By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt
It’s tradition for my mom to call me whenever my dad says something unintentionally hilarious. That’s one way we bond: making fun of the men-folk in our family.
Recently, my mom called and said with a stage-whisper, “Don’t tell your dad I told you, but he said the funniest thing today!”
She explained that they were sitting outside, watching our elderly cat, Lily, wander around the backyard. Then my dad asked, hestitantly, “If she wanted to, could Lily have babies? You know, if she wasn’t fixed? Or would she be in cat…you know…” By trailing off at the end, my mom assumed he was hinting at the possibility of cat menopause.
Silly dad! We cackled. First, there was the “if she wanted to” statement, which implied that Lily could just choose whether she wanted to have babies, or, I don’t know, put her career first. Second, there was his idea of cat menopause, which brought to mind a poor kitty suffering hot-flashes.
When we were done giggling, my mom asked, “But do cats go through menopause?”
It’s actually a good question. What do we know about feline reproductive biology?
In many ways, cat reproduction is a lot like human reproduction. It takes kitty sperm plus kitty eggs. While cats don’t have what we would call “periods,” females still go through cycles of estrus called “heat.”
One difference between cat ovulation cycles and human ovulation cycles is that cats have “induced ovulation.” Unlike female humans, who will ovulate whether they have a sexual partner or not (a condition called “spontaneous ovulation”), cats need sexual penetration to release an egg into the uterus.
Let’s use baseball as a metaphor for cat ovulation:
A cat in heat is like a pitcher warming up in the bull-pen. During this time, the cat’s egg is getting bigger and preparing to be released from the ovary. Then the female cat finds a male cat and he mounts her–the pregame show. The two cats copulate, and the vaginal and cervical stimulation cause the release of a hormone called luteinizing hormone–the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Finally, the egg is released from the ovary and it heads down the fallopian tube–play ball!
It’s normal for cats to release multiple eggs at a time. Then about 9 weeks later, kittens are born! Awww.
And menopause? Well, cats don’t have menopause. Their fertility can decline with age, but they won’t stop cycling into estrus.
There goes my plan for a “Meno-paws!” line of hormone-replacement cat treats.