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Boys and girls, guys and gals, chicks and dudes – no matter what you call 'em, they each have their own needs that we as pet parents must take into consideration. For your female cat, in particular, there are several special traits she'll need you to be aware of as she goes through life.
Whether you're already the proud parent of a female cat or you're trying to decide on the sex of your next adorable adoptee, here's the scoop on a few qualities unique to the ladies.
A Female Cat in Heat
First things first: yes, if your female cat isn't spayed, she will have a fertility cycle. In feline terms, this is called "heat" and a female cat in heat is referred to as a "queen."
While many pet parents neuter their male cats simply for the fact that neutered males are less aggressive and more hygienic (i.e., they're less likely to spray urine to mark their territory), deciding whether or not to spay your female cat involves many other factors.
It’s important to consider the population control benefits of spaying a female cat to help prevent shelter based euthanasias and out of control outdoor cat colonies. Spaying saves lives. There is an overpopulation of domestic animals in shelters, which leads to the euthanization of nearly 1.5 million shelter animals annually, 860,000 of them being cats according to the ASPCA.
If you decide against spaying, your female cat may be more prone to certain health issues, she will go into heat every three weeks in breeding season, and she may one day have a litter of ridiculously cute kittens, should she meet a handsome tomcat.
Even if the idea of being a cat grandparent makes you giddy, coping with a female cat in heat may not. Unspayed female cats will go into heat in the spring and the fall, for most breeds. During this time - which lasts about 4 to 5 days and occurs about every three weeks - your female cat will be:
Obsessed with rubbing against things in order to get her scent on as many surfaces as possible
Far more likely to attempt an escape, especially if she senses a male cat is outside
More likely to lick her genital area frequently, which may increase the risk of infection
A female cat can go into heat as early as four months of age and it signals that she's ready and able to have kittens. However, a cat who gets pregnant before she's at least 10 months old is far more likely to have health problems as her body is still developing.
According to the ASPCA, "Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast tumors, which are malignant or cancerous in about 50 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats. Spaying your pet before her first heat offers the best protection from these diseases."
Of course, if you plan to breed your pretty kitty, consult with your veterinarian to ensure you can take as many measures as possible to keep her safe and healthy without spaying her.
When a female cat becomes pregnant and is awaiting her litter of kittens, it's referred to as "queening." (We'll pause for a moment to let you go hashtag crazy with that one on social media.)
However, like humans, a female cat who has not been spayed could present with signs of pregnancy, but not actually have a litter on the way at all. In that case, she's not actually queening; rather, she's showing signs of false pregnancy.
Much like women, a female cat can show signs of pregnancy such as abdominal distention (a growing or bulging tummy), enlargement of the mammary glands (breast tissue), and even morning sickness (vomiting and loss of appetite).
The best way to tell for sure if your cat is queening is:
To feel gently on your cat's belly
Visiting the vet for an ultrasound after day 16 of her possible pregnancy
Getting an x-ray of your cat's tummy
If your cat isn't pregnant, but she's showing several signs of pregnancy, then she's having a false pregnancy. It's not clear what causes this phenomenon, but vets believe it's most likely due to a hormone imbalance.
If your female cat experiences a false pregnancy, consider taking her to the vet for a check up to make sure everything is OK.
Being in charge of giving life to new beings is a doozy of a responsibility (am I right, ladies?). Understandably, then, female cats who have not been spayed often deal with problems during the birthing process.
If your female cat has been unable to birth kittens or, tragically, has birthed still born kittens, she may be dealing with one or more of these issues:
Fetal Reabsorption – If a fetus is not viable, the mother cat's body will reabsorb the fetal tissue into her body. It is common for pieces to be found in the afterbirth when this happens. This is far more common if the mother cat has the FeLV virus.
Uterine Cysts – Cysts that are attached to the ovaries or uterus can cause hormonal imbalances and disrupt the development of healthy kittens.
Endometritis – A female cat with endometritis will develop a bacterial infection in her uterus that can kill any unborn kittens growing in her womb. In many cases, cats with endometritis are unable to breed again in the future; though in mild cases of infection, breeding may be possible with treatment.
As any woman can confirm, it's not easy being a female cat. Understanding the special health issues female cats are prone to, especially if they are not spayed, can go a long way toward helping you be the best cat parent you can be.
Do you have a female cat? Tell us all about her in the comments below! Every queen deserves to be celebrated.