Two cats grooming each other.
Two cats grooming one another. Photography by karamysh | Shutterstock.

Cats in Heat: What Exactly Happens?

What exactly is a cat “in heat,” what are the signs of cats in heat and how long are cats in heat? Here's what you need to know about cats in heat.
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The symptoms of cats in heat can try the patience of even the most loving pet owners, which is why veterinarians recommend having female cats spayed before the first heat cycle occurs. Cats in heat have entered the phase of the feline reproduction cycle that’s characterized by her receptiveness to males and to mating. This phase is also known as estrus. In the world of cat breeding, unspayed females are known as “queens.”

What is cat estrus? When do cats first go into heat?

A gray cat kissing an orange cat.
When do cats first go into heat? Photography ©Voren1 | Thinkstock.

Cat estrus begins as animals reach sexual maturity, usually at about six months of age, although some cats will go into heat as early as four months and others as late as 10 to 12 months.

Cats are considered to be polyestrous, meaning they have several heat cycles a year (in contrast to dogs, which are diestrous and typically have two heat cycles a year). This means that breeding cats can produce a litter at any time of the year, even though springtime is often considered to be “kitten season.”

Signs of estrus or cats in heat:

Even if you’ve never been around cats in heat before, you’re very likely to know something is going on with your pet — the behaviors she uses to get the attention of a potential mate will no doubt get your attention as well. The signs of cats in heat or cats experiencing estrus can mimic signs of pain or distress in your cat, and include the following:

  1. Your cat is likely to become extremely affectionate, constantly rubbing up against you, other animals in the household or even the furniture.
  2. When you stroke or pet your cat, she may instinctively assume the mating position, with her head down low and hindquarters raised high.
  3. She’ll become noticeably more vocal, and her vocalizations will include unusually loud yowls that are designed to gain the attention of a mate.
  4. She may spray a fine stream of urine around your home as she marks her territory in an effort to lure in a mate.
  5. Your cat may exhibit restless pacing, or may roll back and forth on the floor constantly.
  6. Cats in heat may lose their appetites completely.
  7. In some cases, cats in heat may persistently lick their genitals, which are likely to be engorged and swollen. You may also notice a bloody discharge.
  8. Your cat may make continued attempts to escape from your home in her efforts to find a mate. This may include clawing at window screens or dashing out the door when it opens.

How to handle cats in heat:

If you don’t want kittens, keep cats in heat indoors. If cats in heat do get out, they’re more at risk for contracting infectious diseases, such as feline leukemia, from any infected male cats that they attempt to breed with.

Remember that responsible cat breeders carefully screen and select the male cats they breed with their queens, not only to ensure a purebred pedigree, but also to prevent such transmission of disease.

How long are cats in heat?

So, how long are cats in heat? Typically, the estrous phase will last between a week and 10 days. However, if your cat isn’t able to mate and become pregnant, she’ll very likely go into heat again sometime within the next three weeks. Some cats who aren’t allowed to breed may seem to be more or less constantly in heat.

How can you prevent a cat from going into heat?

The only way to prevent the heat cycle from repeating over and over again, along with the distress it causes both you and your pet, is to have your female cat spayed. It is a myth that cats should be allowed to go through one heat cycle or even to have one litter before spaying. Early spaying is widely regarded as the most ethical course for pet owners to take, in light of the millions of animals who are euthanized at pet shelters each year. It’s simply irresponsible to bring another litter of kittens into the world when there are already too few homes for existing animals.

Spaying is considered major surgery because it involves entering the abdomen to remove both ovaries and the uterus, yet the procedure is safe and routine when performed by a qualified vet. And although it’s possible to perform the surgery at any time of the estrous cycle, most veterinarians decline to spay cats in heat because the engorged blood vessels in the reproductive organs create an increased risk of heavy bleeding.

Thumbnail: Photography by karamysh / Shutterstock.

This piece was originally published in 2012.

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52 thoughts on “Cats in Heat: What Exactly Happens?”

  1. My cat has been through many cycles without mating at all since she’s an indoor cat (for 3 years). I have had a traumatic experience with my first female cat where she died after being spayed and that’s the reason why I haven’t send my current cat to be spayed yet. I actually feel bad about not sending my cat for the surgery, is it safe to go now?

    1. As long as she is healthy, it is safe. Consider talking with your veterinarian about your fears, and your traumatizing experience, and they will help you through it and make you more comfortable with your choice.

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  4. I have been feeding a stray. Our neighbors have male cats, not all are neutered, she became pregnant. She disappeared when it was time for her to deliver, when she came back alone, I thought something must have happened to the kittens, but about a week later she brought them to the woods near the house. The kittens still nurse, but also eat the dry food I put out for her. The kittens scatter when I open the door and the mother has never let me touch her. I would get her spayed if I could trap her, and the kittens. Also, I have seen a Tom mounting her. I don’t want anymore cats to take care of. Could she be pregnant again?

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  9. I have four females that have appointments on Tuesday for their spay surgeries! Problem is, two of them are going through their first heat cycle right now. It’s driving me looney but we refuse to let them out because I don’t want them to get pregnant. It’s a litter of kittens from a stray cat that decided my chicken coop was the best place for her babies (I think not!) I hope everyone is able to at least get their females fixed if not their males. We take in strays or unwanted cats because of the euthanasia epidemic in America.

  10. Brenda D Lafaso

    I have had a lot of cats and there babies i have never had a male that thinks she still in heat she is pg and about to have them .but the male will not leave her along does anyone know what i can Do

    1. GET THE CAT SPAYED. There are too many stray cats and kittens without homes that are being DESTROYED in “shelters.” Bringing more into the world is cruel.

    2. He is either trying to establish dominance or there is a queen in estrous in your neighborhood/area. If the male is yours I suggest getting him neutered. If he isn’t yours, a lot of Humane Societies/Shelters do a program called TNR (Trap Neuter Release) It would be free of charge to you and you can release him right back where he came from! The Humane Society/Shelter will give you more information, all you have to do is call and ask.

    3. Usually, you can let them breed each other or get her/him spayed. If not these two choices just keep him/her in a separate room until the heat is gone. Honestly, I let my cat breed and get kittens. After some time we spayed her.

    4. Life is Life . I hope u allowed the kittens to live and s/n everyone. That is the practice of our Humane Society here. The Cat Coalition spays pregnant cats which is why the Humane Society here distances themselves from them.

      I am dealing with cats around the condos here – I do not kill unborn life. That in itself is the most extreme form of cruelty. Being consistent in takng responsibility with each life that exists is humane. U don’t kill the product of a social problem to fix a social problem.

    1. Hi Jenna,

      Please see more signs of a cat in heat here:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/signs-cat-in-heat
      https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/cat-in-heat-sounds-what-do-cats-in-heat-sound-like

  11. My cat seems to be continually in season,she is approximately five,she is an indoor cat and so I’ve never had her spayed,is there anything I can do for her

  12. A few years ago we adopted a mom cat and 2 of her kittens that had been left at our vet’s office in a box when the kittens eyes had not even opened. The mom cat became in heat as soon as the kittens stopped nursing and she seemed to be in heat constantly. The vet didn’t want to spay her while she was in heat, but finally had to. One thing for sure, having a cat in heat was not near the problem that having a German Shepard in heat was when I was a kid.

  13. I have a little rescue kitty with tetralogy of fallot so vet said she would not survive surgery. She is in heat now for the first time, she is 6 months old. She will mostly have a very short life but will probably have a few more estrous cycles. Any way to minimize duration, frequency, & intensity of cycles?

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  15. No I don’t think I asked because I would of remembered.Is it possible to get question answered? I don’t want her pregnant too.plesssssssse.

  16. Hi,I have a little cat She might be over 1 yr. I don”t know.I got 2 female cats from someone but they didn’t know anything about them.I was given warning about them going in to heat the How long and all that well the bigger one I let outside because of know symptoms but a cat started chasing her well she’s pregnant now I ‘m worried about the other one because she has no symptoms. Do they go into heat every month or every other etc.
    I’m paranoid I guess but I can’t afford her to be spayed. She has a herniated unbiblical cord?I think that’s what Vet said and would cost $230.

    1. Hi Sherry,

      Thanks for reaching out. There are low-cost / no-cost spay and neuter clinics out there. Here are some resources to find them:
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/affordable-vet-care-for-your-cat
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/what-to-do-if-you-need-help-with-vet-bills

      Here’s how to care for your pregnant cat — and please get her spayed after she gives birth:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-health-5-stages-cat-pregnancy
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/how-to-care-for-a-pregnant-cat

  17. I am new to cats. A friend had a cat that had kittens 10/24/17, I took 2 female bobtails. One is now in heat (I was told it’s best to let them go through one heat before spaying), I can’t watch her go through this. I am constantly holding her and, although I realize she is not in pain, I feel SO bad. How can I call her, and how soon after her heat can I have her spayed?

  18. My cat is in heat now. (She was a pregnant stray, had complications and now can’t be spayed for another 3 months). Do all cats spray in heat/how likely is a cat to spray? She is in an apartment on a very high floor, so no chance of seeing a tomcat. What is the best way to calm her over the next few heat cycles?

    1. Michaela Conlon

      Hi Stella!

      Thanks for reaching out. Here are two articles for more information on spraying and cats in heat:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-tips-spray-stop-sprayingthe-behavior
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/signs-cat-in-heat

  19. I have yet to spay my year old female..it’s been 3 cycles now. I live in a flat on a high floor so she doesn’t get out. I give her a run of the house but her yowling is so loud I’m afraid it might annoy the neighbours. So I try to distract her with her fav chase games in the hope of making her tired. But it also makes me tired myself! I can only play for so long till she gets disinterested. I stay up as late as I can and when I go to bed I have to keep her in another room with food/water/a litter box and shut the door. Just so I (and the nearest neighbour!) can get some sleep. She’s in there for a good 6 hours. I’m wondering if being cooped up distresses her further. Vets are expensive and I haven’t yet got enough funds to get by.

    1. Hi Debra,

      There are low cost spay / neuter clinics that could help spay your cat. Please check these pieces out:
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/affordable-vet-care-for-your-cat
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/what-to-do-if-you-need-help-with-vet-bills

  20. My kitten is meowing like crazy but she doesn’t like outside I don’t know what it could be she is staring through the window and being extra cuddly it’s starting to get really annoying she is around nine or ten months old and is starting to go outside more but the farthes she will go is three feet from the house and do you think that the only way I could fix it is by getting her a companion she is not spayed and I do not know what to do. Any advice?

    1. Hi Kylie,

      Thanks for reaching out. Please look into having your cat spayed — there are low-cost spay and neuter clinics out there.
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/what-to-do-if-you-need-help-with-vet-bills
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/affordable-vet-care-for-your-cat

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  22. I need a life lmao, Im only here because of the so called “omega” and “alpha” (verses) fan fiction. Lmao can you help me? I seriously need help xD

  23. I have a spirit cat.. She will only allow me to touch her.. I want to have her spayed but don’t know how to do that.. I have never been able to pick her up never mind move her from house to vet.. Think it would undo all the trust I have build with here. It has taken me a year to be able to touch her. She stayed under my bed for months. What do I do… Does anyone know how to spay a spirit cat??

    1. belvoir admin

      Hi Bobbie,

      Thanks for reaching out. We suggest discussing this issue with your vet. These articles might be helpful, too:
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/how-to-get-your-cat-to-the-vet
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/adopt-a-cat-stray-cats-adoption-tips
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/bond-with-new-cat

    2. Iam having the same problem I am worried about all the progress I made with my little girl, I have a appointment to have her spayed 2 days from now , she also sleeps under my bed but lately she’s been more trusting of me and comes to me let’s me hold and pet her, but I am worried after Friday she will hate me when I take her in to be sprayed but I know it has to be done sooner then later, so think of it this way the longer we wait and the closer she gets to you the worse it will be so have it done while she’s young and she will forget about all the fear ( be strong ) and good luck!!!

      Sincerely
      Kit

  24. Whittney Rutledge

    My car was in heat and got out the door, ever since she came back in she has stopped meowing and acting like she’s in heat! Does this mean shes pregnant? There was two male cats chasing her when I found her! Step son left the door open on accident! Thanks

    1. Hi Whitney,
      Sorry to hear your cat got out! We suggest taking her to the vet ASAP for an evaluation.
      These articles might help, too:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/signs-cat-in-heat
      https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/cat-in-heat-sounds-what-do-cats-in-heat-sound-like
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/how-to-care-for-a-pregnant-cat
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-health-5-stages-cat-pregnancy
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/how-long-is-cat-pregnancy

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