Many veterinarians and rescue groups work tirelessly to help feline overpopulation. Many cities have a large stray cat overpopulation problem and shelters are always bursting at the seams with adoptable cats. But why does it seem like there are so many cats? How long after a cat gives birth can they go into heat again?
Most cats will go into heat shortly after kittens are weaned, meaning that cats can go into heat around 8 weeks (2 months) after giving birth. Continue reading to learn more about heat cycles in cats, how long after giving birth can a cat go into heat again, and why these things contribute to the problem of feline overpopulation.
What Is a Heat Cycle?
Many people may not even know what a heat cycle is. A heat cycle is in reference to a female cat’s reproductive cycle, and when in that cycle they are able to become pregnant. Similar to a human’s menstrual cycle, the heat cycle has many different phases. These phases are: proestrus, estrus, interestrus, diestrus, and anestrus.
All of these five phases make up the heat cycle. However, when you hear a veterinarian refer to a female cat “being in heat”, typically we are referring to the estrus phase of the cycle when the cat can become pregnant. The period of sexual receptivity is also referred to as estrus. In other words, estrus is when a female will breed with a male cat and may get pregnant.
Cats can go through their first cycle around 6 months of age. Part of the problem with the overpopulation problem is that cats are able to get pregnant during their first heat cycle! This is why many veterinarians try to spay (remove a female cat’s reproductive organs) or neuter (remove a male cat’s testicles) cats at an early age – typically recommended by the time they are ~5 pounds in weight, or no older than 6 months of age.
Cats are also classified as polyestrous animals. This means that they go through numerous heat cycles per year, and can get pregnant multiple times per year. While cats can get pregnant any time of the year, we most commonly see it occur in the spring and summer months. This is because cats are “long day breeders,” or going into heat when there is 12 or more hours of sunlight in a day. Being able to have multiple litters a month also contributes to the overpopulation of stray cats.
How Can I Tell If My Cat Is in Heat (In Estrus)?
If you haven’t gotten your cat spayed yet, the signs of being in heat, or the estrus phase of the heat cycle, will be very obvious. Your female cat will often display behavior that is loud, disruptive, and frustrating to owners. The cat will often walk with her tail held very high, “presenting” herself to possible mates. Female cats are notorious for being extremely vocal, or “caterwauling”, to also attract a mate.
If your cat is indoor only, they will do everything in their power to get outside to meet a male. If they aren’t allowed outside, they will display this behavior by every available window and door, hoping to attract the nearest neighborhood tomcat to come by. Females will also rub and/or urinate on furniture, floors and doors to release their scent to attract males even more.
When Can Pregnancy Occur?
As discussed above, a cat will accept a mate and can get pregnant during the estrus phase of the heat cycle. Estrus lasts an average of 1 week (give or take). A cat can have their first estrus when they are less than 1 year of age, and the entire heat cycle can sometimes last the entire lifetime of a cat if they are never spayed.
A cat will only ovulate if they are bred with a male. Many people don’t realize that a single female cat can also be bred by multiple different males during a single estrus cycle. This is another reason why it’s so important to have male cats neutered as they can breed multiple females at any given time.
If a cat does not become pregnant, she will continue through the other phases of her cycle. If a cat is not pregnant, she will go into estrus again in 1–3 weeks. If a cat is bred and becomes pregnant during estrus, a normal pregnancy will last 60–64 days.
How Soon After Giving Birth Will a Cat Go into Heat Again?
Pending everything goes well with the pregnancy, and momma is otherwise healthy and so are her babies, she will nurse them for about 4–8 weeks. The cat can then go through the remaining phases of her cycle and go into estrus again shortly after weaning her kittens, or about 8 weeks.
How Many Heat Cycles Will My Cat Have?
Most female cats will continue to have heat cycles throughout their entire lifetime. If they are spayed, these heat cycles will stop. Remember, cats will have multiple heat cycles a year as well. It’s impossible to know exactly how many cycles your cat will have. This depends on when their first heat cycle occurs, if they are ever bred and/or pregnant, and how long your cat will live.
It’s recommended to get your female cat spayed prior to their first heat cycle. While kittens are cute and cuddly, there are too many cats that never get adopted. The recommendation is to spay your cat before their first heat cycle, and then consider adopting or fostering kittens in the future. There will always be stray and/or abandoned kittens that need a home.
Cats’ reproductive cycles are referred to as their heat cycles, with estrus being the phase of the cycle when they can become pregnant. A cat that is “in heat” is a cat who is currently in the estrus phase of their cycle. Cats can have numerous heat cycles a year, become bred by more than one male each cycle, and can have more than one litter a year. If your cat gives birth, she can go into estrus again within approximately 2 months. Veterinarians recommend getting as many cats spayed and neutered as possible due to the feline overpopulation problem.
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