Female cats that have not been spayed (known as queens) will go into estrus or ‘heat’ several times during spring and autumn. Each period of estrus will last 3-14 days, with the most common length of time being seven days. During these estrus cycles, your cat will display specific behaviors that may or may not be problematic for you. The only way to stop these behaviors is to spay the animal.
Estrus cycle consists of several stages
Proestrus: This is the beginning of the period where males are attracted to the female, but she is not yet ready to mate. The female will not display any changes in behavior, but you will note the presence of male cats.
Estrus: This will last 3-14 days, with a week being the average length of time. The female is receptive to the male and ready to mate. She will display distinct behaviors, such as rolling on the floor, elevating her hindquarters and loud vocalizing. There will be very few external signs that she is ready to mate.
Interestrus: If the female has not mated, she will go into a stage where her appeal to males will decrease. For a period of 2-3 weeks, she will not display any signs of being in heat.
Metestrus (or Diestrus): If the female has mated, she will go through this cycle for a period of 4-6 weeks. If she has conceived, her pregnancy will last 60-64 days.
Anestrus: This stage typically lasts around 2-3 months and represents a period of no hormonal or behavioral activity in between estrus cycles.
Cats will generally have their first estrus cycle between six and 12 months of age. Cats will only ovulate when they are mated, which is why they will return to a state of estrus after a few weeks if they are not mated. It is possible for several males to be the fathers of kittens in a litter. Each time the female is mated, she will ovulate, resulting in kittens with different fathers in the same litter. Cats do not shed their uterine lining if they are not mated, so you should never see a bloody discharge after an estrus cycle.
Dealing with a cat in estrus
Remember that your cat’s hormones will be driving her to mate, so she will howl to attract a mate. She is not in pain. It is a natural way for female cats to attract a mate. It is likely that she will pace around and make every attempt to get outside, and when you pet her, she may well raise her rear end toward you. You can also expect her to lick her genital area and spray to mark her territory.
Spaying your cat to avoid this
If your cat is not a highly valuable, pedigreed animal, it is better that she be spayed to save litter after litter of kittens. The best time to spay her is around six months of age before she comes into her first estrus.
Cats can be spayed while in estrus or pregnant, but this carries a higher risk and can cost more. The blood vessels and tissues of the reproductive organs are engorged during this period, which increases the bleeding risk during surgery.
It is kinder to the cat, your neighborhood and your family to have her spayed as soon as possible so you can enjoy a wonderful pet without the unnecessary hassles of her coming into estrus. Feral cats can present a considerable challenge in many places. The birds and small mammals in the area are decimated as the cats forage, so be responsible and have your cat spayed before this happens.