An unspayed cat will go into heat when she reaches sexual maturity at around 6-months old, although it is possible for a cat as young as 4- or 5-months old to come in heat. A cat in heat is sexually receptive and can fall pregnant if allowed to mate with an unneutered male cat. On average, each heat lasts around six days, with the cycle generally repeating itself every three weeks if conception doesn’t occur.
The most obvious sign that a cat is in heat is a behavioral change. Cats develop unusual behaviors due to their hormones while in heat. Most cats become unusually affectionate and constantly demand attention, rubbing up against people and objects. A cat in heat may appear unsettled and restless, lose her appetite, and try to escape. She will vocalize loudly and assume the mating position with her head down, forelegs bent, rear end raised, and her tail raised to the side, exposing the perineum. A cat in heat may even spray urine against vertical surfaces in the home.
This behavior can be extremely disruptive and even alarming to most owners. Some owners may even worry that their cat is ill. Behavioral changes while in heat are normal and probably more distressing for owners than for the cat itself. This behavior will disappear after about a week when your cat is no longer in heat. There are, however, some strategies that you can try to calm your cat down. Be aware that apart from spaying your cat, these methods will only temporarily calm a cat in heat. This behavior will also repeat every few weeks as your cat goes into her next heat cycle.
The 6 Ways to Calm a Cat in Heat
1. Isolate your cat from other male cats and secure the perimeter of your home
When your female cat is in heat, it’s important to keep her away from intact male cats (also known as tomcats). Not only will your cat become more excitable in the presence of a tom, but she also runs the risk of becoming pregnant if allowed to mate. You may find male cats lurking outside of your home, drawn by the scent of your female cat.
When a cat is in heat, she will have a strong desire to escape and seek a male cat to mate with. Make sure to seal all escape routes, as your cat may injure herself while trying to escape or wander off and get lost.
2. Use natural remedies and pheromones to help calm your cat
If your cat is susceptible to the effects of catnip, this herb can help to calm your cat temporarily while she is in heat. Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, a member of the mint family, affects 70% to 80% of cats. Response to this herb is hereditary. Catnip has a calming effect on some cats, but it makes others hyperactive and aggressive. If you find that catnip makes your cat mellow, it is worth giving it to your cat while she is in heat. The effects of catnip are unfortunately short-lived and only last around ten minutes. There is a refractory period of an hour afterward where cats are no longer sensitive to the effects of catnip.
Another natural remedy that may help calm a cat in heat is L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves that has a relaxing effect on people and animals. Although it is possible to see a calming effect from L-theanine within a few days of use, full effects may take up to two weeks of use. The safety of L-theanine in pregnant and breeding animals has not been proven, so if you are planning on breeding with your female cat, it’s best not to give her L-theanine.
Feliway is another natural remedy that may be worth trying when your cat is in heat. Feliway is a synthetic copy of the familiarization facial pheromone and is available as a plug-in diffuser, spray, and wipes. When a cat feels comfortable in its environment, it will rub its cheeks against objects and people, depositing pheromones and marking its territory as safe and secure. Feliway has a soothing, calming effect on cats and may help to calm your cat when in heat. It can, however, take a few weeks for the product to take full effect, so Feliway is most effective if started before your cat comes into heat.
Feliway can be combined with other natural calming aids, such as catnip and L-theanine.
3. Provide environmental enrichment for your cat
Providing the opportunity for play and predatory behavior may temporarily help calm your cat down while in heat. Puzzle feeders, either homemade or store-bought, are a great way to keep your cat mentally stimulated and provide a cat with a means to express her normal predatory behavior, potentially distracting her while in heat.
It is also important to provide your cat with a safe space to retreat if she feels threatened or needs some time out. A private and secure area in a raised location is ideal. An empty cardboard box placed on a raised surface, a hammock, or a perch work well for this purpose.
Cats that are usually allowed outdoor access may become more anxious when confined indoors while in heat, so it’s essential to ensure that your cat is given adequate environmental enrichment during this time. This anxiety may be exacerbated because your cat may be motivated to escape to look for a mate. Failure to meet a cat’s environmental needs while in heat can lead to stress, and cause her to display even more undesirable behaviors.
4. Provide warm areas for your cat to lie on
Providing your cat with something warm to lie on may help soothe her and calm her down. An electric heating pad or a microwaveable heat pack are both good options.
5. Keep your cat’s litter box clean
When a cat is in heat, she may spray urine against vertical surfaces to communicate her availability to male cats. By keeping your cat’s litter box clean at all times, she might be encouraged to use the litter box instead of spraying outside of it.
If your cat sprays outside of the litter box, you should clean the urine marks as soon as possible by wiping away the residual urine with a cloth and hot water. The area should then be cleaned with a mild cleaning product such as soap, white vinegar, or alcohol mixed with warm water. Never use ammonia-based cleaning products to clean urine as this will attract a cat to mark in the same location.
To neutralize the bad odor from urine, a solution of one part vinegar to one part water can be used to clean the area. Enzyme-based cleaners also work well to remove bad smells.
6. Spay your cat
The only way that is guaranteed to calm a cat that is in heat permanently is to spay her. During a spay (also known as an ovariohysterectomy), the ovaries and the womb are surgically removed, which in turn removes hormones responsible for the unwanted behavior.
It is recommended that all cats not intended for breeding are sterilized. Spaying a cat reduces the risk of a cat developing ovarian and uterine cancers, as well as an infection of the uterus, known as pyometra.
Ideally, wait until your cat is no longer in heat before spaying her although it is possible to spay a cat that is in heat. There is an increased risk for bleeding if the animal is in heat and the procedure may take slightly longer than usual. It’s best to discuss the pros and cons of spaying during heat with your veterinarian.
Medical costs for your cat can certainly add up, but one way to manage them is to invest in pet insurance.
If you’re considering health insurance for your pet, you may want to look at Lemonade. This company offers balanced, customizable insurance and helpful customer service.
Methods that are NOT recommended to calm a cat in heat
A Google search on the topic may reveal something called “the Q-tip method,” where a Q-tip is inserted into a female cat’s reproductive tract when she is in heat. The idea is that the Q-tip simulates mating behavior. This method is not recommended as it can introduce infection into the reproductive tract and injure the cat.
Another method to stop or prevent a cat’s heat cycle is using a medication called Megestrol acetate (MGA). MGA is a synthetic progestin that mimics the naturally-occurring female hormone progesterone. In female cats, it has been shown to halt a heat cycle. MGA can also prevent pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation. This drug is associated with the risk of serious side effects, including pyometra and tumors of the breast tissue, so most veterinarians will not recommend this drug unless the benefits outweigh the risks.
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