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Determing the sex of a cat: Is it a male or a female?

cat showing its butt

Are you wondering how to tell if your cat is a male or a female?

© DenisNata - Shutterstock

How can you be sure of the sex of the cat you are adopting? The diagnosis is not always obvious when you are not used to it. Many owners only find out the truth when they bring the kitten to the vet!

By Emilie Heyl

Updated on the

How to tell the sex of a cat? Yes, a question many many pet owners have asked themselves when they adopted or found a cat or kitten. While the sex difference is difficult to observe in young kittens, it is not always obvious when they are adults and when a male cat has been neutered. To determine the sex of a cat, whether adult or kitten, it is possible if you look for clues such as the feline’s behaviour and colour for example. However, the only way to distinguish the two sexes with certainty, is to look at the animal's genitals.

What are the characteristics to look out for? Are they only physiological or can they also be behavioural? Let’s find out more about how to determine the sex of a cat.

How can I tell the gender of a cat?

The morphological differences between males and females of certain species (the so-called sexual dimorphism) is not unusual in the animal world. The basic characteristic that makes it possible to distinguish a male from a female is the presence of gonads or sex cells (in females they are the ovaries and in males the testis or testicles) and sexual organs appropriate for a certain sex. These are the primary and secondary sexual characteristics.

Tertiary sexual characteristics include differences in appearance, and this is where - according to experts - it’s more complicated to determine a cat’s sex. As a general rule, males tend to be larger and stronger than females, but occasionally there may be a large female cat or a discreetly built male feline. Aside from the differences in breeds, the size of a male cat is usually the same as a female cat.

So, as we’ve noticed, male and female cats don’t have as many distinguishing features between the two sexes compared to lions for example. And even in the case of kittens it is virtually impossible to distinguish male from female cats solely based on appearance. Therefore, to recognise the sex of a cat, you have to look under its tail.

The genital characteristics of a male cat

Below the male cat's tail are the anus, scrotum (where it contains the testicles) and the penis. These characteristics are normally easy to observe, even if the cat is neutered because the scrotum will still be present, but smaller.

The male cat's genitals are still inconspicuous and covered in fur, so it can be difficult to see them, but it is possible to feel them under the skin, if the cat let’s you go down there. The testicles are about the size of a cherry.

Another clue is to measure the distance between the anus and the penis (2.5 cm minimum, 1 cm for a kitten).

The genital characteristics of a female cat

In a female cat, we can observe the presence of the anus and the vulva, which is in the form of a vertical slit. For the record, it is possible to compare the genital configuration of the cat to a semicolon, while that of the male cat recalls a colon.

Finally, the female cat has a shorter distance between the anus and the vulva (about 1 cm).

Infography of the cat's sex
We teach you to recognise the sex of a cat. © Wamiz

Sexing a cat: How to recognize the sex of a kitten

Identifying the sex of an adult feline is not a problem, as long as you can look under its tail. When it comes to a kitten, that’s another story. Indeed, it’s hard to look for a kitten’s gonad since they have not yet 'nested' in the scrotum. So, do you know how to recognise the sex of a cat once its born?

Identifying the sex of a newborn kitten is not so easy and even experienced breeders are not always able to guess how many males and how many females are in the litter. This is because a newborn kitten has a swollen body, it takes a few days for the area around the anus and the genito-urinary system to soften and become more visible.

How to perform an ''inspection ' to recognise the sex of the kitten?

During the "inspection" of a kitten (do it gently, to avoid stressing the feline) you have to look at the anus, located right below the tail. Then look for the genitourinary system. The key, at this point, will be the distance between one opening and another and its appearance.

In a female adult cat the distance between the anus and the vulva is very short and the labia minora are elongated. It is said that in female cats the vulva’s two openings resembles a semicolon or an inverted exclamation point. On the other hand, in a male cat, the distance between the anus and the urethral orifice is much larger: it can go from about 1.3 cm for kittens to 2.5 cm for adult cats. The shape and position of both openings resemble a colon. For a non neutered cat, between the anus and the penis are the testicles.

What age can you tell if a cat is male or female?

Newborn cats have genitals that are still immature, so you have to wait a few weeks before you can determine their sex (around 6 weeks). Around the age of two months, the male kitten's testicles will have started to grow and thus form a small lump between the anus and the genital opening. In the female, the distance between the two orifices is narrow (0.5 cm).

Can you determine the cat’s sex by its colour?

Yes, it is easier to guess the sex in tortoiseshell cats because they are almost always female (the simultaneous appearance of the colours of red and black is linked to the cat’s sex). On the other hand, statistics assure that ginger cats are usually males (75 to 80%). This is not a regularity since there may be exceptions.

What are the behavioural clues to look out for to determine the cat’s sex

Despite the fact that several gender stereotypes have been established around character traits in cats, reality has little or nothing to do with them. That is, a cat does not have to be more trained than a female, nor is a neutered cat more lazy than another cat that is not neutered. Most experts agree that gender has no influence on the personality of a cat. In general, we hear that males are more aggressive, and females are calmer, which has more to do with the temperament of an animal and not its sex.

The only behavioural differences that are related to gender and not individual characteristics are mating behaviours and territorial behaviour. Indeed, if for example a cat starts urinating on your furniture or the floor, chances are it’s a male. As for a female cat, she will tend to show signs she is in heat (meowing, excitement, estrus posture). She’ll start showing these signs once she reaches sexual maturity (around 7 months old).

Before examining a cat's genitals, take a few precautions. If this is an adult cat, they may not like this invasion of its private part and they will let you know quickly! As a precaution, put on gloves before handling your cat and have someone assist you to keep it still. If you don’t feel comfortable checking out its sex, don’t hesitate to go see a vet.

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