Cats have drastically different reproductive cycles than humans do. If you’re not up to speed, you might find yourself faced with confusion or frustration over your cat’s sudden behavioral changes and seemingly never-ending heat cycles.
One of the most common questions cat owners have is how long their unspayed kitty will stay in heat. While there isn’t an exact answer—heat cycles can vary from cat to cat and region to region—here are some facts to help you get a better understanding of your cat’s cycle.
Understanding your cat’s reproductive cycle
Most female cats reach sexual maturity around six months of age. While cats this young are still technically considered kittens in terms of nutrition and behavior, they begin to experience their heat cycle early on. Some cats may even go into their first heat as early as four months old!
Once their first heat begins, cats will experience a cycle with numerous stages throughout the year.
Proestrus is the stage right before your cat goes into heat. This stage lasts one to two days, during which your cat might exhibit a few behavioral changes like raising her rear end and rubbing up on furniture or you more than usual.
The actual heat stage is call estrus. At this point in your cat’s cycle, she can become pregnant if she mates with a male cat. This is the when most pet parents sense something is different in their cat because their behavior changes drastically. Female cats in heat typically yowl, pace, demand attention, roll on the floor or mark furniture. One thing cats do not do during their heat cycle, however, is bleed.
Estrus typically lasts one or two weeks, although some female cats might be in heat for as little as three days and as long as 19 days.
If your cat does not become pregnant while she is in heat, she will enter the next stage of her cycle—interestrus. During this time, your cat should go back to her normal behavior.
What often confuses new cat owners is that interestrus isn’t the end of their cat’s heat cycle. During mating season, which typically runs throughout the warmer months, female cats will experience multiple heats, each two to three weeks apart. This means they might spend one to two weeks in heat, followed by two or three weeks of quiet, followed by another one to two weeks of heat. For most cats, this cycle will continue through the end of the summer. So, when you think your kitty’s heat is over, it likely won’t be long until the next one begins.
Once mating season ends, your cat will enter the final stage of her reproductive cycle for the year—anestrus. This stage is characterized by normal behavior and no heat cycles until mating season begins in the spring.
Tips for dealing with a cat in heat
Female cats in heat are known to cause problems for their owners because of their drastic and sometimes frantic behavioral changes. These changes, paired with the frequent heat cycles, can leave you feeling at wits’ end. Is there any way to get your cat to relax?
There isn’t a lot you can do to get your cat to stop exhibiting her restless mating behavior, but you might be able to do a few things to help.
- Keep her inside: When female cats are in heat, they often act out to attract a male cat to mate with, hence the constant yowling and pacing. But some cats will go even further and try to escape the home in search of a mate! Keep your kitty inside at all times and watch to make sure she does not dash out the door to prevent pregnancy and the health complications that might come with it.
- Help her nest: Cats in heat can sometimes be calmed down with warm, cozy spots where they can rest. Use heating pads and comfy blankets to create a safe haven or “nest” for your kitty and encourage her to relax there. You might also want to give her pet melatonin or an herbal supplement to help her stay calm.
- Give her love: When cats are in heat, they’re more likely to be affectionate and demanding of attention from you. Use this opportunity to shower your kitty with love and distract her! Cuddles and grooming are great for relaxation, but don’t underestimate the power of playtime to tire her out.
- Have her spayed: If you don’t want to have to manage your cat’s heat cycle all spring and summer long, the easiest thing you can do is have her spayed. Many cats get spayed before their first heat cycle even starts, but the surgery can be done after, as well. Spaying your female kitty also has other benefits, such as a reduced risk of mammary cancer and population control for stray cats.
A cat’s heat cycle can vary, but the important things to know are that your cat will go into heat multiple times per year and that precautions should be taken to prevent pregnancy. Once you become more familiar with your cat’s cycle, you’ll be able to help keep her calm as she experiences the different reproductive stages.