- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
If you have a female cat, your vet is going to recommend you get her spayed. But in certain circumstances (for example, if you take in a stray), you might not be able to get your pet spayed before she goes into heat. And if you find yourself with a cat in heat, it’s important to understand what to expect—and how long the process is going to last.
So, when it comes to female felines, how long do cats stay in heat? What can you expect from your cat while she’s experiencing it?
The term “in heat” refers to the time period during a cat’s reproductive cycle when she is able to become pregnant. Cats only experience being in heat when they reach sexual maturity—which is typically around the six-month mark. Depending on the cat, they may hit sexual maturity slightly earlier or later.
When a cat is in heat, the cycle can last anywhere from one to two weeks. But while the length of the cycle is pretty standard, the frequency can be a bit harder to pin down.
Unlike human females (who have a regular reproductive cycle), a cat’s reproductive cycle is less predictable. Cats are polyestrous, which means they go into heat—and can become pregnant—multiple times per year. The time between cycles can last anywhere between a few days to a few weeks.
For cats that live outdoors and are exposed to nature on a daily basis, the hormone cycle is triggered by sunlight. Outdoor cats go into heat far more often from spring to fall, when there are more sunlight hours throughout the day. But sunlight isn’t the only cause for a cat going into heat.
When cats aren’t exposed to the elements, the hormone cycle can be harder to predict. Indoor cats who are exposed to artificial lighting may go into heat at any time of the year, seemingly without warning.
So, in a nutshell, when a cat is in heat, it typically lasts one to two weeks. If your cat isn’t spayed, they’re likely to be in heat multiple times throughout the year.
Although predicting when a cat is going into heat can be difficult, figuring out that they’re already in heat is significantly easier.
Common behaviors of cats in heat include:
- Increased vocalization. You’re probably used to a few well-timed “meows” from your pet, but when a cat is in heat, their vocalization goes into overdrive. Cats will howl, cry, and meow—often and loudly—as a way to attract male cats.
- Increased affection. Cats in heat can be extra affectionate with their humans. When they’re in heat, cats love to be pet, stroked, and scratched—particularly on their back and rear. So, if your cat is all of a sudden more snuggly and affectionate than usual, it could be a sign they’re in heat.
- Spraying urine. This seems to be another signal to male cats that female cats are in heat.
- Rubbing their face on you or other items around the house. Like spraying, cats rub their face on things to spread their scent. If you notice your cat rubbing their face on your jeans, your couch, or your floor, it could be a sign they’re trying to spread their scent far and wide in hopes of attracting a mate.
- Putting their hindquarters in the air. If your cat puts their tail end in the air and gives it a little wiggle, it’s another way to signal that they’re on the market for a mate.
Clearly, some of these behaviors can be problematic for a pet parent. Not to mention that if your cat gets pregnant, you’ll have a whole other issue to tackle. So, the question is, how can you keep your cat from going into heat?
The only way to keep your cat from going into heat is to get them spayed. According to the ASPCA, you can spay kittens as early as eight weeks. Ideally, you’ll have them spayed before their first heat, which happens around five months.
Spaying will not only keep your cat from going into heat (and help you prevent any unwanted behaviors or pregnancies), but it can also support their long-term health. Spaying your cat before her first heat can help lower her risk for both uterine cancers and breast tumors, according to the ASPCA.