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Estrus, or “heat” as it is commonly known, usually occurs for the first time in female cats at anywhere from four to six months of age. It is a period where their ovaries are capable of producing eggs, and if bred by a male cat during this time, it is likely that the mating will result in pregnancy.
Breeding timing in cats can refer to the period of time during which a female cat, or queen, is most fertile, and the chances of a breeding resulting in pregnancy are at their highest. You may notice that the queen has become very vocal, yowling and meowing loudly and frequently. She may roll on the ground, make kneading motions with her back feet, and rub against you or your belongings. By showing these behaviors, she is showing any potential suitors that she is ready to mate and produce a litter of kittens.
It is fairly easy to determine if a female cat is ready to breed, as symptoms of estrus are usually observable through behavior changes. Some cats may develop physical symptoms, but this is much less apparent than other household pets such as dogs, and the major symptoms typically last for about a week. You may be able to observe some of the following behaviors or changes in a female cat that is ready to breed:
Sexual maturity in cats brings on hormonal changes, which can indicate that the cat is physically able to breed.
Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose breeding timing in your cat by performing a physical examination, including taking her temperature, observing any common estrus-related behaviors she may be displaying, or in some cases by collecting secretions from the cat’s vaginal opening with a sterile swab, which is then tested for the hormone progesterone. In some cases, breeding timing can also be detected by use of an ultrasound, which is used to see if the queen’s ovaries are creating follicles in readiness to release ovum, or eggs.
Pet owners can diagnose breeding timing by observing the clinical symptoms, most often behavior changes that differ strongly from the cat’s usual behavior. Owners can begin tracking periods of estrus using a standard calendar, which can give a good indication of when the next hormonal period will occur and, if desired, breeding with a male cat can take place.
A veterinarian will ask how old your cat is, how long she has been experiencing estrus for, and about any existing health issues when determining her readiness to breed. They may also review the cat’s recent vaccination and worming schedules to ensure that she is protected against common diseases, and that she is not carrying worms that could impact her health or draw important nutrients away from any potential fetuses. In certain breeds of cat, genetic testing may be recommended to ensure that the queen does not carry genetics that may predispose her offspring to congenital defects known to exist in a particular breed.
Should you desire to breed your queen and have a litter of kittens, estrus will cease once she has mated with a male cat and become pregnant. Pregnancy typically lasts between 65-69 days in cats, but pregnancy and birth do come with risks of complications to both the mother and offspring. Once the queen has given birth and weaned her litter, she will once again enter her normal estrus cycle.
If you do not desire your queen to go into estrus or breed, you may elect to have her undergo an ovariohysterectomy, more commonly known as spaying. This is a very common surgical procedure, performed under general anesthesia, whereby the veterinarian removes all internal reproductive organs. This includes the ovaries, uterus, uterine horns, and oviducts. Surgery typically lasts for less than twenty minutes. Full recovery is generally under a week to ten days. The queen will no longer experience the signs or symptoms of estrus, and she cannot breed or carry a litter after the surgery has been completed. Spaying may improve her behavior around the home, as well as prevent common cancers of the uterus or mammary glands.
Chemical Suppressant Treatments
Several chemical suppressant options exist that will prevent the queen from entering estrus.
Female cats will experience estrus every 20 days or so during their reproductive years without ovariohysterectomy or treatment. If you choose to leave your queen intact without suppressing estrus in some other way, the cat will continue to experience estrus for up to 8-10 years of their life span.
When keeping a female cat intact, she should be seen by a veterinarian for regular checkups to ensure that her reproductive organs are healthy, as well as to check for the presence of tumors or infections as she ages.
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