A female cat can go into heat, or estrus, and become pregnant when she's just a few months old. Her heat cycles attract tomcats, and your hormonal cat may cry, howl and try to escape the house in search of a mate. You can stop heat cycles permanently by spaying; stop them temporarily with a feline contraceptive.
How Heat Cycles Work
Cats are seasonally polyestrous, with heat cycles influenced by the season, hours of daylight and even ambient temperature. They will have repeated cycles of estrus during the course of a year and may even go through periods of continuous heat. Cats are also induced ovulators, which means the physical act of mating can trigger ovulation and result in a pregnancy. Once a cat mates, her heat cycle comes to an end.
If you don't intend to breed your cat, have her spayed as soon she reaches maturity, typically between 8 weeks and 6 months of age. This simple surgical procedure removes reproductive organs, permanently stops heat cycles and eliminates the potential for unwanted pregnancies. Spaying also has a number of health benefits for your cat, particularly if the procedure is performed before she enters her first heat. Unspayed cats are at risk for breast, uterine and ovarian cancers, and they can be subject to the potentially fatal uterine infection pyometra.
Feline contraceptives can protect against recurring heat cycles and pregnancy through nonsurgical means. You may pursue this option if you want to breed your cat on your own timetable or don't want to pursue a permanent surgical sterilization option. Several contraceptives are available for felines, including those branded GonaCon, Ovaban, Depro-Provera, Norplant and Promone. Medicines typically work by preventing ovulation. Not all are 100 percent effective, and some carry side effects like reproductive disorders, weight gain and increased risk of diabetes. Discuss the pros and cons of different medical contraceptives with your vet.
Millions of unwanted cats are sent to shelters, euthanized or left to fend for themselves every year. If you are not a professional and responsible cat breeder, consider the benefits of permanent sterilization for your cats. If cost is an issue, contact your local humane society for information on low and no-cost spay programs in your area.