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Intact female cats are known as queens, but their behavior is not what most of us would consider regal and refined. They roll on the floor, proffer affectionate displays toward people and male cats and yowl loudly and frequently for as much as a week. A female in heat shakes her rear end and “assumes the position” in the hope that a male will come by to fulfill her needs. She switches her tail to the side for easier access and kneads her rear paws in anticipation.
With the exception of pregnancy cycles, a female’s reproductive cycle goes through four stages. The first, proestrus, usually lasts one to two days, and the signs are so subtle you may not notice them. The queen becomes restless, starts to “call” and becomes unusually affectionate or, in some cases, unusually aggressive. You may notice that she urinates more often. Studs may be attracted to her, but at this stage, she wants nothing to do with them. Now is the time to make sure she is kept well away from males, if you don’t want a litter of kittens to show up in 63 to 68 days.
The males she attracts will often spray your home and yard (and fight the other males who show up) to advertise their availability to her. Waking up to a catfight in the middle of the night — for multiple nights — isn’t very restful.
The next stage, estrus, is when queens are receptive to males and can become pregnant. Estrus lasts anywhere from three to 20 days, but most often for four to seven days. During this time, the vulva starts to enlarge, and she may have some discharge, but since cats are fastidious groomers, it's not always noticeable. She also becomes noisier (think repeated and monotonous howling), and you might even think she’s in pain from the sounds she’s making. Those cries are what attract males; they’ll hear (and smell) her from great distances. She’ll weave in and out of your legs, possibly in an attempt to trip you and get out the door to any waiting males. Stroke down her back toward her tail, and you’ll see her “assume the position,” front paws down and butt up in the air (known as lordosis). During this stage, she remains restless, paces and may have little interest in food.
During the third stage, known as interestrus, which lasts three to 30 days (but usually one to two weeks), queens are no longer receptive to males and will slap and snarl at them if they try to have their way with her. If she didn’t ovulate during the estrus stage, proestrus usually starts the cycle over again.
The fourth stage of the reproductive cycle is known as anestrus, or reproductive rest. This usually occurs from November through January.
We’re not running short of cats anytime soon, so take my advice and spay or neuter yours before six months of age. You’ll both be happier.
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