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Do cats have periods? What to expect when a cat is in heat

A cat curled up with half-closed eyes
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Wondering “Do cats have periods?” It's a natural thing to ask, especially if you're the first-time owner of a female cat and aren't really sure about that particular aspect of cat biology.

Thankfully we're here to tell you everything you need to know about the feline equivalent of periods, as well as explaining what happens to female cats during puberty, and helping you to understand what to do when they are in estrus and how you can make things easier for both them and yourself. 

Find out all about your feline friend’s monthly cycle, how to spot when your cat is in heat, identify why your cat is bleeding and what to do.

Do female cats go through periods?  

While cats do not have monthly periods like female humans, they do experience something similar when they hit puberty. Menstruation in humans happens on average once every 28 days when women bleed for two to seven days as the lining of the uterus sheds. 

In cats, instead of shedding the lining of the womb by bleeding, their bodies reabsorb it so they rarely bleed. Instead of periods, this is called ‘estrus’ or being ‘in heat’. 

Cats are polyestrous breeders, which means they go through estrus several times a year –  up to every two to three weeks, for seven days on average (although it can vary between two and 19 days). 

A female kitten will experience being in heat for the first time between four and six months of age. She will then continue this cycle until she is spayed (when the ovaries and uterus are removed to prevent pregnancy) or falls pregnant.  

A cat by a fence with its tail in the air

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Do cats bleed when in heat? 

Although it is not common, cats can bleed when in heat. You may find a small amount of blood in their bed or where they have been lying. If your cat bleeds, always watch the rest of their behavior and check in with your vet to be sure there is no other underlying health issue.  

Signs your cat is in heat  

Unlike when a human is on their period, when a cat is in heat they do not often bleed although they may spot slightly. However, you can still tell when their cycle has started as their behavior will change. 

Signs your cat is in heat may include:

  • Becoming more vocal. If your cat is making strange vocalizations such as howling or yelping this could be a sign that they’re in heat as this is their attempt to make mating calls as their body prepares to mate and reproduce.  
  • Rolling around. Moggies may become more restless during estrus, rolling around due to the hormones in their body. You may find they lose their appetite and start grooming themselves more as their genitals swell up. They may crawl low to the ground or try to escape outside in search of a mate. 
  • Wanting more attention. You may notice your kitten becomes more affectionate in heat, rubbing up against you and the furniture, lifting their butt in the air with their tail to the side and trying to spread their scent in preparation for mating. 
  • Spraying urine. As your cat’s body readies itself for mating, they may also start to spread their scent and mark their territory by spraying urine.  

A cat lying on a carpet

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What to do when your cat is in heat

There are several ways you can help calm your cat down and make the best of a difficult time when they’re in heat:  

Stop them from mating

If your kitty is unspayed you almost certainly don’t want them falling pregnant so make sure they’re not near male cats that they can mate with. This can prove tricky, as the presence of a female cat in heat is certain to attract all the local tom cats, so you may need to keep your cat inside for the duration (or at least try to keep a close eye on her when she's out).

Keep them warm

Just like women on their period, a heat pack, warm towel or electric blanket can help comfort and soothe your kitty whose hormones are all over the place. Our guide to the best heated pet beds can help you find a warm, soothing spot for your cat.

Give them catnip

While catnip's best known for sending cats into a feline frenzy, for many cats catnip can have a powerful calming influence, especially if they're not quite feeling themselves. Treat your cat to one of the best catnip toys to see if that helps, or alternatively you could make some soothing catnip tea.

Use cat pheromones

Pheromones (the chemicals that cats produce when in heat) can help keep your cat’s stress and anxiety at bay. The most popular option is Feliway, which is available as a diffuser and also as a spray, however you may also want to try a calming cat collar.

Make sure their litter box is clean

Obviously you should always keep your cat's litter box as clean as possible, but this is particularly important when your cat's in estrus. This will encourage them to mark their territory there, rather than subject you to the horror of your cat spraying on your furniture or carpets.  

Entertain them

Being in heat cat make your cat feel confused, unsettled and grumpy, but you can still try to raise her spirits with a good game. So keep your cat distracted by playing with her, or giving her lots of new toys to interact with. 

Why is my cat bleeding?  

If your cat is bleeding it’s important to first check where they’re bleeding from. When your cat is in heat they may spot, but it’s still important to check in with your vet to be sure of the reason. 

If there’s blood in their urine or blood in their stool or around their genitals they could have a urinary tract infection; if they’re bleeding from their anus it could be a more serious infection or a sign of cancer. 

Any other area of their body such as a wound that’s not clotting could need stitches or a nose bleed could need looking into so call your vet to be certain.

A grumpy-looking cat

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What age do cats get their period? 

Puberty begins as early as four months for unspayed kittens and their periods last around seven days. They can go into heat around every two to three weeks from February to October; at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Nearer the equator cats can potentially go into heat most of the year, while in colder climates the time period may well be shorter.

Do cats get period cramps? 

Cats do not suffer from period cramps, although they may well feel out of sorts while they're in heat. Additionally, they might sound like they are in pain when in heat, as their mating calls sound like howls and yelps.  

Do cats have periods if they are spayed? 

Vets often recommend spaying kittens to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Spaying is the removal of the ovaries and uterus, so a spayed cat does not have periods and cannot fall pregnant. You can therefore prevent cat periods (as well as a surfeit of kittens) by spaying your kitten.

Zara is Editor on bookazines and covers a range of topics from cookery to travel and animals. Her latest first edition, What Your Dog Wants You To Know, is the ultimate guide to understanding your dog’s body language.  Former editor of World of Animals magazine, she has over 8 years of experience in publishing inspiring children and adults about the wonders of the animal kingdom as well as teaching them about their pets. She also has over 5 years experience working with vets, wildlife experts and animal behaviourists in her comms roles for various animal charities.  A keen animal lover, Zara can often be found researching her next wildlife destination to travel to. Having just moved into a bigger house she is currently looking at which dog and cats breed would suit her new family so she can fill her house with pets.