How Long Do Cats Stay in Heat?

Cat resting in a basket

Have you been observing your little fluff ball behave strangely? If so, the chances are your little cat is not so little anymore! She is in heat and is biologically ready to bring in more adorable fluff balls into the world.

How does being in heat affect them? What can you do? How can you make your feline’s life easier?

We have put together the answers to all possible questions you may have about your cat’s reproductive cycle. If you have a female cat (a queen) or considering adopting one, these are things you need to know.

A Cat in Heat

We are essentially talking about puberty in queens. The phrase “in heat” refers to the period where your cat is ready to become pregnant.

The process is fairly similar to what we humans go through. Just that the cycles are different.

Typically, a domestic feline reaches maturity when they are six months old. Remember, this is only an average figure; there are early and late bloomers too.

Your cat can go into heat at any point when their bodies are sexually stimulated. The hormonal cycle is not as predictable as it is the case with humans.

Stages of Heat

To answer the simple question, ‘how long do cats stay in heat?’ it can last anywhere from ten days to three weeks.

Your cat will go through four distinct phases in her reproductive cycle before it begins all over again. You will have a better idea of what a femme feline experiences as you read through the four stages.

The Pro-estrus Stage

This is the first stage or the preparation phase. Your cat is not ready to receive the affections of a tomcat yet. She is adjusting to the biological changes happening within.

Her ovary gets ready to release the ovum for fertilization. Her endometrium (uterine wall) begins to grow. Outwardly, you will notice that her genital organ swells visibly and is moist. She also has heightened senses, some restlessness and an increased appetite.

This stage does not last for long and she moves into the second stage within a day or two.

The Estrus Stage

The second stage is actually when your cat is sexually receptive. She will go looking for tomcats for the continuation of her species. If you want your cat to breed, this is the ideal time for you to introduce a tomcat into her life.

How to identify that your cat is in the estrus stage? There are a few definitive markers.

  • She gets very loud. Queens tend to yowl to tell the world that she is ready. While it might sound like a cry of distress or pain, it is simply nature’s way for them to let the tomcats know that she is ready to conceive.
  • She also rolls on or rubs on a lot of things around her to mark her scent.
  • She craves for physical affection and demands your attention. Be ready for her to cuddle up to you a lot more.
  • She wings her tail as she walks and lifts her rear to attract the males around her.
  • Her appetite is reduced compared to the previous stage.

If the mating happens during this period, it triggers her hormones to instigate the process of ovulation. Research shows that a cat typically mates four to six times during this phase in order to conceive. The estrus phase can last anywhere from three to 16 days.

The Inter-estrus or Di-estrus Stage

An interesting distinction between a cat and a human cycle is that a cat ovulates only when mating takes place during the estrus stage. Women, in contrast, ovulate regularly regardless of sexual activity.

Depending on what happens during the second stage, your cat can enter the inter-estrus phase or the di-estrus phase.

After her mating, if no ovulation takes place, she enters the inter-estrus phase. It is the in-between zone that links two estrus stages. After about a week or so, she will once again experience the pro-estrus stage and the cycle continues.

However, if ovulation takes place, what follows is the di-estrus stage. This is where her hormones will determine if she is pregnant or not. If the fertilization is successful, she conceives and her pregnancy lasts for about 60 days.

If she does not conceive, di-estrus lasts for about 40 days where her hormones regain balance and she rejects the advances of all her suitors.

The An-estrus Stage 

The final stage is the dormant period in your cat’s reproductive cycle. Her reproductive system is inactive, usually during the colder seasons of the year.

The phrase “in heat” also has an interesting connection to external factors. Typically, an outdoor feline goes through her estrus cycles during the hotter months of the year and experiences an-estrus during late fall and winter seasons.

This is the period where her body reverts to normal and her uterus retests itself after kitten birth or di-estrus and prepares for the next cycle.

You need to remember that your furry friend is poly-estrous. That means, she can go through multiple estrous cycles in a year until she gets pregnant. It is nature’s way of giving her more chances to continue her species.

Interestingly, cats do not go through menopause as we humans do. With age, her fertility will reduce and so will the size of the litter.

Pregnancy at advanced ages can get more complicated but there is no end to her heat cycles. It is considered best to get her neutered after a certain age just to reduce complications of an unexpected pregnancy.

Factors that Influence Heat Cycles

In addition to the biological process, there are a few external factors that can affect your cat’s heat cycle.

As observed earlier, external heat plays a huge factor in stimulating the hormones that kick off the pro-estrus stage. Higher temperatures and warmer climates could cause extended reproductive cycles.

Exposure to natural light also is an important factor. For indoor cats, artificial lights can be used to influence the cycle.

The constant presence of tomcats around her can also advance her sexual maturity and increase her drive.  

How to Pacify Your Feline in Heat

Considering the pet population explosion and how most shelters are overflowing with cats that need forever homes, neutering or spaying your kitty is the most reasonable option. It is also what most vets would suggest.

Spaying involves removing her ovaries, in some cases her uterus, that negates any chance of pregnancy. It also stops the heat cycles from occurring. Spaying also has the added advantage of reducing the risk of certain cancers and other diseases.

If neutering is not an option, here is a list of simple things you can do to calm your furry friend during her cycle.

First, identify and recognize that your cat is going through her heat cycle. That should be easy for you, now that you have read the article.

The reason why we emphasize this is because restlessness and changes in appetite can also be indicators of other discomforts. If she is not waving her tail or lifting her rear, consult with your vet immediately.

Now that you know for sure she is in heat, these are things you can do to make her more comfortable.

  • Keep Her Litter Box Clean All the Time. The scent of your cat’s urine is a call for the toms around. All your training is forgotten during heat because she would want to mark her scent in as many places as possible. You can prevent this by keeping her litter box clean.
  • Isolate Her from Tomcats. Your cat will get more excitable and rebellious in the presence of male cats. Do not allow her outside. Ensure that doors, windows and pet flaps are covered because she will be tempted to explore if she senses a tomcat outside.
  • Catnip Can Help. This is an experiment that you will have to conduct carefully. Different cats react to catnip differently. But if your cat calms down with catnip, it is a temporary respite for you. Avoid this method if it is going to excite her further.
  • Play with Her. This is the best possible advice we can give you. Her body is going through so much. Even if it is a temporary fix, your attention becomes extremely important. By increasing her physical activity, you are distracting her from what her body craves.

In conclusion, if you have a non-neutered cat, expect her to go through many heat cycles until she gets pregnant. The cycle is simply going to continue even after she delivers her litter.

Your feline’s heat cycle involves three stages of development and one where her reproductive system resets. Your cat typically is in heat for anywhere from 10 days to four weeks depending on when she conceives.

While there are options available to calm your cat during heat, neutering her would be the best course of action to reduce the number of strays in the street.