The sex life of cats

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

The Egyptian goddess of fertility is a cat for good reason. Cats are one of the most efficient reproducers. As “opportunistic ovulators” female cats can come into heat any time an appealing tomcat appears. Toms are ready for action 24/7. The natural routine is for females to respond to longer daylight starting in January. Every two weeks from January through September, a fertile cat will automatically come into heat. The fertility cycle usually starts at five months of age, although it is possible for female cats to go into heat and become pregnant at four months. This is why the phenomenon of “kittens having kittens” fills shelters beyond capacity during the spring and fall months. In milder climates, cats become sexually mature and reproduce more often. Climate change may be affecting the increased number and year around presence of kittens being seen in many shelters.

Each period of heat lasts between five and 21 days. When no mating takes place, the queen repeatedly cycles every 12 to 22 days. Cats may evidence no physical signs to humans while their scent is broadcast loud and clear to available suitors. Many cat owners and their neighbors are all too familiar with the mating calls which resound day and night during the fertile period. Once initiated, the mating ritual may involve more than one partner, resulting in litters of kittens with different dads. Feline pregnancy averages from 58 to 69 days.

Writing in a newsletter published by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Arnold Plotnik, DVM, DACVIM explains that cats are at peak fertility between 1.5 and 8 years of age. Left as a fertile queen, a female feline can readily produce two or three litters per year, and 50 to 150 kittens in a lifetime with up to four kittens per litter. Litter size increases as a female ages and litters of six kittens are common. It has been estimated that one intact cat and her kittens can produce up to 98,000 cats in their combined lifetimes. Given this, the humane necessity – in addition to the health benefits – of spay and neuter becomes obvious.

Cats can become pregnant while nursing newborns. Some go into hear as soon as one week after giving birth. Many do not realize that litter mates do mate. To avoid pregnancy, household males and females must be neutered by four months of age.

It is scientifically proven that allowing a cat to have one litter is an old myth which benefits neither the cat nor her family. Cats spayed before their first heat avoid mammary cancers. Neutered males avoid testicular and prostate cancers. This also curtails the process of roaming males who spray doors and deck furniture to attract intact females residing on the premises, as well as the ruckus and possible trauma of eligible bachelors fighting over territory and mating rights. Another harmful myth is that of allowing a litter to allow children to witness the “miracle of birth.” The children learn that kittens are disposable, handed off to strangers or worse, and never learn the consequence of death for the innocent shelter orphans. Reproduction videos and books are readily available for sex education.

Protected, indoor cats live 20 years or more. The average feline life span is 14 years. Neutering can add two or three years of quality life. The cat became more popular than the dog in the late 1980’s. With more cats in more homes it is all the more urgent to prevent overpopulation with safe, early spay and neuter surgery. Low-cost programs are available to help owners do their part to reduce the needless deaths of a surplus feline population in shelters or on the streets. Call 530-542-2857 for information.

– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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