★Helping you and your pets live healthier, longer lives★ by Dr. Margo Hunt
Most mammals, including dogs and humans, follow a reproductive cycle that can be tracked by a calendar. The female cat, and all these other critters pictured, do not. They ovulate only after mating. Without the act of mating, these animals do not ovulate or undergo the hormonal events associated with ovulation, so pregnancy cannot occur, which makes artificial insemination in these animals a bit different, as breeders and zoo veterinarians have discovered.
In the wild, these species can have large territories where they are somewhat solitary animals. If they were spontaneous ovulators, they may not happen to be in the vicinity of a mate at “that time of the month,” and they would not have been able to reproduce. Being induced ovulators allows them to be fertile whenever they encounter a mate. This is a protective mechanism that helps ensure the survival of the species.
Have you ever been around a cat in heat? They exhibit amorous signs and will be extremely affectionate with people or other animals. Cats will stay in heat until they mate, are pregnant, or are spayed. So, if your kitten or cat is showing signs of heat, call your vet asap…. this is not a fun experience for the cat or the people in the household. If your queen had access to a tom during this time (or is an outdoor cat), then chances are very high that she will become pregnant.
Cats are fertile when the environmental conditions are optimal. This is known to be dependent on the length of daylight, environmental temperature, health of the animal, stress conditions, and other factors. Because their cycles are influenced by environmental conditions, they are also known as “seasonal ovulators.”
Kittens can go into estrus (“heat”) as early as 4-5 months. Most veterinarians recommend the ovariohysterectomy (“spay”, OHE) to be performed around 6 months of age. If the environmental conditions are optimal (spring/summer/fall) and your cat is showing any signs of estrus, then spaying early is a good idea! You don’t want to contribute to the overpopulation of cats, right? If you recently adopted or found a cat who is an adult, and you’re not certain if she’s been spayed, have your vet shave a bit of fur from her belly and look for a scar. Although it’s true that not all belly scars are from OHEs, statistically it is the most likely reason she’d have that perfect little midline belly scar. If she happens to have a tipped ear, then you know she’s been altered. Surgically removing the tip of one ear (usually the left), is a universal sign in the cat world that the feline, male or female, has been neutered. This ear tipping protocol is very helpful when a cat is feral and people are trapping the cats to spay/neuter in an effort to reduce the stray cat population.
A male cat has “barbs” or rough protrusions on his penis that rub the vaginal wall during copulation, which begins a neurologic and hormone cascade that ultimately causes an ovum (egg) or multiple ova to be released in the female. And, if a queen mates with multiple toms within a short amount of time, she can carry a litter with multiple sires. In some cases, that is why a litter of kittens can be so diverse in color and characteristics. The kittens can actually be different gestational ages as well.
I hope this has been interesting and informative to you. If it has, please leave me a comment below. Thanks!
To the health of your entire family (pets included!)
Margo Hunt, D.V.M.
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