Symptoms of a Cat in Heat

"Let me out! I see a handsome male cat!"
"Let me out! I see a handsome male cat!" (Image: nata789/iStock/Getty Images)

Many first-time cat owners are baffled when a female cat goes into her first heat cycle. The cat acts peculiarly and yowls incessantly. You may think she's sick, but she's trying to attract a male cat. Spay your cat, if you are not a breeder, to spare yourself and your cat the stress and aggravation of her estrus.

Heat Cycle Frequencies

A feline female starts her first heat cycle at about 5 to 6 months of age. A cat is polyestrous, meaning she can have many heat cycles in the course of a year. Female cats living in the Northern Hemisphere usually have cycles from January until late in the fall; however, indoor cats can cycle all year long. The entire estrus cycle from start to finish can last from one week to three weeks, depending on the cat.

Proestrus Stage

Proestrus lasts one to two days as the first stage of heat. The signs you'll see include increased appetite, short calls and more affection shown to you and others in your family. In this stage of heat, your cat might rub on furniture, roll on the floor and demand more stroking than normal.

Estrus Stage

Estrus is the second stage of heat; the female is receptive to males for about four to six days. A feline makes alarming, long cries as if she is in pain to attract males. If you hold your feline friend by the back of the neck while she is standing, and stroke her from her hear to her tail, she will arch her back, move her tail to the side and tread her back feet up and down. This is characteristic of a mating position. Your cat may try to escape the home through an open door or scratch at window screens to find a male to mate with her.

Interestrus Stage

Interestrus is the third stage of heat: The female cat refuses to mate and is aggressive to males. This stage lasts about 7 to 14 days. If she mates but does not get pregnant, she will have a psuedopregnancy that lasts about 36 days. If she does not mate, your cat will start the heat cycle over again.

Anestrus Stage

Anestrus is the final stage of heat, in which a cat has a reproductive rest. It is generally a 90-day period from about November through January.

Behavioral Issues and Considerations

Along with the extra affection your cat requires during estrus, the meowing can be distracting. Some females urinate more in proestrus; many will mark territory by spraying fixtures with urine, potentially damaging walls and furniture. Male cats may spray the exterior of your home and try to bolt into your house to breed. The ASPCA recommends spaying cats when they start their first estrus. You and your cat will not miss the stress associated with estrus.

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