The turn of spring seemingly reawakens cats everywhere. Your kitty’s yowling fits, escape attempts, and restlessness makes their long-awaited annual comebacks, and litters of newborn kittens nuzzle cozily beneath your backyard deck. But when exactly is mating season for cats?
The mating season for cats is between February and December in the Eastern Hemisphere, and a slightly-shorter March through September season. Breeding season peaks during spring and summer and a female cat can birth up to five litters a year if she goes into heat every 2-3 weeks.
Mating season — and the oh-so-adorable “kitten season” — is an ongoing worry for cat owners with unfixed kitties. One neighborhood rendezvous could leave you responsible for a pregnant queen, a litter, and extra vet costs. To learn about when mating season is for cats, read on!
All You Need To Know About Feline Mating Season
If your first inkling that its feline mating season is a bulging belly or young kittens are playing follow-the-leader, you’re already two months too late!
Now, here’s everything you need to know about mating season:
What Are the Signs of Mating Season?
Unfixed male and female cats behave differently as the annual mating season approaches. Let’s review the signs that feline mating season is on the horizon:
Unneutered male cats — also called “tomcats” — discover their sexual prowess as the feline mating season arrives, entering what’s called a “rut.” This de facto male “heat” triggers tomcats to seek out females willing to mate, displaying signs like:
- Spraying on vertical surfaces
- Aggression, scuffles, and territorial behaviors
- Tail twitching
- Humping household objects
- Caterwauling (a male cat’s mating cry)
These behaviors send signals to nearby female cats in heat and fellow tomcats. The distinct mating calls lure fertile queens to the tomcat’s territory, while the spraying and aggression serve as a warning to competing tomcats — “Stay away!”
Unspayed female cats — also called “queens” — become fertile every 2-3 weeks as they begin a new estrous cycle (heat). This six-day fertility window will trigger behavioral changes in queens as they desperately search for a tomcat to mate with, such as:
- Yowling and other vocalizations
- Excess grooming
- Vertical spraying
- Low appetite
- A desire to escape and roam outdoors
Once a female in heat mates with a tomcat, her ovaries will release an egg (induced ovulation). This heat will last another 1-2 days after a mating session with two possible end-scenarios: Fertilization (pregnancy) or a new cycle beginning 2-3 weeks later.
The feline mating season doesn’t start on any one day of the year, and the early signs can be easy to overlook. The video below reveals the most unmistakable signs that a kitty is in the heat:
When Is Mating Season for Cats?
Feline mating season peaks during the spring and summer months, though it tends to be a year-round possibility in specific environments. The precise start and end dates for breeding season depend on two factors: Daylight hours and average temperatures.
Warmth and longer days (14 to 16+ hours) usually spark mating season’s annual kick-off:
- Western Hemispheres (Americas, Europe, and Oceania): March through September
- Eastern Hemisphere (Europe and Asia): February through December
Intriguingly, outdoor cats living closer to the equator and strictly indoor cats exposed to artificial light may never fully enter or exit breeding season — it’s a year-round occurrence! Cats can technically breed all 12 months a year, so long as there’s a female in heat and a willing tomcat.
How Many Kittens Can a Cat Have per Litter?
A female cat will continue cycling in and out of heat until she falls pregnant or undergoes an ovariohysterectomy (spaying surgery). Pregnant queens will carry a litter of kittens for between 58 and 67 days before going into labor, pacing compulsively, vocalizing loudly, and finally finding a secluded location to give birth. Most feline litters average about four kittens apiece.
Kittens require near 24/7 care during their first few weeks, relying on mom for warmth, security, and nourishment. Once a mother cat weans her litter and stops nursing (breastfeeding), she’ll return to a regular heat cycle — every 2-3 weeks.
A female cat can get pregnant again as early as eight weeks post-delivery, assuming she’s still in the throes of the mating season! Female cats can deliver up to five litters and 20 kittens a year with a nine to ten-month long breeding season.
When Do Male Cats Stop Mating?
Male cats typically reach puberty and sexual maturity between the ages of four and 12 months. But while declining testosterone levels can trigger infertility in male humans, tomcats could continue mating until (or unless) they:
- No longer have access to a fertile female kitty
- Suffer from infertility themselves (common in tortoiseshells and calicos)
- Are pseudohermaphrodites (reproductive abnormalities boasting male and female traits)
- Experience a low libido
- Remain indoors
- Undergo an orchiectomy (neutering surgery)
A stud might continue breeding well into his senior years, just like queens! But whereas female cats might give birth to 180 kittens in 12 to 15 years (the average life span), tomcats have near-unlimited breeding potential.
How To Stop a Cat From Mating
Because male and female cats can continue reproducing throughout their lifetimes, the annual mating season always carries a pregnancy risk. To stop cats from mating altogether:
Get Your Cat Fixed
As long as a female cat releases eggs and a male cat produces sperm, nothing will suppress a cat’s desire to mate — except getting him or her fixed! Removing the testicles (in males) and ovaries (in females) as early as three months old can:
- Prevent (or limit) spraying, aggression, and territorial instinct
- Lower the breast cancer risk by 90% (females)
- Lower the testicular cancer risk (males)
- Reduces household escapes and desire to roam
Unless you have a pedigreed cat you intend to breed, there’s no harm in spaying or neutering your cat. Early fixing will prevent mating instincts and improve your kitty’s health long-term.
Keep Your Cat Inside
A cat can only mate and reproduce if he or she has access to the opposite sex! Keeping your kitty strictly indoors is the most obvious solution. However, a cat who isn’t fixed will still go through heat and rut cycles during the breeding season.
In other words, your cat isn’t immune to spraying instincts, escape attempts, unrelenting restlessness, or borderline aggression just because he or she stays inside 24/7. A plug-in pheromone diffuser can help soothe an anxious kitty during mating season as you weather this annual storm.
Separate Male & Female Cats
The feline breeding instinct can cause immense tension in a household where one or more kitties aren’t spayed or neutered. Scuffles, territorial spraying, and pregnancy all become looming concerns. Cats with high libidos might even mate with their own siblings or parents as they attempt to satisfy their urges. Separating male and female cats into different rooms during mating season can be a last resort.
Nobody is disputing the kitten “cute factor.” But allowing your unspayed and unneutered cats to explore during the mating season could worsen the global cat overpopulation.
One cat birthing 12 kittens a year could snowball into over 2,072,514 more cats eight years down the road! Homeless cats flood animal shelters by the millions (3.7 million, to be exact) and are rapidly depleting native bird populations (2.4 billion a year).
Play your part — there are two ways to survive a feline mating season without a litter:
- Neuter or spay your cat.
- Keep your kitty strictly indoors.
- Animal League: Cats Multiply Pyramid
- Kitten Coalition
- American Bird Conservancy: Cats and Birds: A Bad Combination
- ASPCA: Urine Marking in Cats
- VCA Hospitals: The Cat’s Meow! Caterwauling in Cats
- VCA Hospitals: Estrous Cycles in Cats
- MSPCA: Ask a Vet: All You Need to Know About Spay/Neuter Surgery
- Vet West: CAT BREEDING AT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR
- ASPCA: Spay/Neuter Your Pet