It was just past eleven o’clock when the phone rang. I’d been asleep for about an hour. Before I could even speak a word, the client on the other end screamed, “Dr. Oz, you gotta help me! My poor little Fluffy (her seven-month-old kitten) is having seizures. She’s thrashing around the kitchen floor and shrieking at the top of her lungs in agony. Doctor, please, you gotta help me!”
And sure enough, over the sounds of a crying baby, a squalling kid, and a shouting husband, I could hear in the background their cat meowing at the top of its lungs. After calming the terrified lady down some, I then asked her a couple of questions. It didn’t take long for me to reach the conclusion that something, indeed, was wrong with sweet little Fluffy. The poor little cat wasn’t having seizures; she was in heat.
I am forever amazed that in this modern day and age, with all its high-tech computers, the Internet, and the information superhighway, I’m still being asked by pet owners this most basic of questions: “Doc, what exactly do you mean when you say our pet is in heat?”
When I answer this question, the first thing I do is remind the pet owner that only females who have not been spayed (fixed) can come into heat. Next, I explain that the sole, bottom-line purpose of a female cat (or any animal) being in heat is to attract a male tomcat so that she and he can mate, thus guaranteeing that she becomes pregnant.
The heat cycle normally begins between seven and twelve months of age but can occur as young as four months. Being in heat is an enormously complex phenomenon that involves the entire cat’s body. What owners notice most is the change in their cat’s behavior. Cats in heat will become extremely affectionate, roll around, and start rubbing against everything. The worst aspect of a cat in heat is the meowing (it can be more like a howl). I can hear it out there now: “OK, Doc, what does a cat being in heat have in common with young Navy sailors?”
While in heat, female cats act like many of my former, unmarried shipmates from back in my old Navy days. That is, after being at sea for forty to fifty days, nonstop, with no wine, no women, and very little song, these guys’ first and foremost goal for as soon as the ship dropped anchor was to hit the beach, and try their level best to find someone to mate with. This all-consuming need to find a mate at any cost is what nature has programmed these in-heat female cats to do. (I’d like to make it very clear that I, of course, never did such things during my days in the 7th Fleet. Instead, I always did volunteer work at orphanages or visited the local museums and other exciting tourist sights; if it was Sunday, I’d go to church. Then, when the day was done, I’d always stop off at the NCO club on base for a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice or perhaps, if I was feeling adventurous, I’d order a cool and refreshing tropical coconut drink.)
These females can also be quite devious in their quests to find a tomcat. Besides the most common method of simply escaping through an open door, I’ve treated a cat that jumped from a third-story rooftop patio to get away, and still another who jumped from a fifth-floor balcony. Another time, I had to suture an ear back onto a cat who slashed her way through a screened-in porch. I’ll say it one more time: these girls will do everything in their power to find a tomcat.
There are two basic cures for being in heat. The first and most irresponsible is to just let her get pregnant. Some people I’ve spoken to just open their back door, let the cat out, and literally let nature take its course. If the poor little cats survive not getting hit by a car in their frenzied state or, even worse, getting mauled by some big-jowled, Godzilla tomcat, you can rest assured she’ll be adding to the surplus kitten supply in about sixty-two days. The second and most humane method (the only one that I recommend) is to avoid the problem altogether and get the female spayed before her first heat at five to six months of age.