Help, My Kitten is in Heat: an Illustrated Guide
A Smidge of Background
We were recently gifted with a kitten - and we were prepared ! I've grown up with cats: have trained them to use the toilet, have nursed them back to health after near-escapes from coyote-jaws and wept when a fever finally broke; I have mourned their untimely deaths at the merciless hands of Mother Nature and her fearsome owl representatives...and cars. I clip nails, remove ticks, clean ears, flush wounds, and give amazing belly-rubs. And yet, I could not recognize the symptoms of estrus in a 3.5 month old kitten. She's too young!
Oh no she ain't.
The Yowling is really the only indication that being in heat is at least uncomfortable
First Unrecognized Sign: She's a noisy little sucker, isn't she?
Give us a break: we had only had her around for a week so what did we know about her normal libido-less habits of vocalization? Maybe we just got a screamer.
The tell-tale difference: a much broader register and longer duration. She was not "talking" to us, or even demanding our attention. She was her own siren, and to this day I don't know why we didn't have angry neighbors pounding on our decidedly not sound-proofed door.
It's called "treading"
Second Unrecognized Sign: Well that's a funny little dance
Okay, I first thought this was some crazy bum problem. Like maybe her mother didn't teach her how to clean herself properly? We were really thisclose to taking her to the vet before we realized that she was just begging to be violated.
Yes, this realization was disturbing.
Yes, it made her little dance that much funnier.
Incidentally, given that the tail is held out of the way during the performance, you may notice a little discharge... just in case you needed further confirmation.
She likes 'em extra smelly
Third Unrecognized Sign: Aw, what a cute little foot-fetishist!
Cats in heat become "extra affectionate" and like to rub their pheromone-producing foreheads all over you. 'Cuz you are hers , and don't you forget it.
Okay, fair enough. But what's with the foot fascination? We didn't recognize the behavior as a symptom because she is, after all, a kitten - and a playful one at that. However, when she is in heat, she vastly prefers Husbee's feet, and the smellier the better. A nice greeting when you're home from a long day in the salt mines, I'm sure - although he complains that it sometimes tickles.
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Knowledge train: from the vet's mouth, to my ears, to your eyes
The main reason behind our disbelief: we thought we were safe until she was at least 6 months old. How silly! Dorian isn't even all that precocious: it seems that little girl kittens can turn hussy as young as 3 months old, and vets will operate generally as early as 4 months (although many do prefer to wait until the cat is 6 months old). If you're worried, keep in mind that there is anecdotal and scientific evidence of an easier recuperation period to support earlier operations. I suppose it's rather like circumcision: if you're going to do it anyway, who wants to remember it?
A cat will go into heat as often as every two weeks, and longer cycles are only 3 or 4 weeks. By which I mean, *this will keep happening. All the time.* Cats are also seasonal breeders, generally keeping their noisy routine to the Spring and Fall. It's possible that you can use this to time your cat-acquisition and/or cat-sterilization.
If it isn't possible to spay your cat right away (for financial reasons, or because the timing is otherwise difficult), your vet may be able to give your kitters hormonal treatment to interrupt her cycle. Incidentally, if you're in the US, there are ways to have your cat's operation subsidized. Ask your vet! Incidentally, vets do generally prefer to catch your kit before her first heat in order to make sure that a.) she doesn't get violated by some mean man cat out there, and b.) she isn't put at risk of contracting diseases. Something to think about.
If you aren't sure how you feel about denying your kitty a mate and family of her own, please keep the following in mind (and I have put this as delicately as possible, but if you're squeamish, read no further): the male feline's member is BARBED so as to cause your dearest darling terrible pain as he withdraws and hopefully encourage her to stay the freak away from any other men in the neighborhood. Evolutionarily speaking, this is supposed to give his genes a better chance of reproducing (because your hussy can be pregnant by more than one deadbeat at a time), but also: OUCH. You do not want this for your poor little kitters.
...Stay tuned for the next installment: "Help, my kitten has just been spayed: how to care for your convalescent kitty."