Cat Care

Female Cat or Queen

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Female Cat or Queen

Most female kittens reach puberty around the age of six to ten months old, although there is considerable variation in this. For instance, a feral cat that reaches the right age in the cold winter months may not become sexually active until the whether is warmer in the spring. At puberty, the female becomes sexually active and willing, and able to mate and produce kittens. This is popularly known as being 'in season', 'on heat' or 'calling' but is scientifically designated as being in 'oestrus'. In female cats there is a breeding season during which most matings take place.

This period extends from January to September but with two peeks of activity (at the beginning and end of the season during which the oestrus cycles are more obvious. During the autumn and winter months, when daylight hours are short most female cats enter an anoestrus phase when cycles cease. This is not at all predictable, however, and some females may continue to have cycles even although they may be less frequent than at other times.

A female cat is capable of reproducing before she has finished growing herself. This is highly detrimental to the young cat and her growth is likely to suffer as a consequence. This is because the young cat is simply not able to take in enough food to allow for her own growth and that of the rapidly developing kittens. Even if she is fed very well, the young mother will probably always remain small and not achieve her full size, although she may make up some lost ground once her kittens are weaned. It is necessary therefore to prevent a young queen from mating, which either means keeping her confined or giving her synthetic hormone treatment to suppress her oestrus cycles.

This treatment must be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and the hormones (called progestogens) are given either in tablet form or as an injection. Of course, if the female is a non-pedigree, mongrel cat, the most satisfactory option is to have her neutered or spayed by the age of six months. Hormone treatment is an useful means of delaying oestrus cycles in a young pedigree female cat so that a planned mating can take place when she is fully mature. Its main advantage is that owner are relieved of the nuisance of calling, which can be quite loud and persistent, and the necessity of keeping the cat confined. It is generally accepted that a queen should not have her first litter of kittens until she is at least ten months of age or preferably one year old. If hormonal treatment has been given, the cat's body needs time to adjust once the drugs have been withdrawn. Usually the first oestrus cycle occurs about three months after drug treatment is halted, and most breeders prefer to wait at the next one before allowing the cat to mate.

Oestrus usually lasts from one to three days but can be since ten days. If the cat does not mate, another cycle generally begins after two weeks, but this is variable. In some cats, cycles seem to follow rapidly and unpredictably if the animal is prevented from mating. These animals may develop ovarian cysts, which can cause infertility because of disruption of the balance of hormones. During the period leading up to oestrus, the behavior of the female usually changes. She frequently becomes more affectionate than usual, insisting on being petted and rolling on her back. She will then become increasingly restless, watching for her chance to get outside in search of a mate and starting to 'call', using her voice in an unusual way. Calling sounds vary from one cat to another but tend to be loud and raucous and almost like a howl at times. Siamese cats are especially vocal in this respect, perhaps because they are one of the most 'talkative' breeds of cat.

The vulva, which is the external opening of the genital tract, becomes enlarged currently, although this is not usually noticed. There may also be slight mucus discharge, but this is cleaned away by the cat during grooming and is unlikely to be detected. If a calling queen is allowed to roam freely, she will almost certainly mate repeatedly with several of the neighborhood tom cats, which fight one another to gain access to her. Ovulation, or the release of eggs, occurs in response to mating in cats so that it is possible for a litter of kittens to have more than one father. This is known as 'superfecundation' and is probably quite a common occurrence. The behavior associated with oestrus declines quite rapidly once the cat has mated, and the episode almost invariably results in pregnancy. It is possible to prevent a pregnancy from taking place, however, by giving an injection of oestrogen hormone. This must be administered by a veterinary surgeon within 40 hours of mating and prevents the fertilized eggs from developing in the normal way. This procedure is usually carried out with a pedigree queen cat that has inadvertently got out while calling.

Owners need to make preparations if they plan to breed kittens from a pedigree queen cat. The usual procedure, once a suitable stud tom cat has been found, is to arrange for the female to go to him at the start of net calling period. The torn and queen are usually placed in adjacent accommodation at first so that they can be introduced to one another through a wire mesh screen. Generally, after one or two days and ideally on the second day of the queen's period of oestrus, the two cats are allowed in together. Once they have got used to one another, and if the queen is prepared to accept the torn, mating usually takes place. It is best if at least two or more observed matings take place to increase the chances of a cat pregnancy.

As stated above, the oestrus period usually declines quite quickly after a queen has been mated. As a precaution, however, it is best to restrict the queen's freedom for a few more days to make absolutely sure that she does not subsequently mate with a mongrel torn. Occasionally a queen cat may be so disturbed by being plucked from her familiar surroundings that her oestrus symptoms subside and she refuses to accept the stud tore. The mating may also, for some other reason, be unsuccessful and fail to result in pregnancy. Usually the owner of the torn cat will allow another free visit by the queen at a future date to try to remedy the situation.

There may be quite a lot of noisy interaction among the two partners before the actual mating takes place. When showing that she is ready to mate, the queen lowers the front end of her body but raises her hindquarters and holds her tail on one side. The torn cat stands astride the queen with his legs placed on either side and seizes the back of her neck with his teeth before beginning to mate. The penis of a torn cat is covered with backward pointing barbed hairs, and the movement of these during mating is believed to stimulate the ejaculation of semen containing sperm. They are also believed to play a part in stimulating ovulation in the queen cat. The hairs, or papillae, degenerate in a neutered male cat that is not involved in mating.

In some, but not all, adult torn cats a small bone develops inside the penis that gives additional strength during mating. The bone, called the os penis, is only 1/2 cm in length and is formed from a gradual conversion (or ossification) of tissue within the penis into bone. The os penis is present as a much more definite structure in all male dogs. This may be connected with the fact that the mating process in dogs is a much more prolonged affair than in cats so the additional strengthening is advantageous. It appears that the bone is not essential for reproductive success in cats but may confer an advantage to the animals in which it is developed. Mating is quite a brief process, and the animals soon separate and may then spend some time grooming. Some queen cats are quite aggressive after mating and may turn on the torn, using teeth, claws, spitting and growling to chase him away.