How Can I Tell the Sex of a Cat?

Is your cat a male or a female?

Couple holding cat
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It isn't always easy to tell a male cat from a female cat, and it can be even more difficult to sex a kitten or a neutered male. There are, however, telltale signs and behaviors that can make it easier to determine your cat's gender. Once you have successfully sexed (and named) your cat or kitten, unless you intend to become a cat breeder, you will want to find a good vet who can spay or neuter your pet.

Sexing Kittens

If you are adopting a kitten, chances are your new pet is only a few weeks old. Tiny kittens are so immature that it's nearly impossible to tell their gender. Once they're six or eight weeks old, however, their genitalia become more visually obvious. The penis, however, is not normally visible in male cats, and it's unlikely that you'll be able to feel or see the scrotum. Thus, apparent lack of a penis or testes is not an indication that a kitten is female.  

As a rule of thumb, breeders use "punctuation marks" to identify the sex of younger cats or neutered cats. To do this, you'll need to raise your pet's tail gently; start by petting gently and try scratching your cat's lower back as she may raise her tail automatically as she starts purring.

  • 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. The anus and vagina are typically only about half an inch apart. In kittens, the anus and vagina may both look like dots, and they may be even closer together.
  • Male Cats: Colon
    The male cat has a larger separation between the anus and the penis, with the testicles in the middle. Both of these openings look more like dots or circles than like slits or lines.
Domestic cat's butt
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Sexing Grown Cats

If you're adopting a grown cat, you can use the same sexing technique as is used for kittens; this usually works well for both neutered and "whole" cats. If your pet is not spayed or neutered, however, you'll have an easier time determining their sex based both on appearance and on behavior. Once cats are spayed or neutered there is no obvious behavior difference between the genders; apparent differences are likely related to individual cat temperaments.

"Whole" Cats

Tomcats that have not been neutered will have readily evident testicles and a broader jowl. They also have unique behaviors that begin as they reach maturity. Un-neutered 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.

Spayed and Neutered Cats

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. Neutered cats will not display typical male or female behaviors; neutered males are generally more passive than "whole" males, and spayed females will not go into heat.  

Gender-Based Differences in Appearance

While all cats look very similar, some colors and physical indications are unique to a particular gender. Specifically:

  • It is extremely rare for a male cat to have tri-colored calico or orange-and-black tortoiseshell fur. If you have a calico or tortie, chance are very good that your pet is a female.
  • It is somewhat rare for a female cat to have orange or ginger-colored (or orange-and-white striped) fur. If you have an orange cat, there's a fairly high probability that it is a male.
  • A cat that has given birth is far more likely to have visually obvious nipples (though both males and females do have nipples).
  • Females going through heat may have vaginal discharge.
  • A pregnant cat will have a low-hanging, distended belly.