How to Tell the Sex of a Cat – A Cat Sexing Guide

It’s a familiar story, you have a cat, it’s definitely a boy…one day you take it to the vet only to be told your male cat is actually female!

This is not uncommon because working out if your cat is male or female is not as obvious as people first think.

The sex of a cat is not always immediately clear, particularly if the cat in question is a very young kitten or a neutered male.

So, how do you tell if your cat is male or female?

If you are able to pick the cat up and gently lift the tail you’ll be able to work out if your cat is male or female by the appearance of the genital area and the distance between the anus and genitals.

There is less distance between the female’s anus and genitals than the males and this is generally what is used as the guideline to identify the sex.

an image showing the differnce in genitals between differences between unneutered male, female, and neutered male cats

Don’t worry, it’s simpler than it sounds once you know what to look for.

Determining the Sex of a Kitten

Ideally, the kitten needs to be at least 6 weeks old in order to be able to accurately sex them as before this age they are so immature it’s very difficult to pick up on the subtle differences between the males and females.

a small kitten in a garden smelling flower

Once they are around 6 to 8 weeks old you should be able to recognise the differences with relative ease.

The identifying features are not the penis and testicles, or lack of, as many people first think.

The most telling feature is actually the distance between the anus and the genitals, with these features being closer together in females than in males.

Note:
Always take care when handling kittens, be gentle and do not handle them for more than 5 – 10 minutes at a time.

Never pick a cat of any age up by their tail and take care not to let them move around while you are holding their tail up as this can cause fractures.

In order to sex a kitten, you will need to either hold them (read our guide on how to pick up a cat) or lay them on a warm towel while you gently lift their tail.

You can encourage their tail to lift without causing any stress by petting the kitten gently and scratching their lower back.

Once their tail is up, you will have a clear view of their back end.

an image showing the differnce in genitals between differences between unneutered male, female, and neutered male cats

In female cats, you will see the anus and underneath will be a long slit which is the vaginal area.

The two are about half an inch apart and will appear as a dot and a line (like an upside-down exclamation mark).

In small kittens they will more likely appear as dots which is why the distance between them is important otherwise you could easily mistake the female as a male.

In male cats, you will see a larger gap of almost an inch between the anus and the penis with the testicles in between.

These will appear as dots more than lines. Once the kitten is around 10 weeks old they will begin to develop a scrotal sac which will become more visible over time.

Determining the Sex of Older Cats

If the older cat has not been spayed or neutered it will be easier to determine their sex.

The testicles of a male cat will be visible and you may even notice certain aggressive behaviours such as scratching and biting and territory marking that are associated with full males.

A female who has not been spayed will be regularly coming into season where she may be more vocal and attention seeking while she tries to find a mate.

A female who has had a litter before will likely have more obvious nipples too as a result of nursing the kittens.

If the cat has been spayed or neutered you will be able to use the same technique as used for kittens to identify the sex.

You may still be able to faintly see the testicle sac of the male even if they have been neutered and you can use the distance between the anus and genitals as a guide too.

Remember the female genitals will appear more like a line while the males will be further apart and more like dots.

In behavioural terms, a female that has been spayed won’t go into heat and a neutered male will generally be calmer and less aggressive.

Still Not Sure?

Don’t worry, these details can be very subtle so if you are struggling to work out the sex of your cat or your cat is being uncooperative then you can take them to the vet.

vet inspecting a cat

The vet will be able to give them a health check and determine the sex for you.

Vets will be used to dealing with cats and will be able to sex them with ease so they will be more than happy to assist you.

If your cat doesn’t like being handled, or tries to scratch you and break free whenever you want to check their sex you’ll probably find it easier and less stressful to schedule a vet visit rather than trying to do it yourself at home.

Is it True You Can Determine the Sex of a Cat by Colour?

This is something that provides a rough guideline, it is by no means foolproof and we highly recommend using other methods to find out the sex of your cat rather than judging solely by the colour of their fur.

With that said, it’s very interesting to know the links between gender and fur colour in cats and whether or not there is truth behind this.

It is true that almost all tortoiseshell and calico cats are female.

Research shows that only 1 in 1,000 calico cats are male.

This is because these colours require two X chromosomes to be present and females have two X chromosomes.

A male of these colours would have a genetic aberration of two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome.

People also say all ginger cats are male but according to Science Focus around three quarters are male and one quarter are female.

So, while it is more likely for a ginger cat to be male, it’s not 100% certain.

Ginger colouration is a less reliable indicator of sex in cats but generally ginger males are more likely to occur than ginger females.

Sexing A Cat Summary

Identifying the sex of your kitten or older cat is not as daunting as it first seems.

By looking at the distance between the anus and genitals you should be able to identify if your cat is male or female.

While the colour of your cat may be linked to probabilities of your cat being a certain gender it’s not a guarantee so don’t assume your cats gender based on this.

If you are struggling to identify if your cat is male or female, we’d recommend asking your local vet to examine your cat for you.

They will be able to let you know immediately.

If you aren’t sure whether or not your cat has been spayed or neutered your vet will be able to assist with this too.


References:

http://www.hsi.org/assets/pdfs/eng_ht_cats_sex.pdf

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