How Can I Tell the Gender of a Kitten?

Distinguishing Male Kittens from Female Can Be Tricky

Kitten (Burmilla) sitting on white background
Gandee Vasan/Iconica/Getty Images

You'd think that distinguishing the gender of a kitten would be relatively easy. But kittens' genitals are nothing like those of adult cats, which means there is no visually obvious penis or vagina. As a result, even some professionals can find it tricky to decide whether they're looking at a female or a male. That said, however, there are some characteristic differences that are usually a good indicator of gender.

How Can You Distinguish Male from Female Kittens?

Visual Observation. In older, male, un-neutered cats, it is usually easy to find the penis. In kittens, however, the penis has not yet descended. In fact, it is very difficult to accurately tell the sex of a kitten until it is at least two weeks old, and even then, both experienced breeders and veterinarians have been known to make mistakes. Breeders sometimes liken the appearance of the early genitals of kittens to punctuation:

  • A female kitten's genitals will resemble an upside-down exclamation point with the vertical vaginal slit below the anus.
  • A male kitten's organ will look more like a colon with the penis below the anus separated by a space to accommodate his testicles. You may even be able to see very small lumps in that space, which will grow into testicles as the kitten matures.
  • The female's vaginal opening is closer to the anus than the male's budding penis.

    One other, simpler (but less reliable) way to tell the sex of your kitten is by the color of its coat. Cats with three colors -- white, black, and orange -- are sometimes called tortoiseshell cats. Such cats are almost always female. Orange cats are most often male (though there are certainly orange females as well, so this is not a reliable sexing technique).

     

    Tactile Observation. If observation is not enough, it may be possible to gently place finger and thumb on either side of a tiny kitten's scrotum to feel for two small, hard, oval-shaped objects under the skin. These are the testes, and they will be almost impossible to hold -- they slither away under your fingers. Obviously, if you feel testes, your kitten is a male.

    Do Cats of Different Sexes Behave Differently?

    Cats that are not spayed or neutered do behave differently because their sex drives require it. Males are more restless and aggressive and may spray to mark their territory. Females go into heat: they may vocalize with loud yowls, crave attention, etc.

    Once they are spayed or neutered, however, these differences are not as obvious. Some people claim that male cats are friendlier and more outgoing than females, and some studies support this idea. At least one study suggests that a cat's overall personality may be inherited from its mother. These differences, however, are by no means universal, and cat personalities are almost as varied as human personalities.

    This suggests that you should choose your pet based, not on gender, but on your interactions and on the kitten's behavior.

    Of course, unless you intend to breed your cats, you will want to spay them. Kittens should be spayed or neutered once they are old enough.You'll want to keep the kittens with their mother for 12 weeks if possible, and at a very minimum of eight weeks. They need this time with her to become fully socialized, both with other cats and with humans.

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