A cat in heat
Heat is considered the period of the sexual cycle when the female cat can accept the male cat. The latter will always be ready to mate, although it also has its own mating period. As it occurs with all mammalian females, they have their first heat when they reach puberty. Starting from this moment, the female is fertile. For female cats, it usually depends on each animal, although the first heat usually takes place after the age of 8 or 10 months.
There are different factors that determine the onset of puberty in felines. The weight of the female, for example, must meet a minimum in order to enter heat. Breed, moreover, also affects the emergence of heat: short-haired females, the Siamese type, manage to reach puberty earlier than the long-haired, Persian type. Other external factors such as the presence of males in their environment or hours of light in the day also determine the onset of the heat period.
Because cats are solitary animals in nature, they have to have an encounter to mate and procreate. Therefore, both the male and female must show clear and obvious signs of their willingness for a sexual encounter that can be detected at a distance by individuals of the opposite sex. This is the reason why signs of heat are clear and evident. Both males and females show a change in daily attitude affecting their behaviour. Both make strong and persistent meows. The female cat meows a lot, rubs everywhere, rolls and stiffens when anyone touches it, taking on a similar position to that of intercourse. This position is called spinal curvature: a sunken back and tail deflected sideways. In addition, females will particularly seek to be pampered and they will try to attract our attention in any way.
Heat is not the same for females as for males. In the case of females, as with fur shedding, it occurs with greater intensity in the springtime when there are more hours of daylight. A female cat can have several heat periods with an interval of 2–3 weeks. Even if they live indoors, in a house with heating and artificial light, they may have heat periods even in winter.
The phases of the cat’s estrous cycle are divided into four phases. Proestrus lasts only 1 or 2 days, during which a change in behaviour is observed. The female cat will seek to be pampered, it will urinate frequently, vocalise, rub its head and neck against objects, rotate itself, and it will arch its spine, lifting its pelvis. The female cat's appetite will increase significantly. During this phase, it will not allow the male to mount her. The next phase is the estrous, during which all the above guidelines are emphasised and it is now a period of sexual receptivity. This is considered the heat itself. It lasts for 4–6 days if there is mating, and 10–14 without copulation. During the estrous phase, the call through its meow, used to attract the prospective male, will be high-pitched and shrill. The phase following estrous is diestrus, which, as it takes place post-ovulation, is a phase of sexual inactivity, which lasts 3 to 16 days if there is no pregnancy and two months if the female cat has been fertilised by a male cat and is pregnant. The last phase of the female cat’s heat is anestrum, a resting phase in which the ovaries rest and do not produce hormones.
Males have their own particular heat. When they reach full maturity they are able to mate whenever the female cat allows it. The critical period for them is from September to March. During the mating season, males are more quarrelsome, so that if they take a walk they are likely to return with scratches. Males will mark the territory with small amounts of urine loaded with pheromones to attract females sexually. This is known as sexual marking and it will take the form of a spray on furniture, walls and all kinds of vertical surfaces, so the smell may become unpleasant and difficult to remove. It will also end up constantly rolling around in the house.
There is no doubt that the heat period is a difficult time for cats and also for the people who share their lives with them. To counter the heat, you can consult with your cat's veterinarian about the possibility of sterilisation. Meanwhile, patience is the best defence to keep your calm while faced with the animal’s attitude.