A female cat in heat is quite an experience. Crying, yowling, hollering, and rubbing against anyone who doesn’t get out of the way fast enough. Every tomcat in the neighborhood is camped out on your front porch. Local veterinary clinics get calls requesting “emergency” cat spays starting as early as January.
Have you heard the expression “breeds like bunnies?” Well, cats breed like bunnies. Cats are specialists at making more cats. Female cats can go into heat (estrus) as early as 7-9 months of age. Their heat cycle is affected by the natural light cycle, so cats breed when we have longer periods of daylight. This translates to a cat in the Midwest being in heat from as early as mid-January until around October. A cat’s heat, or time when she can successfully make more kittens, lasts for 6-7 days, then she takes a break for 8-9 days then goes back into heat again. Over and over and over until she is bred (either successfully or not) or spayed or October comes. If she gives birth to kittens, called queening, she will quickly go back into heat right after she has weaned her kittens. I recommend spaying a cat 4-6 weeks after queening if you want to prevent another litter.
Unlike dogs, where I like to spay them when they aren’t in heat because there is less blood flow to the uterus at this time, I’ll spay cats where ever they are in their cycle, because they cycle continuously for three quarters of the year.
Why should you spay your cat, beside the fact that going without sleep because of your hollering cat for three fourths of the year would make you pretty grumpy? Cats, on average, produce 4-6 kittens per litter and 3 litters per year. If the mother cat lives for 7 years, she and her offspring will be responsible for producing 420,000 cats.
The old wives’ tale about letting a cat have one litter to make her a nicer cat is actually just an old wives’ tale. In fact, your cat might become aggressive after queening to protect her kittens. If she does become pregnant, she’ll be pregnant for 58-65 days. Because cats are such reproductive specialists, they usually don’t need human help during delivery. In fact, if you make a nuisance of yourself, your cat is likely to stop her own labor and go find a more private place to have her kittens.
With so many unwanted cats prowling through our neighborhoods and languishing in our animal shelters and humane societies, do your bit and spay your cat. You could be preventing 420,000 unwanted cats from suffering from cold, malnutrition, and disease.
Dr. Anndrea Hatcher is a veterinarian at Olive Branch Parke Veterinary Clinic in Greenwood. She provides medical and surgical care, and boarding for dogs, cats and exotic pets. She graduated from Center Grove High School and Purdue University and her children attend Center Grove schools.