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How Often Do Cats Go Into Heat – The Estrous Cycles in Cats Explained

Picture of a cat in heat

Unlike female dogs, female cats do not cycle at regular intervals in a year. Cats tend to come into heat depending on the season. The mating season in cats can be determined by a variety of factors, and they range from the length of daylight to whether other cats in heat are present in the environment. If there are 10 hours of daylight available and other conditions are at optimum levels, a cat’s hormonal system is activated. The queen, therefore, starts the reproductive cycle. 

But how often does a cat, whether male or female, go into heat? And what else should you know if you are a cat parent? Find out the answers to these questions in the paragraphs below. 

How often does a female cat go into heat?

Since cats are seasonally polyestrous, they can have several cycles during their breeding season. We’ve already mentioned that the breeding season varies depending on environmental factors such as the number of daylight hours and the outside temperature. 

Cats typically cycle from January until late into the fall, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Those that live indoors or in tropical regions can cycle all year long. 

How long does cat estrus last?

Heat cycles usually last for several days. The average length of the heat period in cats is around six days. If the queen isn’t mated during this time, she will go out of heat. However, if this doesn’t happen, she could go into heat again, provided that the necessary conditions are available. The entire estrous cycle in cats lasts anywhere between 1 to 6 weeks. The average one is about 3 weeks long. 

Estrus signs

Vaginal bleeding isn’t as common in female cats as it is in female dogs. One of the most notable symptoms of estrus in cats deals with her behavior, not with any body changes. Cats that go into heat become very affectionate, to the point that they can be overbearing. They might rub against furniture, their owners, or even people they don’t usually like. They will seek attention almost continuously. 

Cats that are in heat are also quite vocal, especially during the night. Some urinate more frequently or can spray various objects. While this is typical behavior for male cats, it can be shown by female cats, as well. The urine contains hormones and pheromones and has the purpose of attracting unneutered male cats. It is said that male cats can sense the presence of a female in heat within the range of 100 meters. That’s how you might end up with tomcats in your neighborhood or your yard. They might try to get into your house and mate with your female cat, or they might at least spray urine on the house to get the territory marked as theirs.  

Reproductive cycle of cats

The estrous cycle of cats has four stages: anestrus, proestrus, estrus, and metestrus.

  • Anestrus is when the queen doesn’t come into heat, and her ovaries are inactive. In most of North America, this means from late September to mid-January. The short length of daylight, low light, and the temperature of the season are factors that suppress the heat cycles in cats during these months. However, indoor cats could be stimulated by artificial light sources, which means that they could start cycling even in the middle of winter as if it were early spring. 
  • Proestrus is the stage that immediately follows anestrus. In this stage, the cat’s ovaries start to become active, and they form follicles. This can take anything from one to four days. No discharge comes out of the cat’s vagina in this period, unlike what you’d see in a female dog. This is the stage at which the queen becomes restless, has less appetite, is more affectionate, and utters short, low calls. 
  • Estrus is the time when the cat can become pregnant. It is the period when breeders notice classic heat symptoms such as the cat yowling. This time span can last for 10 to 14 days or more. Once again, there are no modifications in terms of the cat’s vaginal discharge. 
  • Metestrus is what follows the estrus. Once the heat period has ended, the cat returns to her normal self and does not pay attention or accept males. 

Can you prevent your cat from becoming pregnant?

If your cat hasn’t been spayed and she lives with an unneutered male or goes out and has access to any tomcats, it is quite likely that you can’t do anything to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. There are medications that can interrupt a cat’s heat cycle, but many of them come with side effects. One of the most significant adverse reactions to such medication would be your cat’s ovaries developing cysts. 

While copulation in cats typically lasts for 10 seconds or even less, it’s often more than enough to ensure a pregnancy. This happens because cats are induced ovulators, which means that breeding stimulates the ovary to release the eggs. Besides, most females that are in heat will repeatedly mate over one to two days, making it even more difficult for pregnancy not to happen. 

The only sure and safe way of preventing a cat pregnancy is getting your pet spayed when she has reached the age of 6 months. Doing this before she has her first cycle can prevent ovarian cancer

Possible complications

If you do want your cat to become pregnant either because you breed cats or because you have found a suitable male for her, you might want to know that queens typically have little reproduction issues. 

Even so, there are some female cats that are shy, submissive, and easily intimidated by males. Because of this, they might experience little estrus behavior or unsuccessful copulation. Generally, the queen seeks the male, but in such situations, even though the male is fertile, there is no ovulation and no pregnancy.

If the female cat doesn’t show any breeding behavior, an inexperienced male cat won’t attempt repeated breeding. But if the male cat is experienced, he will help her and often breed despite her being shy. A vet can induce ovulation with Human Chorionic Gonadotropin if the copulation happened and semen is present. 

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