How to Spot the Difference Between Male and Female Cats · The Wildest

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How to Spot the Difference Between Male and Female Cats

There’s more to it than what you learned in health class.

by Dr. Alycia Washington, DVM, MS
November 30, 2023
Male and female cat lying side by side.
101cats / iStock

Male and female cats have some physical and behavioral differences, but the most important factor is the individual cat's personality. When considering cat adoption (and you should!), you may wonder about the differences between genders. The common perception is that males are more loving and females are aloof. Males may also mark territory by spraying urine, while female cats may be more vocal. Let’s get into the differences between male and female cats

What are the differences between a male and female cat?

Physically, males are larger and heavier with more prominent heads. Behaviorally, male cats are known to be more affectionate, but are also more territorial. Female cats tend to be calmer, but less open to strangers. The differences between male and female cats are more noticeable in intact cats, so be sure your cat is spayed or neutered.

What are the physical differences between male and female cats?

There are a few physical differences between male and female cats, and some are more obvious than others. The best way to differentiate male and female cats is by their external genitalia. Intact males will have testicles that are easily seen from a distance. 

Differentiating between male and female kittens, or neutered male and adult females, involves a peek under the tail. The distance between the anus and penis in male cats is greater than the distance between the anus and vulva in female cats. The difference in proximity of genitalia to the anus, as well as differences in the size of the urethra contribute to certain health risks. A male cat’s longer and narrower urethra leaves him at risk for urethral obstruction. Female cats have a higher risk of developing urinary tract infections

Male cat versus female cat size can vary a good bit, but their breed plays a big role as well. When comparing body weight overall, female cats tend to be smaller and lighter. Female cats also reach their mature body weight earlier in life (13 months of age ) than males (16 months of age). Breed differences are often a bigger factor in body size. You can expect the average female Maine Coon to be much larger than a svelte male Siamese.

Gender can also have an impact on male and female cats’ appearance. Intact male cats will have large, rounded heads with prominent jowls due to testosterone. These chubby cheeks will linger in male cats that are neutered after reaching maturity. Coat color is also linked to sex. Most (but not all) orange tabby cats are male, and most (but not all) calico cats are female. 

What are the behavioral differences between male and female cats?

Sex and reproductive status can impact cat behavior. Keep in mind that behavior and temperament can be very specific to each individual cat (who doesn't know a cat with bizarre quirks?) — but there are patterns. 

When researchers polled cat parents, they found that female cats tend to be more fearful and less social towards both people and other cats. Other surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest that male cats are more playful and active than females. All this may sound like an argument to only consider adopting male cats, so let’s tip the scales in the other direction. Male cats can be more territorial, leading to more fights and battle wounds, but neutering reduces this behavior significantly. Male cats are also twice as likely to engage in urine marking than females. There is no difference in the trainability of male and female cats. They may cooperate, but don’t hold your breath. 

Are male or female cats more affectionate?

Male cats have a reputation for being more affectionate than female cats. But is there any data behind this claim? Are female cats more aggressive than male cats when it comes to interacting with people? 

When researchers at University of California, Davis investigated possible relationships between feline coat color and aggression, they found tortoiseshell and calico cats, which are almost always female, to be among the most feisty. This study didn’t compare sexes, so definite conclusions can’t be drawn. Besides, people who spend enough time around cats can definitely vouch for the fact that some female cats are absolute love bugs and some male cats are total a-holes.

Research has also shown that, when it comes to a cat's level of affection, early handling, socialization, and genetics are likely far more significant than gender. Also, affection towards humans they know versus strangers can vary widely as many cats adopt a “no new friends” approach to people. It makes more sense to consider each cat as an individual with a unique personality and temperament. 

Are there differences between male vs. female cat lifespan? 

Female cats tend to live longer than male cats. Despite this statistic, lifestyle has a far greater impact on lifespan than gender. Intact males tend to roam and fight, increasing their risk for injury and infection. Intact females are at higher risk for mammary cancer and uterine infections. Outdoor cats of either gender face more danger and have shorter life spans. Cats who are unvaccinated and don’t receive routine veterinary care also do not live as long.  

What research has been done on male vs. female cats?

Research that has identified the most conclusive difference between male and female cats primarily focuses on measurable data like body size, body weight, and the frequency of specific diseases. These measurements help establish averages and disease risk factors. However, science can also be used to delve into some fascinating questions. This is how we get cool cat facts.  

A study conducted by professors at Queen’s University in Belfast investigated laterality in cats. Basically, are cats left-pawed or right-pawed? They found that when it comes to reaching for food, stepping over objects, and stepping down, males showed a preference for their left paws and females favored their right. 

When given access to a running wheel, researchers found an increase in physical activity in female cats, with no change in the activity level of male cats. 

Another study compared responsiveness of male and female cats to kitten cries. Female cats were observed to be more responsive and showed more urgency than male cats. There was no difference between females that previously raised kittens and those that had not. 

Should you get a male or female cat?

When deciding between adopting a male or female cat, there’s no right or wrong answer. A male cat may be more rambunctious and affectionate, but may also spray urine in your home. A female cat may be more quiet and independent, but may choose you as the person they trust. There are no guarantees, so it's best to just adopt the cat who clicks with you rather than looking for one of a specific gender. 

Which combination of cats gets along better?

Regardless of gender, cats that grow up together are more likely to bond than cats introduced as adults, but that doesn’t mean that adult cats can’t become friends. When introducing adult cats, those that have been spayed or neutered tend to get along much better than cats that are still intact. Hormones drive a lot of aggressive and undesirable behaviors. 

In the wild, female cats form cooperative colonies to aid in caring for kittens, but this acceptance isn’t automatically extended to every cat. Cats of either gender are capable of being the best of friends or bitterest of enemies. If you’re considering adding another cat to the mix, just be sure to make a proper introduction

While gender does play a role in a cat’s size and demeanor, cats are individuals, and won’t have a specific personality based on the gender. Nature, nurture, and mystery sauce make each cat unique. 

FAQs (People also ask):

Do male cats spray more than females?

Male cats urine spray more commonly than female cats. While neutering helps decrease the incidence of urine spraying, it’s not guaranteed to eliminate the behavior. While less common, female cats can also urine spray, a behavior more commonly seen when they are in heat. 

Should I spay or neuter my cat regardless of gender?

All cats should be spayed or neutered regardless of gender. Spaying and neutering help decrease behavioral issues, reduce risk of certain diseases, and increase lifespan. 

Is there a difference in grooming needs between male and female cats?

Long-haired cats of either sex will require more grooming than short-haired cats. This may be more important in female, long-haired cats to reduce the risk of urinary tract infection. 


alycia washington, dvm

Dr. Alycia Washington, DVM, MS

Alycia Washington, DVM, is a small animal emergency veterinarian based in North Carolina. She works as a relief veterinarian and provides services to numerous emergency and specialty hospitals. Dr. Washington is also a children’s book author and freelance writer with a focus on veterinary medicine. She has a special fondness for turtles, honey bees, and penguins — none of which she treats. In her free time, Dr. Washington enjoys travel, good food, and good enough coffee. 

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