Usually female cats attain sexual maturity by the time they are 6 months old. However, there are some breeds that get sexually mature when they are just four months old. The age when a female cat comes into heat varies from one breed to another, but generally the first time it happens is somewhere between 4 and 10 months.
The duration of the heat cycle varies from cat to cat, but once the female enters this cycle, the cat will come in heat every 2 to 3 weeks. This will continue until the cat is either spayed or it becomes pregnant.
If you have a female cat, you should be aware of the heat symptoms. Then you can take appropriate steps to handle the situation. A cat in heat will show more affection. Invariably it will rub its neck, head or posterior against people, objects and even other cats. The call of the cat will change. It will have a long and loud howl. This call is to attract a tom cat. You will also notice the cat taking a mating position by lowering its front end and pointing its bottom in the air with its tail held high in the air. You will also notice the cat's urine smelling stronger than usual. This is mainly because of high levels of estrogen in the urine. In addition, the cat will also keep licking its genitals quite often.
If all the aforementioned symptoms are present in your female cat, then it is in heat. Usually the cat may not have any visible discharge from the vagina or even show signs of discomfort. However, the cat does experience discomfort when it in heat. This discomfort can be alleviated by spaying the cat or allowing it to mate and become pregnant. If you do not take one of these steps, then the cat will keep getting the estrus cycle every 2 to 3 weeks. You can pet and cuddle your cat to give it the sensory stimulation it is looking for. In addition, you should try to keep the cat busy and distracted to help it get rid of the excess energy it has during this period. A vet may also give the cat hormone shots to prevent it from reaching the estrus cycle. This is a temporary solution though.
The other alternative is to spay the cat. While spaying will not stop the discomfort experienced during estrus cycle, it will help to prevent uterine infection and breast cancer. If you intend spaying the cat, it should be done when it is about 6 months old. If the cat is in heat, spaying can be done, but be prepared to shell out more money.
The last alternative is to allow your cat to mate and let her have kittens. This should be done only when the cat is one year old and has had a few estrus cycles.