Determine the Sex of a Cat
Male and female cats and kittens look and act similarly, so it can be difficult to tell what gender they are just by watching their behavior.
If you know what to look for, however, there are several key differences that will allow you to differentiate between the sexes.
Newborn kittens will have immature genitalia, so wait until the cats are a few weeks old to determine their sex.
Determining the Sex by the Cat's Physical Features
- Approach the cat or kitten with care. In order to determine the sex of a cat or kitten, it's necessary to pick the cat up. Some cats don't like to be handled, so take a little time to let him or her get comfortable around you.
- Stand or crouch near the cat and let him or her approach you. When the cat comes close, let him or her sniff your hand.
- If the cat seems nervous, you may have to come back later or have a partner help you with the next step.
- Lift the cat's tail. Gently pick up the cat and cradle him or her in one arm. Use your free hand to lift the tail so you can examine the genital area.
- If the cat doesn't mind being handled, this may be easiest to perform while sitting on a chair or the couch, so you don't have to worry about dropping the cat.
- If you're working with a partner, have the partner hold the cat securely in both arms while you lift the tail.
- If the cat avoids having his or her tail lifted, try scratching him or her in the area where the tail meets the back. Cats usually lift their tails when they are touched in this spot.
- Look for genitalia characteristic of a male cat. The surest way to tell the difference between a male and female cat is by examining the cat's physical features below its tail. Begin by looking for male genital features, which can be somewhat easier to spot.
- A male cat will have an anus, scrotum, and penis, while a female cat will have only an anus and urinary tract opening.
- In an entire (or tom) cat, the scrotum is covered with fur and contains two testicles, each typically ranging in size from the size of cherry pits to actual cherries. The scrotum sticks out from the male cat's rear as a fairly obvious pair of bumps. If the cat has long fur, this can make the scrotum more difficult to see, in which case try dampening the fur with water to flatten it down and make the scrotum more obvious.
- A neutered male cat will still have a scrotum, though it will typically be smaller.
- The penis is sited below the scrotum, beneath the skin, and exits at a small furry mound between the cat's thighs. You might imagine a male cat’s genitalia resembling a colon (:).
- A male cat's anus and urinary tract opening are at least apart, or for kittens.
- Look for genitalia characteristic of a female cat. If the cat’s genitalia doesn’t appear to match that of a male cat, begin looking for female traits.
- A female cat will have an anus and a urinary tract opening/vulva, with the vulva in the shape of a vertical slit. You can imagine a female cat’s genitalia as resembling a semi-colon (;).
- A female cat will have a shorter distance between anus and vulva, typically about apart.
Determining Sex Through Other Differences
- Check the color. If you have a litter of kittens, look at the color of the cats; some cat colorations are gender-specific and can help you determine the sex of the cat.
- Cats that are calico or tortoise-shell colored are typically female.
- More orange or ginger colored cats are male than female, but this is not an accurate way to determine a cat's sex.
- Watch for gender-specific behaviors among intact (not neutered or spayed) cats. It's easier to tell the sex of intact cats, since they naturally display the habits and characteristics of their sex.
- Male cats that have not been neutered tend to be more aggressive than females and to have larger heads and thick skin. They like to roam, sometimes leaving for a few days at a time. They mark their territory by spraying it with strong-smelling urine.
- Female cats are less likely to spray their surroundings.
- Watch for signs that the cat is in heat or is or has been pregnant. Female cats that have not been spayed will go into heat, a state of fertility that enables them to become pregnant, every 3-5 weeks during warm weather (or in a house that’s climate controlled). Cats in heat display recognizable behaviors:
- Making vocal sounds to attract males. The cat may sound like it is in pain or whining.
- Moving the tail to the side to show genitalia or crouching into a receptive posture. The vulva may be secreting a clear discharge.
- Rubbing up against inanimate objects, owners, or other animals more than usual.
- Pregnant female cats have low-hanging, distended bellies.
- Female cats that have given birth may have nipples that protrude from their bellies. Be careful when using nipples to determine sex, since both male and female cats have nipples.
- The best way to determine the sex of a cat is to look at the genitalia. Noticing personality differences is not the most accurate way to determine a cat's sex, since most experts claim that it's a myth that male and female cats have personality differences.
- If you’re working solo, consider wearing leather gloves and a long-sleeved shirt to protect yourself from scratches when doing a physical examination.
- If the cat doesn't know you or is a scared stray, don't try to do a physical examination. Wait until the cat becomes comfortable with you, or take it to see a vet.
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