I’m writing this not for the seasoned breeder, but for newcomers to cat breeding, like myself.
Unlike dogs, who generally have only two mating cycles a year, female cats can come into heat (estrous cycle) several times a year. This usually happens in the spring and autumn, when there is more than 12 hours of light per day.
Once a cat comes on heat, she will cycle continuously until she’s bred.
A female cat’s cycle consists of:
(1) a PRE-ESTROUS PERIOD (of approx. 1-2 days) in which she is attractive to male cats, but not ready to mate him. It’s hard to know when this occurs as there are no obvious signs. Maybe some cats will act a little cuddlier and clingier, but that’s it. If you’re lucky (or unlucky) suddenly all the local toms in the neighbourhood will start gathering round the garden, attracted by the irresistible hormones given off in your cat’s urine. If your girl’s used to going out in the garden, it’s time to slap on the chastity belt by locking her indoors – there is no better form of contraceptive.
I can almost tell when my queen might be coming into call because my Bengal neuter girl starts getting more aggressive towards her, and chases her. There must be some sort of change in my queen’s scent that triggers this change in behaviour.
(2) the ESTROUS PERIOD when she’s actually receptive to the male. This can last anything between 3 to 16 days. Suddenly even the most demure of cats will act like she’s had a personality swap with Mae West.
Early signs include a meow that sounds more throaty and pronounced, and often uttered over and over again at various pitches. Female cats don’t just call in the night, but during the daytime too. Some cats call constantly. Siamese and Burmese are said to have insufferably loud mating yowls. My Maine Coon girl is relatively quiet, but when she is in full call, her insistent meows can pierce earplugs designed to muffle 25 decibel noise. So no more sharing the bedroom with her if you want your beauty’s sleep.
Some queens are silent callers. Which means exactly what it says. They don’t adopt throaty meows, or yowl or squirm around. They act almost normal. If yours is a silent caller then make sure you keep an eye on her in case she decides to escape to find a stud.
Another sign that your girl is actively on heat is spraying. Yep, not only stud cats spray, entire girls do too. You may see your cat walking past a chair, her tail suddenly flicks up and she pauses. Chances are she’s annointing the leg of the chair with her urine to attract toms. Intact female cat pee smells different too … the closest I can come to describing it is that it smells like burnt rubber. I’ve got to the stage where I can walk into a room and know if my girl has sprayed or not. It is not a talent that I boast of at cocktail parties.
If you’re lucky, yours does not spray. If yours is a sprayer, all you can do is confine your girl to a room which can be easily cleaned, or be prepared to do a lot of cleaning. Invest in a biological cleaner, or a cat urine eliminator (see my earlier post on cleaning cat urine). If using a biological cleaner (e.g. Persil) follow by wiping with surgical spirit which gets rid of the final traces of pee.
But what if you can smell that burnt rubber aroma but you don’t know where it is? Well, you could try sniffing all vertical surfaces in the room, taking care that nobody of importance is visiting in case they find you on your hands and knees with your nose to the radiator screaming “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!”
A better way of outing those damned spots is to use a cat urine detector. This is actually a torchlight with a special ultra-violet bulb. Because in case you didn’t know (and I didn’t), cat urine fluoresces (goes shiny and shows up) in ultra-violet light. It actually works, but you’ve got to do it in pitch black darkness otherwise you can’t see the light. Ultra-violet light is purply-blue and makes everything look like a horror movie set. The only disadvantage is that dust can also fluoresce, so what looks like a cat’s accident could be a spot you haven’t dusted for ages. However, in most cases, you will see shiny-bluey streaks and if you really want to prove it, you can use the good old nose-to-surface method again to confirm.
Please remember to hang all your clothes in the wardrobe. My hubby is prone to hang his jackets over a chair, and the sleeves dangle close to the floor. I’d warned him several times that cats are not discriminate when it comes to spraying. I think hubby realised the error of his ways only when he was driving in his car, the heating was turned up high and suddenly the interior started smelling like a litter tray. A cat breeder I know mentioned how her cats seem able to spray clothes that are hanging on hangers on a wall, so the pee must be emitted at high pressure. I’ve also heard of cats on heat spraying their owners – one breeder had a cat who jumped on her lap and turned round, flicked its tail and oops … yes, straight into the face. Ah the delights of cat breeding.
Your cat may also roll around on her back on the floor, as if offering herself to you. If you manage to grab her by the scruff on her neck, she may crouch down on the floor, move her tail to one side, and start paddling with her back feet. (By grabbing the scruff on her neck, you are mimicking the action of a stud cat who will grab the fur on the back of her neck with her teeth before mounting her, the better to control her with.)
The active part of the estrous cycle can be nerve-racking, and a non-stop cycle of cleaning, twitchy nostrils, and lack of sleep on your part. For the female cat, it can be stressful to have to keep calling without getting any satisfaction and some female cats can lose condition as a result of the stress. There’s little you can do to help. Some breeders have tried (I’m being discrete here – please use your imagination!) cotton buds to mimic the action of a stud cat but that offers temporary relief because female cats can mate many times a day over the entire active estrous period and a few sessions with a cotton bud isn’t quite the same thing. Some breeders are lucky and have teaser toms, that is, neutered male cats who are still able and willing to perform.
A female cat will not stop calling even if she’s been bred. She will call for the entire period of her estrous. You can send her to stud, she can mate many times, yet on her return still be on heat, as long as she’s in her estrous period.
And it’s true that a female cat can have, within the same litter, kittens from different stud cats.
(3) the INTER-ESTROUS PERIOD which is the period between the ESTROUS periods if she is not bred. This can last between 3 to 14 days.
These 3 periods are repeated over and over again if the cat is not bred.
So as you can see, there is not much of a respite for the tired breeder once a cat goes on heat.
The only solution is to breed the cat, or put the cat on the equivalent of the Pill. Here in the UK, some breeders use Ovarid or the equivalent hormonal treatment in low doses on their queens, and have had great success in either temporarily stopping the estrous cycle, or dampening it down. Cats are very sensitive to medication though, and there have been cases reported where this has interfered with a cat’s reproductive cycle. There are also injectable forms of hormonal treatment, but I’ve heard of instances where the hormone has lingered at the injection site and the cat has remained infertile until the site was excised. And in all cases, vets advice is that a maiden queen (i.e. never been bred, first call) should not be given contraception as it could interfere with future cycles.
If you want to read a more scientific explanation of a female cat’s cycles, and also see some footage of a cat treading and rolling after breeding, please check out this site by the University of Louisiana’s School of Veterinary Medicine: http://www.vetmed.lsu.edu/eiltslotus/theriogenology-5361/filne_e.htm – I have found it valuable reference and used it in writing this article.