Understanding the basics of cat sexual behavior can help you deal with challenges like spraying and fighting that can make your cat difficult to be around at times. Even cats who are neutered or spayed can show these signs. Learn how to identify the root of the behavior and find a solution to these frustrating traits once and for all.
Sexual Behavior in Male Cats
Male kittens go through some notable milestones before reaching sexual maturity as a developed cat capable of fathering kittens.
Landmarks of a Male Kitten's Development
A testosterone surge around the time of birth sets the kitten's future behavior as male. However, up until around 12 weeks, the male kitten is the equivalent of a toddler or small child. Only after 12 weeks is there enough background testosterone for the kitten to enter the cat equivalent of puberty. Between three to six or seven months, the young male cat is growing and maturing into a young cat capable of mating.
When a young male under six months of age mounts another cat, he is more likely to be 'playing' or 'practicing' than actually mating. It isn't until around nine to 12 months of age that a male cat's hormones prompt him to actively seek out a girlfriend.
If you have a male and female kitten in the same house together, you can't use the boy's age as a form of contraceptive. You need to assume he could father a litter from as early as five months of age.
What's interesting is that in the wild, a male cat sets up his own territory at around 12 to 18 months of age, which is also when his thoughts turn to fathering kittens. As part of this behavior, the male roams further away and sprays to scent mark his territory. These actions will be recognized by owners of entire male cats as:
- Spraying: Scent marking landmarks in the home to tell other cats the territory is taken.
- Roaming: If allowed outdoors, an intact male might wander off for days at a time, looking for a mate.
- Fighting: Intact males are strongly territorial and prepared to fight to defend their area.
Mounting Behavior in the Neutered Male
Even when neutered, a male cat still produces testosterone, but at a lesser level. Because high testosterone causes spraying, roaming, and fighting in cats, neutered males are more home-loving and attentive to their owners.
So what does it mean if your male cat humps toys or mounts other cats? In truth, this is unlikely to be true sexual behavior. If the male was neutered as an adult, he may have learned behaviors, which he carries out from a force of habit. Around 10% of neutered males continue to mount objects out of habit, with their behavior triggered by intense stimulation, such as strangers coming into their territory.
Neutered male cats may hump other cats in the house in an attempt to reinforce their status. The strong scent of a female cat in heat may also reawaken instinctive behavior and can cause a male to mount an object out of excitement.
Strategies to reduce mounting in neutered males include providing an outlet for energy with energetic play. He should also be able to express normal behaviors, such as climbing and clawing, so he can supervise his territory. Mounting toys can serve as a means of venting excess energy.
Tips for Neutered Male Spraying
The link between sexual behavior and normal cat behavior is tightly woven. When a cat feels insecure or threatened, they are liable to mark territory (with spraying or clawing), which can be mistaken for sexual behavior, when it is actually down to the basic need for reassurance. The answer is to help him feel more secure, which requires a two-pronged approach:
- Reduce threats to his territory by looking for stress factors, such as stray cats in his yard, and find a way to make the problem go away so he feels less threatened.
- Make him more secure and calm. Decreasing his anxiety will reduce his need to spray.
- Use Feliway diffusers: Synthetic feline pheromones send a 'scent message' that he is safe.
- Provide scratching posts: Place scratching stations near doors, so he can mark these entrances and exits as his.
- Provide hiding places and high-hides: Provide for his need to hide or get above trouble to help him feel more secure.
- Create a calm home: Keep noise to a minimum for a chill home environment that feels like a safe place.
- Provide plenty of resources: In a multi-cat household, ensure each cat has their own food and water bowls, toilets, hiding place, toys, and bed, so they are not competing for resources.
A neutered male that sprays is often territory-marking out of insecurity rather than any sexual motivation.
Sexual Behavior in Female Cats
An intact female cat can go into heat as often as every three weeks. To the unfamiliar, a female cat in heat may appear in great pain, so avoid an unnecessary trip to the vet by knowing what the signs are.
Landmarks of a Female Kitten's Development
The age at which a young female becomes sexually mature is influenced by many factors, including:
- The time of year she was born
- Length of daylight hours
- Presence of an in-heat female
- Presence of an intact male
- Availability of food and shelter
The average age female kittens enter puberty is five to six months. However, this can be earlier or much later (as late as 18 months), depending on the factors listed above. As a rule of thumb, a kitten born in the spring that has plenty of food and an intact male for company is more likely to fall pregnant than a lone autumn-born kitten surviving on not much food.
A female cat comes into heat approximately every two to three weeks. While in heat, she will accept a male's attention and may get pregnant. Each estrus lasts around three to five days. In a home setting with artificial lights and heat, a female may cycle all year round, whereas her feral feline cousins tend to peak between February and April and again between June and August.
A female cat who is not in heat will be hostile to the advances of a male cat. She'll hiss, spit, and swipe out at him. Whereas when she is in heat, her behavior is flirtatious, and she readily welcomes his attention. The behavior of a female in heat can seem alarming to an unsuspecting owner and includes:
- Vocalizing: This includes piercing cries as if in pain (though she isn't!).
- Restlessness: She may pace and have trouble settling, though, again, in this scenario, she is not in pain.
- Moody and unpredictable behavior: She may be irritable or even try to bite.
- Excessive affection to the owner: She might pester the owner for chin rubs and fuss.
- Commando crawling and rolling on the floor: The female adopts a bottom-in-the-air stance and drags herself along the floor. Although alarming to see, this is normal mating behavior.
- Flagging her tail: This refers to holding her tail to one side when her rump is rubbed.
- Increased urination: To advertise she's in heat, she may spritz the home with urine.
- Roaming: A home-loving female may try to wander off to find a mate
Desexing a female cat involves removing the ovaries and uterus. Her behavior then evens out and is similar to her 'non-estrus' state, but all year round.
If Your Spayed Female Comes Into Heat
Once desexed, a female cat should not come into heat. However, some female cats become more loving and affectionate after the operation, which can be mistaken for estrus.
Occasionally, a small piece of ovarian tissue is unintentionally left behind during surgery, and this can cause the female to cycle. The good news is that as long as the womb was removed, she cannot get pregnant. However, this condition can lead to problems like mammary cancer. Monitor your cat's behavior to see if she is friendly all the time or if it goes in three-week cycles, and see your vet if you're concerned.
When in Doubt, See Your Vet
If your cat starts to act oddly, then take notice, especially in a neutered or desexed cat. You'll first want to get your cat checked by a vet to rule out any physical causes, because behaviors such as frequently passing urine could be sexual behaviors, but it can also be a sign of a urinary infection. Never assume odd behavior is sexual until the cat has been passed as healthy. Even then, know that behaviors such as spraying are the actions of an unsettled or insecure cat. Never punish your cat. Instead, seek the advice of a certified pet behaviorist.