8 Signs That Your Cat Is in Heat

Cat with tail in the air
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If you have a female cat of reproductive age that has not been spayed, you can expect that your cat will go into estrus, which is commonly called being in heat. Estrus is the period in which the female cat is receptive to mating and can be impregnated. There are several typical signs of a cat in heat, and this estrus period can be quite disruptive.

When Cats Go Into Heat

A female cat that is not spayed is called a queen. A female kitten will have matured enough to go through its first estrus at an average age of 6 months, but she can be as young as 4 months and as old as 12 months. Queens will go into heat seasonally in the spring and fall. If your cat isn't impregnated while in heat, you can expect another estrus cycle to follow in two to three weeks, and repeat through the season. Other factors such as hours of daylight and additional cats in their environment will influence the cycle. 

Cats are induced ovulators, meaning they release an egg to be fertilized only after mating. Because cats ovulate with each mating—be it with the same or different male cat—mating often results in pregnancy. Spaying is the best way to prevent a litter of kittens. If your female cat has not been spayed, it's wise to familiarize yourself with these common signs of heat before they occur.

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8 Signs That Your Cat Is in Heat

Cats do not always exhibit the same signs during each estrus cycle, so you should be familiar with several of these symptoms. Expect symptoms to last for about a week, varying from 3 to 14 days.

  • Vocalizing or calling: You can expect meowing and yowling, sometimes to the point of sounding as if the cat is in pain. It's not clear whether a cat in heat is in pain, but certainly many cats appear quite distressed. A cat will frequently prowl around the house wailing or vocalizing. It can sound like a plaintive, distressed cry, or it can be loud and long enough to keep you up at night. However, if you cat is naturally vocal, then this isn't a definitive sign of being in heat.
  • Excessive affection: Your cat may rub around your ankles so much that it becomes impossible to walk without being tripped. It may also rub against furniture, door frames and the floor with its cheeks and chin as that's where its scent glands are located. A cat's scent changes when it is in heat and it is trying to advertise that it is available for mating.
  • Estrus posture: Its rump will rise in the air, and its hind feet may appear to "tread" the carpet. This is sometimes called "making biscuits."
  • Deflection reflex: Your cat may move its tail to one side, which is commonly seen along with the estrus posture. You can see this reaction if you rub its lower back, particularly over its pelvis and tail base. This reflex allows the male easier access for mating purposes.
  • Wants to escape: An indoor cat that suddenly wants to be outdoors at every opportunity. However, this also may be related to changes in the behavior of housemate cats or new cats appearing in the neighborhood.
  • Excessive licking of the genital area: You may notice that the cat's vulva is swollen or has a slight discharge. Note: If you suspect urinary problems (also indicated by excessive licking of genital area or frequent trips to the litter box), it is important to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Commando crawling: A cat may flatten its front quarters close to the ground, stick its rear end in the air, and then crawl along the floor in this posture.
  • Spraying: Female cats may spray on objects around the house while in heat, as the urine will have pheromones to attract male cats. You may also notice signs of spraying from male cats that are attracted to your house and yard by your female cat.
Close-up of cat miaowing
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What to Do When Your Cat Is in Heat

Prevention by having your female cat spayed before its first heat is the best option. But some cats mature faster and it's easy to get caught by surprise. Your cat can be spayed while in heat, although this may cost more as it has a few more risks of bleeding and complications.

If you must wait it out, just give your cat extra attention, petting, holding, and playtime. These can be comforting and distracting for your cat.