By Dr. Carly I. O’Malley May 23, 2019
For new cat parents, there are many choices to make before bringing your new feline friend into your home, one of which is deciding whether to get a male or female cat. Both male and female cats make great companions, but there can be some differences between the two. Many cat parents may develop a preference for one or the other. In this article we will explore the differences between male and female cats to help new cat parents make an informed decision about which one they might prefer.
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More specifically, we will be exploring the differences between neutered male cats and spayed female cats. It is important to note that cats that are not spayed or neutered may have very different and more problematic behaviors. According to the ASPCA, unaltered male cats can be more aggressive, more likely to urine mark in the house, and more likely to escape from the house in order to find female cats in heat and defend their territory. Unaltered female cats are more likely to vocalize excessively and will attract male cats from all over the neighborhood when they are in heat. For these reasons, along with pet overpopulation issues, it is recommended to get your cat spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering often reduces the behavioral differences between male and female cats, and it will make your life much easier while having cats in your house (ASPCA). Now, let’s discuss the differences between fixed male and female cats.
What Are The Differences Between A Male And Female Cat?
The main differences between a male and female cat are physical and behavioral. Male cats are typically bigger and can be more likely to urine mark. Contrary to popular belief, males are often considered to be more affectionate than females, and females are often more aggressive towards humans and other cats.
Let’s explore the differences further.
What Are The Physical Differences Between A Female And Male Cat?
The most obvious physical difference between male and female cats is their genitalia. Neutered males have their testicles removed and spayed females have their uterus removed. It is typically recommended that cats be spayed or neutered before they are 5 months of age to prevent problem behaviors. However, spaying or neutering after this age is also effective at reducing these behaviors (ASPCA). If you adopt a cat from an animal shelter, typically the cat will be spayed or neutered before you bring the cat home.
A couple of other physical differences have been reported between male and female cats. Male cats are typically larger than females, especially if they were not neutered until after sexual maturity. Also, unneutered male cats typically develop big cheeks due to testosterone causing a larger, rounder face than females. These cheeks serve as a sign of their physical fitness to females and other males. After cats are neutered, the cat may retain this feature to a certain extent. So if you adopt an older male cat you may notice these larger, lovable cheeks.
Females do have some advantages over male cats, such as the fact that female kittens open their eyes earlier than male kittens, allowing them to see the world earlier. Females also reach sexual maturity earlier at 7-12 months of age, compared to 9-12 months of age for males. Female cats are also reported to live longer than male cats, although there are a variety of factors that determine lifespan beyond the sex of the cat (Bateson, 2013). If you want to explore the various factors that affect the lifespan of a cat, then read our article about how long cats live.
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There is also a major physical disadvantage of male cats as well. Male cats are more prone to urinary obstructions than females because they have a smaller urethra. This can lead to a number of issues, such as recurring urinary tract infections. This may result in repeat trips to the veterinarian and the need to feed a special urinary diet to reduce the development of urine crystals. In rare and extreme cases, male cats may need to undergo surgery to widen their urethra, known as perineal urethrostomy or PU surgery (ACVS).
What Are The Behavioral Differences Between A Female And Male Cat?
In a study by Hart and Hart (2013), spayed females and neutered males were ranked on 12 behavioral characteristics. Female cats were ranked as being more fearful and aggressive toward humans and other cats. Male cats were considered to be more playful, social, and affectionate. Since males can be more playful, this may mean they are more likely to be rambunctious and run around the house in the middle of the night. Male cats have also been reported to spend more time roaming the house than females (Bernsterin & Friedmann, 2013).
Some owners report that their male cats are more likely to get along with other cats in the household, regardless of the sex of the other cat. Male cats have also been reported to be more likely to form strong bonds with other cats in the household, even if they are not littermates. On the other hand, some owners have reported more conflicts between male cats, especially if they were not neutered before sexual maturity and were picked up as outdoor strays. Male cats are motivated to defend their territory, especially from other tom cats, so adopting two former street-fighter tom cats could cause ongoing territorial behavior such as urine marking and aggression.
Female cats are reported to be more standoffish toward unfamiliar humans and animals. Female cats may also remain standoffish from animals in the same household and remain territorial over preferred spots in the house or even over their favorite human. Because of their territorial nature, female cats are more likely to become the head of the household and will make their feelings purr-fectly clear towards other cats in the house. Females do not enjoy playing as much as males; this is particularly true for rough-and-tumble play. Most female cat owners have reported that female cats rarely form strong enough bonds that result in cuddling or grooming, but female cats may cuddle with or groom with male cats, especially male littermates.
One of the main behavioral differences between female and male cats is their tendency to urine mark outside of the litter box. Male cats are much more likely to urine mark, with approximately 10% of males showing this behavior. The age at which a male cat is neutered makes no difference in how likely they are to urine mark, but unneutered males are more likely to urine mark than neutered males (Hart & Hart, 2013).
Which Combination Of Genders Get Along Better?
If you are thinking of having more than one cat, you may have people telling you that certain combinations are better than others. Specifically, there is anecdotal evidence that male-female combinations are better than male-male or female-female. However, a study by Barry and Crowell-Davis (1999) found few differences in positive or negative social behaviors in houses that had only male cats, only female cats, or a combination of male and female cats. Male cats were more likely to spend time in the same room as each other, and female cats were never reported to groom other cats, but no other differences were reported. Most importantly, the results of this study showed that individual cats vary widely in their social behavior and that individual personality is more important to consider than whether the cats are male or female.
If you want to have multiple cats in your household, it is easiest to adopt littermates. Introducing unfamiliar cats is a long, difficult process because cats are territorial. Even if you do the introductions correctly, there is no guarantee that your cats will enjoy each other’s company and become friends rather than just tolerating each other. Adopting littermates ensures that you will have two cats that get along and enjoy each other’s company. Adopting littermates helps contribute to proper socialization as the cats learn proper cat behavior from each other as well. They are also able to entertain and play with each other rather than attacking your feet when they are bored. Even if you do not want kittens, finding older littermates that are up for adoption or looking for ‘bonded buddies’ in the shelter is a better bet than adopting two unfamiliar cats.
Should You Get A Male Or Female Cat?
Ultimately the choice between getting a male or female cat comes down to personal preference. It can take cat parents some trial and error before they realize their preference. Some cat parents may not have a preference and like to have one of each or to trade off depending on which cat they meet at the shelter that they get along with the best. While some differences have been reported between male and female cats, the differences most often come down to the individual cat and their personality rather than their gender.
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There are a few reported differences between male and female cats both physically and behaviorally. But ultimately, the individual cat’s personality is the most important difference. Male cats are often larger in size than female cats. Some studies have reported that male cats are more affectionate, playful, and social than females, with females being more aggressive towards humans and other animals. However, males are more likely to urine mark due to territorial conflicts and are more likely to have urinary tract infections that may require a special diet or medical attention. In the end, the choice between a male or a female cat comes down to the personal preference of the owner, and more often than not, the irresistibility of the cat. Whatever the gender, find the cat that tugs at your heartstrings the most.
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American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). Urinary Obstruction in Male Cats. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Spay/Neuter Your Pet. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
Barry, K.J., and S.L. Crowell-Davis. 1999. Gender differences in the social behavior of the neutered indoor-only domestic cat. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 64:193-211.
Bateson, P. 2013. Behavioural development in the cat. In D. Turner and P. Bateson (Eds), The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour (p. 201-212). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hart, B.L., and L.A. Hart. 2013. Your Ideal Cat: Insights Into Breed and Gender Differences in Cat Behavior. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press.
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