It can be tricky to tell the difference between male and female cats without peeking under the hood, as it were. Sometimes you don’t have an opportunity to sex a cat by looking at the genitals. Although it’s not an exact science, its possible to tell the difference between male and female cats by other means. Cats exhibit a degree of sexual dimorphism, with this being more or less pronounced in different breeds. Females tend to be smaller than males. Perhaps most distinctive, though, are the facial differences between male and female cats. With practice, you can often distinguish between the sexes.
How to tell cat gender by face: Male cats tend to have a more rounded, fuller face than females. The cheek pads on a male cat develop more, especially in an entire male, giving these cats a jowly look. Female cats tend to have a few narrower face with a more delicate muzzle.
You’ve landed on this page because you want to learn how to distinguish between male and female cats. Perhaps you can’t get near enough to perform a genital inspection. Maybe the cat is a stray and won’t let you get close, or perhaps you’re curious about a neighbour’s pet. Maybe you spotted a kitty in the shelter and you’re thinking of adopting. Keep reading to find out all the answers: how to tell a cat’s sex from the face, and from other characteristics. This article has all the information that you’re looking for.
How to Tell Cat Gender by Face
The only really accurate way to know if you have a male or a female cat is to look at the cat’s genitals and make your deduction based on these. In some cases, however, this isn’t possible. You can make a very good guess at a cat’s sex by studying the animal’s face.
Note that this only applies to cats that have outgrown the kitten stage and begun to develop their adult characteristics. When they’re born, male and female kittens are virtually indistinguishable; they can really only be sexed by examining the genitals, and even then this can be tricky for the lay cat owner.
The male cat’s face tends to be heavier and more jowly than the female’s. Overall, he’ll look somewhat less delicate and defined. Male cats tend to have a larger muzzle, with broader nose wings. Their foreheads tend to be larger and broader, and they often have blockier cheekbones than their sisters.
The whisker pads are usually more pronounced, although this will depend to a large part on whether and when the animal was de-sexed. A male cat who was neutered at an early stage in his development will have a much less “masculine” look than one who was neutered well into adulthood, or who is still entire.
Female cats don’t undergo such pronounced facial changes during feline puberty. Their faces tend to be more pointed and narrower than the male’s, with a more slender muzzle and smaller whisker-pads. Their foreheads are less broad and their overall appearance less blocky.
Cats are fairly diverse in terms of their appearance and build, especially between different breeds. For example, a Siamese male who was neutered at a young age might look closer to the stereotypical female cat template than a female British Shorthair. For this and other reasons, a cat’s facial features should only be used as a guide to the cat’s probable sex rather than a definitive indicator of whether the cat is female or male.
In the next section, you’ll learn about other physical characteristics that can indicate a cat’s sex.
Other Physical Characteristics
There are some other physical characteristics that can give a good indication of an adult cat’s sex. One of these is colouration. While some colours are found in both males and females in the same percentages, others are not.
Tortoiseshell and calico cats are nearly always female. These cats have fur that’s a mixture of many different colours, either blended together as in the tortoiseshell or in distinct patches (calico). The mutations that cause this colourations are carried on the X chromosome and require two X chromosomes to manifest. In very rare cases, a cat with XXY chromosomes may be born with tortoiseshell or calico colours. Such cats are technically intersex, but may present with male anatomy. These special little guys are one in several thousand.
Size is another indicator. In general, male cats are bigger and stockier than females. They tend to have broader shoulders and sturdier limbs. They may also be significantly heavier. Dimorphism in some breeds is very pronounced; a fully grown male British Shorthair, for example, may end up half-again as big as his sister.
Note that the size difference between breeds is often significant. A male Devon Rex or Balinese cat may be smaller than a female Norwegian Forest Cat.
Gender and Behaviour
A cat’s gender may also influence behaviour. Entire male cats can be more aggressive, with a tendency to spray their surroundings. They are more inclined to escape and roam around, sometimes disappearing for long periods.
Females who haven’t been spayed will eventually go into heat, which leads them to act out in various ways. They will often try to escape more, especially if there are male cat around. They will vocalise more, giving wailing and mournful cries. These pained yowls attract toms but can be quite disturbing for humans.
The cat may crouch in a receptive posture and may lift her tail. She may rub up against people and objects more often. Cats in heat can become more destructive and aggressive, as this is a stressful experience for a female. There may also be a clear discharge from the vulva — but if you’re close enough to observe this, you already know the cat’s sex.
Pregnancy is another giveaway of a cat’s sex. If you see a cat with a low-hanging, distended belly and swollen nipples, it’s very likely that you’re looking at a pregnant female. Some cats with severe internal parasites can also have distended abdomens, but these will not have the more pronounced nipples of a female cat who’s expecting a litter.
Sexing Cats Based on Genitals
The only really reliable way to determine a cat’s sex is to look at the genitals. This is easier in older cats. In very young kittens, the males and females can be quite hard to distinguish if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
To see the cat’s genitals, you’ll need to gently lift up the tail. If the cat is relaxed and amenable to being handled, this is easy enough. It’s a good idea to sit down with the cat on your lap, so you won’t drop the animal if things don’t go well. If the cat doesn’t co-operate with you lifting the tail, try scratching the animal’s back at the base of the tail. This often causes the cat to lift up its tail instinctively.
A more nervous or hostile cat can be tricky to handle — it’s better to have someone else hold the cat while you perform the examination. It might be necessary to wrap the cat in a towel or blanket.
A male cat will have a scrotum and penis located just below the anus. In an entire tom, the testicles will also be visible. Neutered toms still have scrota, but they’re smaller and less pronounced. A female cat will only have an anus and vagina.
Whatever the cat’s sex, it’s important that the cat be spayed or neutered as soon as possible. Your vet can advise you on whether the cat is old enough for the procedure. It’s usually carried out at around five months, but may be performed earlier in some cases. De-sexing cats makes them happier and easier to care for, as well as protecting them against various diseases.