “Kitty,” who lived to the ripe old age of 31, delivered her last litter of kittens when she was 30 years old.
These almost monthly heat cycles will generally continue until the day a female cat mates with a fertile tomcat and has an egg fertilized. The queen will carry her litter for 63-65 days before giving birth to 1-12 kittens. A cat will usually resume these regular heat cycles after about eight weeks post-delivery, also around the time her kittens become fully weaned.
Some cats may skip a few heat cycles unexpectedly, leading many worried cat owners to think that their little girl is pregnant. Even though your cat may show signs of being pregnant (like lactation, cessation of heat cycles, or behavioral changes), a cat may be experiencing a false pregnancy (pseudopregnancy). Heat should resume within 4-6 weeks after this subsides.
If you’re planning to breed your female cat, spaying her might not be in the cards just yet. Unspayed cats should regularly go into heat once every three weeks. So, if your feline suddenly stops having estrus cycles, your kitty may be underweight, pregnant, or have a medical issue.
If breeding isn’t on the table, spay your cat as soon as your vet is willing to do the procedure—often as soon as the eight-week mark. Spaying can protect your cat from ailments (like cancer) while also helping you to avoid the headache of having a cat in heat.
- NHS: Stages of puberty: what happens to boys and girls
- NCBI: Women may ovulate two or three times a month
- VCA Hospitals: Estrous Cycles in Cats
- Animal Planet: How long is a cat in heat?
- VCA Hospitals: Spaying in Cats
- ASPCA: Spay/Neuter Your Pet
- The Humane Society of the United States: Why you should spay/neuter your pet