Cats are second to none when it comes to reproducing. Unlike dogs, which have two heat cycles a year, cats have several a year. If you're the owner of an unspayed cat, it might seem like Princess is constantly in heat, which might not be too far from the truth!
Usually cats go into their first heat cycle around 6 months of age, but it is possible for your kitty to have her first cycle as young as 4 months. Oriental breeds such as Siamese and Burmese typically go into heat at around 5 months, while larger and long-haired breeds such as Persians and Maine coons are usually around 10 months old when they experience their first cycle.
Signs of Heat
When a cat is in heat, or estrus, you will definitely know it. Yowls that sound as if she’s in pain, overly affectionate behavior, even toward strangers, swaying her back to raise her rear quarters into the air, trying to escape outside – these are all signs that Princess is under the spell of instinctive mating behavior. Anytime you pet her anywhere near her hips, she will “assume the position.” Once she’s in heat, your vet might want to wait until the cycle is finished to spay her, because there is an increased risk of surgical bleeding.
Frequency and Length
The heat cycle typically lasts seven to 10 days, but if Cleo isn’t able to mate, she is likely to go right back into heat within three weeks. This can make it seem like she is constantly in heat. Cat cycles are not seasonal – she can go into heat any time of year, and will! Also, cats do not have menopause, so she will not grow out of it. Even if she’s nursing a litter of kittens, you won’t get much of a break. Mama cat can become pregnant again even before her litter is weaned.
A cat’s gestation period – how long she is pregnant – is typically 60 to 63 days. The act of mating causes cats to ovulate, so although not common, it is possible for a single litter to contain kittens from different fathers. The first sign of pregnancy occurs at about three weeks into her pregnancy, when her nipples will get larger and pinker. She will be eating for several so her appetite will likely increase. She might also be more affectionate, purring and seeking out petting sessions. She will sleep more, become quieter and will be less interested in going outside. Her heat cycles will stop, and she will definitely not be interested in male cats.
Most shelters require spay/neuter before adoption, so if you adopt a kitten, she will undergo early age, or pediatric spaying, which can be performed on kittens that weigh at least 2 pounds. Veterinarians routinely recommend that cats be spayed before they go into their first heat cycle, not only to prevent unwanted litters, but to prevent the development of mammary gland tumors. Vets report that the pediatric surgery can be performed more quickly than on older cats and your kitty recovers faster from surgery when she's younger.
Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.