No, cats do not mate for life. Given the opportunity, both male and female cats will mate with as many partners as they possibly can. Although that may not sound romantic to you, for felines, engaging in polygamous (or polygyny in some species) can be beneficial for members of both sexes.
Why is it beneficial for cats to have multiple sexual partners?
Many animals, especially birds, are monogamous or mate for life. However, in mammals, monogamy is quite rare. According to some estimates, only three to nine percent of mammals are monogamous. Even for humans, monogamy is a fairly recent development.
And although monogamy has several benefits for both sexes and their offspring, mating with several partners offers several benefits as well.
1. The biological imperative.
Most animal mating behaviors are driven by what scientists call the biological imperative. The term refers to the need for animals to perpetuate their species.
For male animals, including tomcats, having multiple mates ensures that their genes are passed on to several offspring. For female animals, including queens, engaging in sex with multiple partners increases their chance of getting the best genes for their children.
For animals, mating is a lot like investing. Engaging with multiple partners is all about diversifying their investment, in this case, their genes, instead of putting everything in just one basket.
2. Genetic diversity
The more partners a cat has, the more diversified the gene pool becomes. But why is this important for cats and other animals?
For starters, the more diversified the gene pool is, the more healthy the population of a specific species becomes. This means that a particular species can cope with certain diseases and some types of stress.
Furthermore, genetic diversity allows a population to become resilient and flexible in the face of changes. In the face of change, a species can evolve and adapt. This would not be possible if members of both sexes partnered with a small group of mates.
Why are some animals monogamous while others are not?
One reason why many animals are polygamous is that they produce a substantial amount of sex cells. This allows them to mate with many females. In contrast, females can only mate up to a certain number of males due to the slower production of egg cells.
Some species are forced into monogamy due to circumstances. For example, many species mate with just one partner because finding another member of that species is extremely difficult. In other animals, finding a partner within the same location can be fairly easy.
Parental duties can also dictate whether an animal will be monogamous or polygamous. For example, animals living in environments with limited resources may mate for life and team up to provide for and protect their children.
In animals where the females take up most of the task of rearing the children, the males have more time to find new mates.
The mating habits of cats
Dealing with feral cat populations has become a growing problem in many parts of the world. A lot of that has to do with the rapid reproduction of stray and feral cats.
Female cats are opportunistic ovulators. This simply means that they can come into heat when there are nearby tomcats. As for tomcats, they are ready and willing to mate when the opportunity arises.
A female’s heat cycle is influenced largely by daylight. Typically, cats will go into heat every two weeks beginning in January up to September.
A female cat reaches sexual maturity at about the age of five months. However, it is not unusual for some female cats to reach maturity as early as four months.
Queens can stay in heat anywhere between five and 21 days. If the female cat does not find a mate, she will go back in heat every 12 to 22 days. During this period, she will show signs of readiness to mate, from being more vocal to rolling on the ground. At the same time, nearby tomcats will flock to her location, looking for a chance for a tryst with her.
Mating in cats is fairly quick. It can take between one to two minutes to finish. However, cats can mate multiple times in a day. As such, it is quite normal for queens to take multiple suitors in just one day. Because cats are polygamous, it is not unusual for a litter to have multiple fathers.
After mating, the queen begins releasing eggs from her ovaries. The release of eggs is triggered by copulation. Pregnancy in cats can last between 64 and 71 days.
Why cats need to be spayed
If a queen is left intact, she can produce about two to three litters in a year. Litter size can vary from four to six kittens, on average.
And if a queen is left intact, she can produce anywhere between 50 and 150 kittens in her lifetime. Female cats can become pregnant from the time they reach sexual maturity up until they reach the age of eight years. However, it is not unusual for some queens to become pregnant beyond eight years of age.
Nursing a litter does not prevent queens from going into heat or becoming pregnant. There are some queens that go into heat just a few weeks after giving birth. Even worse, members of the same litter can mate with one another.
Apart from helping control the population of feral cats, sterilization offers a few benefits. For starters, sterilization has been proven to help extend a cat’s lifespan. On average, an intact cat can live up to 14 years. On the other hand, a cat that has been fixed can live up to 20 years or more.
Furthermore, sterilizing a cat can reduce or even eliminate unwanted behaviors related to mating, from roaming to aggression.
Cats can be neutered as young as eight weeks old. In fact, this is a common practice in many animal shelters. This allows prospective cat owners to forgo the hurdle of getting their new pets fixed.
Ideally, you should get your pet neutered before he or she reaches sexual maturity or before reaching the age of five months. This drastically minimizes the chances of your queen getting pregnant.
Cats are not monogamous
Although the idea of your pet partnering with another feline for life may sound romantic, the reality is that cats will mate with every available partner if there is an opportunity.
From a biological standpoint, this makes perfect sense. However, this behavior can cause a host of problems, not only for cat owners but for communities as well.
This is why the importance of neutering pets cannot be overly stressed. Although there are a few drawbacks, these are far outweighed by the benefits that you and your furry little pal can enjoy.