What Life Is Like With a Cat Who Isn’t Fixed
Have you ever heard the yowling of a female cat in heat or the screams of two males fighting over a female? Believe me, heavy metal bands got nothin’ on them. Neither noise is anything you want to listen to for very long.
Living with an intact cat — male or female — is not an especially pleasant experience. Intact cats of both sexes are serious about territory, status and sex. Under the influence of their hormones, they roam and fight (especially males). Thanks to their teeth and claws, they are perfectly capable of maiming or killing one another. Keeping intact cats of the same sex together or letting intact cats of either sex roam outdoors is almost a guarantee of frequent and expensive vet bills. They can disappear for days in search of a mate and may come home with bite abscesses and other wounds from fights. They are also more likely to contract and spread diseases, such as feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus.
Intact males are at greater risk for testicular cancer and prostate disease. Intact females have a higher risk of mammary and uterine cancer and serious uterine infections. Intact females who are allowed to roam will often fight with other females, and they incur the same risk of injury and disease as males. And, of course, having a litter is risky for females, especially if they are still no more than kittens themselves.
In my opinion, there’s no good reason to delay spaying or neutering your cat, unless you have a fine-quality pedigreed cat whose genes would contribute to the betterment of the breed. But, if you are considering doing so, there are a few important things you need to know about living with an intact feline.
Age and Time of Sexual Maturity
Female kittens reach sexual maturity anywhere from 3 1/2 to 12 months of age, with the typical range being 5 to 9 months. Male kittens generally reach sexual maturity at 9 to 12 months. The age at which this occurs is sometimes breed-related: Persians, for instance, tend to go into heat (estrus) at a later age than, say, Siamese, who are known for early maturity.
Cats also generally achieve a minimum body weight before puberty kicks in. It’s usually around five to six pounds for females and seven to eight pounds for males. Males can perform throughout the year if there’s a receptive female in reach.
Beyond age and weight, the amount of daylight available is one of the factors affecting when cats go into heat. The long days of spring and summer jump-start the hormonal system and put the reproductive cycle into play.
The typical “kitten season” in North America can range from February to October. During this period, females may go into heat more than once. Cycles vary from cat to cat.
The Intact Male
Intact male cats, commonly known as studs or toms, are all about territory. When your male cat reaches sexual maturity, he’s likely to start spraying your home and yard with stinky urine to establish his turf and ward off strange males. In rare instances, males don’t spray, but most will start sooner rather than later if they remain intact. Once the behavior is established, it’s difficult to eliminate, although neutering may help.
Breeders who keep stud cats typically have a separate indoor or outdoor run for them, so they don’t destroy furnishings or harass other cats in the home. A stud run should have plenty of vertical and horizontal space, and an outdoor run needs adequate shelter. In addition, the litterbox area must be far away from the cat’s food and water dishes.
Intact males who are not allowed to breed lead lives of not-so-quiet desperation and stress, while intact males who are allowed to mate may become aggressive. Neutered males, on the other hand, can be known for their sweet and affectionate temperaments.
The Unspayed Female
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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