When kittens are first born, they crowd around the mother, eat, and grow. The sex of the kitten is not much of a concern for the first few months of its life. It doesn’t even make much sense to name the kittens at that young age. But once the kittens start to go out on their own, explore, and interact with other cats, then it’s time to figure out whether you are dealing with a “he” or a “she.”
The Visual Check
When determining the sex of a kitten, the quickest method to use is a visual check. Hold the kitten still under its belly and lift the tail. In a female cat, the urinary tract opening and rectum are very close together. You may be able to see the vulva, a vertical slit underneath the rectal opening. In males, the rectum and urinary tract openings are further apart and there is a small scrotum in between. The male cat’s penis forms directly below the scrotum but cannot usually be seen because it is enclosed in what is called the prepuce.
It can still be difficult to tell the difference this way, especially in kittens since they are undeveloped, but if you put two cats side by side for a comparison, it will be easier to tell the difference. You should wait at least a month and a half before trying to determine the sex of a kitten, to allow time for the organs to develop.
It’s important to note that both male and female kittens will have nipples, just as is the case with male humans. The male nipples don’t serve any purpose (male cats cannot give milk) but experts say that this is because all cats start off as “females” in the birth canal. Sex is determined later on in the development of the fetus.
Differences in Behavior
While most kittens tend to be very active and playful regardless of sex, male kittens are oftentimes more rambunctious and play fight more roughly as compared to female cats. Male cats are very overprotective of their environments and the cats who they have shared a bond with. They are more likely to spray items to take possession over them, though this usually doesn’t start until later on in kittenhood—at least three or four months old (more on spraying a little bit later).
Male kittens are more apt to hunt the other cats, birds, rodents, and items in your household. It is much more probable that you will witness two male kittens fighting in a household as compared to a male and a female or a female and female. This is because a male cat has an instinctual need to protect his territory from other dominant cats and continually seeks to maintain his position in the pecking order.
Spay or Neuter?
Determining the sex of a kitten is extremely important because you need to have them spayed or neutered at some point. You spay a female cat and neuter a male cat. If you have other cats in the home who are not yet neutered, and allow a female kitten to mix in without getting her spayed, you are running a high risk of having a pregnant cat on your hands within the year. A female kitten can have her first heat after just six months of age.
When a female cat is spayed (also called an “ovariohysterectomy”), the doctor removes the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes through the abdomen. Directly after that surgery, the female cat will no longer go into heat or be able to produce children. When a male cat is neutered his testicles are removed from the scrotum so that he can no longer produce sperm. This also reduces aggression and spraying problems, though some male cats continue to fight and spray after neutering.
Differing Care into Adulthood
When you finish determining the sex of a kitten, the next step is getting prepared for the work that is involved when the cat grows into adulthood. The sex of the cat will make a difference when it comes to care and maintenance. Some people say that owning a female cat is much more troublesome as compared to a male. This is because a female cat goes into heat about three to five times a year in her adult life (if she is not neutered) and can get pregnant many times in her lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, female cats do not bleed or have a menstrual cycle, but they do secrete clear liquids when in heat. This could mean that you might want to outfit your female cat with a kitty diaper. (Though it’s a little bit of a pain to put a cat diaper on, it is absolutely hilarious to see!)
Male adult cats are less maintenance, but as discussed earlier, when they are not neutered they tend to be much more prone to fighting and can be extremely territorial as compared to non neutered female cats. They will spray to let other cats know to “back off.” The sprayed liquid is a mixture of cat pheromones and urine. When your cat is spraying, you will definitely know it. Your furniture and other items will reek of a pungent urine-like liquid that can only be removed with a special enzymatic cleaner. The strong scent that cats exude is meant to warn other cats. Both female and male cats can spray, but males are much more likely to participate in this type of behavior.
Determining the sex of a kitten early on will give you a few clues as to what to expect as they grow into adults, but socialization during the first three months of a kitten’s life is what will best determine how a male or female kitten will behave in adulthood. A cat that is given love, affection, and a secure home will be less likely to act out, regardless of sex, as compared to a cat that has had a lot of conflict to deal with during kittenhood, regardless of sex. So be good to your kitten. Provide it with food, clean water, clean litter, and plenty of affection—he or she will grow strong, be happy, and love you dearly.
Having discovered a fondness for insects while pursuing her degree in Biology, Randi Jones was quite bugged to know that people usually dismissed these little creatures as “creepy-crawlies”.