How to tell if your cat is in heat?

You will know your cat is in heat, if she dresses up like this...
You will know your cat is in heat, if she dresses up like this… Photo © Светлана Валуйская

How do you know if your cat is in heat? As your female cat reaches the age she’s about to start cycling, one of worrying things may be – whether you’ll be able to notice your cat comes in heat.

And for most cat owners we can say – you won’t miss it. That is, unless your cat will exhibit a condition known as silent heat, which we will talk about in the future. But here is a list and short description of thing that will help to tell if your cat is in heat:

  • Presence of symptoms. In most cases, this is the only method used to “diagnose” heat in cats. Why? Because, if you know how symptoms look, it’s quite impossible to mistake them. As we adopted one of our cats, her previous owner told she wanted to throw her out of the window during the heat, because she screamed and howled at night. Prime signs are restlessness, excessive vocalization and attention seeking, but you can read more about symptoms of a cat in heat here.
  • Beginning of the mating season. Heat symptoms, especially if you notice only one of them, is not always a definite sign of the heat. There always may be a possibility something is not right to your cat, but, one method to confirm what you see is if it happens in the beginning of the mating season, which, in the Northern hemisphere can be as early as in late January. Most often, somewhat around march or april. Many cats, however, can go in heat all year round.
  • Medical investigation. While this is rarely done, the truth is, that neither presence of symptoms, nor beginning of mating season cannot provide you 100% sure answer whether your cat is in heat. If, by some reason you need more accurate confirmation, medical procedures can strive for it. There are two most common used techniques:
    • It's not always necessary, but your vet can help to tell in your cat is in heat...Blood test for hormone estrogen is the most commonly used method to confirm heat in cats. As we told in the article about hormonal activity during heat, estrogen levels are very high during the heat. This means, if you can determine estrogen level, it’s a good way to know if your cat is in heat.
    • Vaginal cytology is another method which can confirm heat cycle, but more importantly, in case of infertility, can confirm heat cycle is progressing normally. Basically, it’s taking a material from vagina’s surface, and checking for changes in the cells. This method is widely used to confirm heat in dogs; however, it’s less popular for cats since sampling can induce ovulations, because, as you know, cats are induced ovulators, which means, they ovulate after the mechanical stimulation of the vagina.

In most cases, however, symptomatic is the only method necessary to determine whether the cat is in heat. Because they are apparent enough.

In the next article of our series about heat cycles in cats, you can read about symptoms of a cat being in heat.