If you’ve ever been within earshot of cats when they’re mating, you’re probably wondering why it sounds more like a fierce feline fight—complete with screaming and clawing—rather than convivial kitty canoodling. But while this caterwauling can be unnerving, it’s not a cause for alarm (although the female cat certainly has reason to yowl!).
We spoke with a certified cat behavior consultant and a veterinarian to get the lowdown on these literal scream queens.
Why Do Female Cats Scream When They’re in Heat?
For some cats, the shrill cries can begin before mating even occurs. To explain what’s going on will require a quick discussion of the birds and the bees and the kitties.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, unspayed female cats (also called queens) can enter their first heat, during which they’re receptive to males for mating, as early as 4 months of age. Queens can be in heat multiple times per breeding season, which typically lasts from February to October for indoor cats, give or take a few weeks (which, as you’ll notice, is almost the entire year!).
When in heat, Merck says that queens will demonstrate characteristic mating behaviors like rolling, rubbing against objects, kneading her back feet, and—you guessed it—yowling with gusto. You can think of these as feline marketing tactics designed to attract a male partner.
Why Do Female Cats Scream When They’re Mating?
In addition to experiencing heat cycles, Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, author and owner of Cat Behavior Associates, explains that cats are induced ovulators, meaning the ovaries aren’t stimulated to release eggs without the act of breeding. And unfortunately for the queen, this ovulation stimulation is caused by the male cat’s penis, which Johnson-Bennett says has spiny barbs that painfully scrape the female cat’s vagina during copulation—hence the screaming. In addition to yowling, the queen will likely put up a fight and try to scratch at and run away from the male cat, who will be holding her firmly by the neck with his teeth.
Signs Your Female Cat Needs to Visit the Vet After Mating
Cat mating tends to be a straightforward and efficient (if not exactly quiet) process, but problems can arise.
“As always, any abnormal discharge or lethargy would warrant a vet visit,” says Laura Moon, DVM, of Green Hills Veterinary Clinic in Moberly, Mo. “There’s also the rare case where a female cat may have been aggressively bred and they may strain from discomfort, causing their rectum or vulva to prolapse, or protrude out.” This, says Moon, is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention.
What isn’t a cause for concern: your cat wanting some space. Merck notes that it’s normal for the queen to require some “alone time” away from the male cat after breeding, during which she will roll around and groom herself.
Signs Your Cat is Pregnant
Merck lists a bigger appetite, a growing belly, and swollen mammary glands as signs of pregnancy, though cats can interestingly exhibit these same changes during what’s called a pseudopregnancy, or false pregnancy.
You can find out if your cat is truly growing kittens approximately 30 days after breeding. “At this point,” says Moon, “we can perform an ultrasound to determine pregnancy. And at approximately 60 days post-breeding, we can perform an x-ray to determine how many kittens there are.” The average cat pregnancy lasts roughly two months, so by the time you’re able to count the kittens, it’s almost their birthday.
Moon adds that it’s quite rare for cats to need assistance in kitting or a Cesarean section: “They have managed to retain very successful litters just like their undomesticated ancestors!”
It’s worth noting that cats who are not spayed can have up to three litters per year, and the average pregnancy results in four kittens. That’s 12 possible offspring in a single year. Moreover, the Spay and Neuter Action Project estimates that the mating of two unaltered (i.e. not spayed or neutered) cats can result in as many as 400,000 descendants after only six years! With this in mind, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about spaying and neutering as early as possible.