Signs Your Cat is in Heat

Cat with tail in the air
A cat will often let you know it is in heat by lifting its tail up. Alex Barlow/Getty Images

All female cats will naturally go through a heat cycle if they have not been spayed. This heat cycle is referred to as estrous and it means a cat is ready to breed. There are a few key indications that a cat may be in heat and it is useful for cat owners who may be otherwise wondering why their cat's behavior has changed to recognize these things.

What is a Heat Cycle for a Cat?

An unspayed, female cat is called a queen and has reproductive organs that include a uterus and ovaries. These reproductive organs go through a normal cycle, called estrous or more commonly a heat cycle, that allows reproduction to occur. During a heat cycle in most mammals, an egg is released from the ovaries in order to produce offspring and this is called ovulation. But since cats are induced ovulators, they don't release eggs during estrous until they breed. They do, however, still have hormonal fluctuations, along with some blood vessel engorgement, during a heat cycle that means their body is telling them it's time to breed.

When Do Cats Go Into Heat?

Female cats naturally go into their first heat cycle at about 6 months of age but it may occur anywhere between 4 and 12 months of age. This first heat cycle is called puberty and a cat can get pregnant during any of its heat cycles, including the first one. Cats are seasonally polyestrus which means they go into heat on a seasonal schedule, specifically in the Spring and Fall.

How Long Does a Cat Stay In Heat?

A cat is usually in heat for less than a week and if it doesn't mate it will go out of heat and then back into heat again. This can occur multiple times in a season.

Cat Heat Cycle Symptoms

Unlike a dog, cats do not show very obvious physical signs when they are in heat. Dogs develop a swollen vulva and bleed from their vaginal opening but since cats don't slough the uterine lining like a dog does in heat, usually no bleeding is present. Behavioral signs are more the norm for a cat.

Signs a Cat Is In Heat

  • Vocalizing
  • Urine spraying
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Demanding or pushy behavior
  • Rolling on the floor
  • Raising hind end into the air
  • Wiggling hind end when the back spine is stroked
  • Begging to go outside
  • Rubbing its face on things
Illustrations of the signs that your cat is in heat
 Illustration: Sunny Eckerle. © The Spruce, 2019

The first thing most people notice about a cat in heat is how much it vocalizes. Crying, meowing, and yowling are all often loudly heard from a cat in heat. These vocalizations are to get attention and let other cats know that they are in heat.

In addition to the noises, a cat in heat will also seek out attention and affection from its owner and other people. They love to be pet and stroked, especially down their backs and hind quarters. When pet, a cat in heat will often wiggle its hind end, its legs may tap dance, and its tail will be held high into the air. It may also rub its face on its owner and furniture excessively to spread its scent.

Other signs that a cat is in heat include it rolling on the floor, begging to go outside (even if it is an indoor-only cat) by scratching at the door, and even spraying urine. A cat will back up to a wall, wiggle its hind end, and spray urine to let other cats know it is in heat. A rush in hormones during the heat cycle cause a cat to have all these abnormal or exaggerated behaviors and they stop once a cat is no longer in heat.

What To Do When a Cat is In Heat

If you have a cat that is in heat, the attention-seeking behavior can be annoying and persistent. Breeding a cat in heat will of course stop the cycle but then a pregnancy is likely to result which will potentially leave you with even more cats that will come into heat. Getting a cat that is in heat spayed is the best way to manage the unwanted behavior. This will of course also ensure the cat never goes into heat again and avoid the unwanted behaviors that go along with it. Some veterinarians will want to wait until the current heat cycle has finished due to the increased risk of surgical bleeding while others will spay a cat while actively in heat.

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If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.