Skip to main content

How often do cats go into heat? What you need to know

If you own a female cat, you may already call her queen because of the way she rules the house. But if your female cat hasn’t been spayed, “queen” is actually the correct terminology to use.

You can expect more from your queen than just an attitude, too. Because she can still reproduce, her body will go through noticeable hormonal cycles called estrus. These cycles, which will happen at regular intervals throughout her life, prepare your cat’s body for reproduction.

What do you need to know about your queen’s estrus, including how often it will happen and what you can expect from a cat in heat? We’ll answer your burning questions.

affectionate cat rubbing on owners legs
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When do cats start going into heat?

Cats can reproduce as early as 4 months of age. The average age of the first estrus (commonly known as a heat cycle) for a female cat is 6 months; however, it can begin as early as 4 months of age and, in some cases, happen as late as 12 months of age. It all depends upon your cat’s breed, her health, and the time of year.

Cats are seasonally polyestrous, which simply means they come into heat several times during the mating season. Your queen’s mating season will vary depending on where you live geographically. Cats living in environments with higher temperatures and more daylight hours and those that live indoors may experience heat cycles all year long. The breeding season for those living in colder climates with fewer daylight hours typically lasts from January until late fall.

A heat cycle can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and occur as often as every three to four weeks. Unlike humans, a queen does not experience menopause and will continue to cycle her entire life.

What can owners expect from cats in heat?

A queen’s estrus is very different from a human female’s menstrual cycle. Unlike humans, a cat doesn’t shed the lining of her uterus, so there is no vaginal bleeding. And while there may not be any visible physical changes, a queen in heat may exhibit some unusual behavioral changes such as:

  • Increased affection. Your cat’s desire to mate will be so strong during her cycles that she will demand your affection, often by rubbing up against your leg.
  • Howling. Known as “calling,” these loud cries are actually an attempt to attract a mate and not an indication that she is in any kind of (physical) pain.
  • Spraying. In addition to feeling very amorous, your queen is also feeling very territorial. Spraying the walls and furniture with strong-smelling urine is her way of telling any males in the area that she is available.
  • Loss of appetite. Her appetite usually returns when her cycle ends or she becomes pregnant.
  • Excessive licking, especially her genital region.
  • Attempts to escape the house. If your queen is a house cat, be aware that her desire to find a mate is so overwhelming that she might see an open door as an opportunity to go looking for one outside the safe confines of your home.

tabby cat with cute blond child on bed

What to do when your cat is in heat

There are a variety of reasons cat owners decide not to spay their cats. Whether you’ve decided to breed your cat or have ethical or health-related concerns about spaying, living with a queen during the height of her cycle isn’t easy. Here are a few tips to keep both of you as comfortable as possible:

  • Provide her with lots of love and affection. Spend time playing with her daily. If she allows it, pet or brush her lower back.
  • Make her a nest with a heating pad and her favorite toys.
  • Give her some catnip to help her calm down. Your veterinarian may have other ideas as well.
  • Keep her litter box clean, especially if she marks her territory. This may encourage her to use the litter box instead.

Above all, be patient. Your queen is simply exhibiting instinctual behavior during her estrus. If her behaviors don’t return to normal when her cycle ends or you suspect she is sick, contact your veterinarian immediately.

If you aren’t planning to breed your cat, consider getting her spayed. This will eliminate the annoying behaviors she displays during heat and prevent any unwanted litters of kittens.

Whichever you decide, know that science says cat owners are happier and healthier than folks who don’t own pets. Besides being great companions, cats can lower stress and anxiety as well as combat loneliness. That means that even on their worst day, owning a cat makes life better.

Editors' Recommendations

Debbie Clason
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Debbie Clason's work has appeared in Family Life Magazine, Sports Illustrated, The Lutheran Witness, Massage Magazine…
How long do cats live? The answer may actually depend on their human parent
Learn about the average cat life expectancy and how you can extend it
Kitten sitting on a tree stump in front of a tree

Cats are wonderful additions to our families, and they can quickly become beloved family members. But, like most pets, cats have shorter lives than humans. As tragic as this is, it's only normal to want to spend as many years as possible with your cat. Fortunately, there are many ways you can help increase the chances of your cat living a long and healthy life.
But it's also important to be realistic about your cat's lifespan. How long do cats live? First, it's important to remember that cat life expectancies are really just a guideline — it's best to just appreciate and enjoy each day you can share with your fur baby.

How long do cats live as pets?

Read more
Why do dogs hate cats? The truth behind this age-old grudge
Find out what's behind the dog and cat rivalry that's been around forever
A black pug and a tabby cat sit on a table

Even if you've never been around dogs or cats, you've probably heard about their rough relationship. Cats and dogs are rivals at best and enemies at worst -- right? It sure seems that way when there are thousands of stories and even videos of dogs and cats not getting along. Whether you've witnessed a dog-cat chase with your own eyes or have heard your pup barking at the neighbor's cat at all times of the day, it's only natural to wonder, "Why do dogs hate cats?"
Some dogs couldn't care less if a feline friend stopped by for a visit -- that's true -- but plenty of other pups would go positively bananas. So what's the difference?

Why do dogs hate cats?
While it's easy to assume that dogs and cats "hate" one another because of their vast differences, it's a bit more complicated than that. Even dogs that regularly chase cats don't do so out of malice or hate. It's an instinctual thing!

Read more
What does it mean when cats purr? It’s more scientific than them just being happy
Cat purring is thought to indicate happiness, but it can have a few different meanings
Black and white cat lying on a cat bed on a sofa

Chances are, you've heard that purring is a sign that a cat is happy. And in many cases, that's true. Cats often purr during activities they enjoy, like being petted in that hard-to-reach spot or settling down for a nap in the sun. However, purring can have different meanings and causes than just indicating happiness.

Scientists are still working to understand this feline behavior fully, and new theories about the reasons behind purring continue to evolve. So, why do cats purr, and what does your cat's purr really mean? New information may be coming out every day, but the information that we already have can help you better understand your cat.

Read more