How Can I Tell the Sex of a Cat?

Couple holding cat
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One of the most common questions new pet owners have about cats, especially "fixed" cats, is how to tell the males from the females. Unlike many animals which have different colorizations or physical features, little differentiates male cats from female ones. Tomcats that have not been neutered will have readily evident testicles and a broader jowl. However, male neutered cats' testicles may not be so easily seen.

Here are some tips to figuring out the sex of your feline. 

Punctuation Marks Are a Clue to Cats' Sex

As a rule of thumb, breeders often use "punctuation marks" to identify the sex of younger cats or neutered cats. It does require getting an up close view of your cat's nether region or just take a look the next time your cat shoves her butt in your face.

  • Female Cats - Exclamation Point
    If you look at a female cat's genital area, the space just under her tail, it will look like an upside down exclamation point (!) with the long slit of the vaginal area below the anus.
  • Male Cats - Colon
    The male cat has a narrower space between the anus and the penis, with the testicles in the middle.

Spayed female cats will still show the upside down "!", but if you adopted her as an adult, x-rays may be needed to confirm she has been spayed. With female cats, it's important to find out if they've been spayed or not before you have an unplanned litter on your hands.

Most neutered male cats will still show the vestigial remnants of a testicle sac, and the anus and penis will still be relatively close together.

Differences Between Male and Female Cats

There are many myths about how gender will affect a cat's behavior. There are some differences in cats who have not been spayed or neutered but those differences tend to disappear in fixed cats.

Unneutered male cats tend to be more active and aggressive. They're also more likely to mark their territory than neutered toms. A female cat who hasn't been spayed will go into heat roughly every two weeks. During this time her behavior can change drastically as she attempts to find a mate. During this time they might be more demanding of attention and vocally louder.

However, cats that are "fixed" do not share these behavioral differences, or at least not along gender lines. Things like breed and upbringing are much more likely to affect your cat's temperament than merely their gender. When you're choosing a new cat you should spend as much time with it as possible to get a feel for its personality.     

Remember to Spay or Neuter

Once you have determined the sex of your cat, don't forget to spay or neuter it - an essential veterinary procedure for a number of reasons. Ideally, your pet should be spayed or neutered before it reaches sexual maturity but late is better than never.