It is often difficult, when cuddling the handful of fluff that you've chosen from its litter, to look upon your kitten and consider that, inonly a few months, this tiny being will become sexually mature. Yet,recognising the signs can avoid the birth of unwanted kittens, theprevention of nasty wounds sustained through cat fights, and theavoidance of potentially fatal diseases such as FIV or Leukaemia.
When a female cat is in season or oestrus, she is said to be "incall". Anyone who has lived with a calling cat will understand why theterm is so apt, as she will indeed call, normally loudly andincessantly. This is designed to advertise her availability to local roaming males, letting them know that she is ready for mating and is inpeak condition to carry young.
The call varies in length anywhere from 3-7 days depending on the cat,and she will continue to cycle until bred. This can be as often asevery few days to every few weeks. As well as being unusually vocal,she will roll around on the floor, and often become much moreaffectionate with her owners. The most obvious sign of a call is whena cat lies on her belly, tucks her back feet under her, lifts herbottom into the air and holds her tail to one side. If she is touchedlow on the back, her feet will begin to tread in place. This is herway of presenting herself to the male, and no entire male will be ableto ignore such an invitation. Cats should only be allowed access tomales in this period if you are planning for a litter of kittens. Ifyou do not want to kitten her, now is the time to keep her safelyindoors and spay once the call is finished.
Cats can call from an incredibly young age. The earliest anecdotalevidence of a call relates to a 17 week old Siamese kitten, and it isprudent to remember that, once a cat begins to call, she is able to beimpregnated. It is also worth noting that cats show no aversion tomating with a sibling, their parent or even their offspring, soin-breeding is a real possibility. It is ill-advised to mate such ayoung kitten, as the rigours of carrying, birthing and raising alitter should not be underestimated.
The age of onset of calling is very loosely breed-dependent, withOrientals, Siamese and Foreign breeds starting much earlier than mostlong-hairs, semi-long hairs and British. In contrast to the Siameseabove, it is not uncommon for Persians to show no signs of callinguntil well into their ninth month of life, then taking a further fewmonths to stabilise and reach their peak for mating.
It is recommended to wait until your female has achieved most of hergrowing prior to expecting her to carry and raise kittens. Normally,this coincides with one year of age, although this is alsobreed-dependent. Much younger and the breeder risks mismothering orinadequate attention to kittens' needs through immaturity oruncertainty of the mother, much older and the risks of miscarriage anddifficult births increase.
If a cat is not intended to have kittens, spaying is stronglyrecommended. A cat left to call unmated runs the risk of developingPyometra; a condition where the womb becomes infected and fills withpus. If left untreated, this is fatal.
The risk of mammary cancer in un-spayed females increases by 10% foreach year she is left un-spayed. Therefore, the younger the de-sexing isperformed, the less the risk of developing cancer.
It is often assumed by the average owner that a male who remainsunneutered will be much easier to manage than a female. However,unneutered males can become unhappy, frustrated, aggressive anddestructive.
Sexual maturity in males, just as with females, is often determined bybreed. A 16 week old Oriental kitten managed to successfully sire alitter with a fully mature female, while Himalayans commonly do notsire until at least two years old, sometimes older.
Often, the first signs of sexual maturity are very subtle. Your kittenmay change his play from gentle rough housing or kittenish clowning tomore focused hunting and stalking strategies. He will begin to take aninterest in sniffing other cats' bottoms, as this is how he willultimately discern if a female is ready to mate. He may scruff othercats, i.e. bite the back of their necks and hold on, again a behaviourhe would engage in to hold the female still for mating.
Seen in random play, these behaviours often go unnoticed until themale begins to outright mount other animals or even humans in thehousehold. One of the most obvious signs that a male is maturing iswhen he begins to spray. He will hold his tail straight up in the air,quiver it quickly from side to side, then emit spurts of very pungentsmelling urine. He will often choose vertical surfaces to do this. Thesmell is incredibly strong, and the behaviour cannot be discouraged.
Just as the female calls to attract a mate, the male advertises hisavailability through his urine. not only does it allow the female tolocate him, but it warns other males away, proclaiming his virilityand laying claim to his territory, whether that be a house oroutdoors. For some unknown reason, electrical items and sockets appearto be favoured urination spots, so it isn't uncommon for a male toshort out the power to a house.
If a male remains unneutered, he will roam for up to 6 miles searchingfor mates. He will regularly fight with other males for mating rights,and, as a result, run the risk of illness and injury. Mating fightsare vicious, and cats often need vet treatment to manage the woundsthey sustain. FIV, the cat equivalent of human AIDS, can be passed inthese fights, as can feline Leukaemia and a host of other diseases.
Disease can also be contracted from the females he mates with, andalthough the owner will not have the expense of kittens to contendwith, the vet bills incurred by the frequent fighting will more thanbalance this outlay.
If a cat is not for breeding, then spaying and neutering are stronglyrecommended. This avoids the birth of potentially difficult to homekittens, and drastically decreases the risk of your cat, male orfemale, getting involved in fights or contracting a disease fromcopulation. Many charities will provide financial support for spaying,designed to assist those with low incomes.