We all know how important it is to have our cat companions spayed or neutered. But sometimes time gets away from even the best-intentioned cat caretakers — and before you know it, you’ve got a cat in heat on your hands. Don’t delay a trip to the vet if you see the following signs.
This is the first sign of proestrus, the earliest stage of a cat’s estrus, or heat, cycle. Other things you might notice are tomcats gathering around your home because your cat’s pheromones are attracting them. If you don’t notice the cats, you’ll probably notice their calling cards: You can’t miss the stench of tomcat spray.
Your cat’s vulva might be slightly enlarged and moist, but you probably won’t notice this because 1) she’ll probably lick off any discharge, and 2) because the odds are you’re not into closely examining your cat’s genitals. Proestrus lasts one or two days.
When you hear a female cat in heat calling, the sound can be downright bone-chilling. As her urge to mate grows, the calls become almost alarming, as if she’s in pain. It can also make you crazy, because as her heat ramps up, the calling is going to get louder and more insistent, and could become almost constant.
If there weren’t tomcats at your doorstep before, there sure will be once your cat starts calling. Calling is an indication that she’s in full heat, or estrus.
If you thought your cat was a lovebug before, now she’ll probably be glued to you, constantly demanding your attention, weaving in and out of your legs, rubbing against you, shaking her pelvis, and rolling on the floor. But if you pick her up while she’s rolling around, she may grab your arm or even bite.
If you stroke your cat’s back while she’s in heat, she’ll raise her hips to stick her butt in the air, twitch her tail to the side, and start treading with her hind feet.
These last three signs indicate that your cat is in full-on estrus and extremely receptive to being mated. She may become an escape artist, doing whatever she can to scratch her hormonal itch. Estrus lasts four to six days.
After your cat has been through the week to 10 days of proestrus and estrus, more commonly known as "heat," she’ll go into the third stage, known as interestrus. During this stage, she’ll refuse to mate and aggressively attack any tomcat that gets in her way. If she didn’t mate during the heat cycle, she’ll remain in this interestrus stage for one to two weeks, and the whole process will start all over again.
If your cat is older than about five months and begins showing these signs, get her to the vet for her spay as soon as you can. Cats will continue to go in and out of heat until they get pregnant or get spayed.
Cats who aren’t spayed have a much higher risk of developing mammary and uterine cancer, as well as polycystic ovaries, due to constantly fluctuating hormone levels. Spaying also eliminates the risk of a potentially fatal uterine infection called pyometra (I once saw a cat at a vet clinic that was dying from pyometra, and it was truly horrible). Your cat’s behavior will improve and you won’t have boy cats coming over to visit at all hours of the day and night.
But spaying isn’t just good for your cat — it’s good for your community, too. The fewer unwanted kittens that are brought into the world, the fewer cats will be killed in shelters due to lack of space.