difference between male and female cats behavior
Questions About Cats

Are Male or Female Cats More Aggressive?

When choosing a cat, there are many factors to consider. Perhaps one of the trickiest decisions to make is whether to get a male or female cat. If you’ve never owned a cat before, you’ll be curious to know if there are any differences between the sexes of cats.

Due to their maternal instinct, female cats are more cautious than males, so they may be less affectionate towards humans. One study found that female cats are more aggressive in the vet’s office. But a cat’s personality is mostly determined by age, genetics, stress, age at weaning, and whether they were handled as a kitten.

Usually, cats express their anger in gradual stages, so you’ll have time to diffuse a hostile situation. However, if a cat feels very threatened, they may lash out without warning.  To prevent these outbursts, you’ll need to learn what can trigger a cat to become aggressive in the first place.

Differences Between Intact Male and Female Cats

In terms of physical differences, males are slightly bigger than females, and females tend to live about 2 years longer than males. If the cats are intact (i.e., they haven’t been spayed or neutered), there are some quite obvious behavioral differences between the sexes. For example:

  • If they are let outdoors, unneutered males will often wander for many miles and will spray to mark their territory. If they enter another cat’s territory, this often results in a fight. As such, the risk of catching a disease is quite high. Unneutered males aren’t necessarily aggressive to humans, though.
  • Intact females are very vocal when they are on heat. They’ll usually stay closer to home to find a mate and may also spray to mark their territory. They are fiercely protective mothers, so they are often cautious around unfamiliar humans. According to a study on biomedcentral, their maternal spirit (and perhaps their cautious personality) is an inbuilt sex difference; it exists whether or not the female cat has had kittens.

So, if you’re comparing intact cats, you could say that males are more likely to be aggressive to other cats than females, and males are slightly more affectionate towards humans than females.

What Are the Differences Between De-Sexed Male and Female Cats?

When cats are de-sexed, this flattens out some of the differences between male and female cats. Neutered males are less likely to wander and fight, and spayed females are less vocal and may not be so hostile towards strangers.

Having said that, some people would say that spayed females still remain slightly more cautious than neutered males. As a result, they may be slightly less affectionate than their male counterparts. However, as we’ll explore, plenty of other factors can shape a cat’s personality, too.

Are Male or Female Cats More Aggressive?

It’s rare for a de-sexed male or female cat to be overtly aggressive (unless you give them a reason to be angry). According to a recent study, female cats are likely to be a bit more aggressive than males when you take them to the vet. This isn’t too surprising given their strong maternal instinct and tendency to be wary of strangers.

Nevertheless, according to a survey published in Frontiers, the sex of the cat has no significant impact on how aggressive it will be. So, if the sex of the cat doesn’t play a huge role, what other factors might influence aggression in cats?

physical difference between male and female cats

Factors That Can Affect Aggression in Cats

In reality, many different factors can influence how aggressive or affectionate a cat is. For example:

  • Being the Only Cat in the Household – Cats aren’t pack animals, so they don’t necessarily need other cats around to be happy. Interestingly, one study found that cats were less aggressive towards humans (and other cats) if they lived in a multi-cat household. Perhaps being around other members of the same species does help cats to feel calmer in some ways.
  • Not Being Handled as a Kitten – Feral cats who were not handled as a kitten are unlikely to be very affectionate as adults. Similarly, kittens who were raised indoors but rarely handled by their owners may not grow up to be very friendly cats.
  • Age – Younger cats below the age of 6 years old are more affectionate than older cats. Cats don’t necessarily become more aggressive as they age, but they may become more distant.
  • Early Weaning – According to Nature, cats who are weaned before 8 weeks are more likely to be aggressive as adults. Not only that, cats who are weaned after 14 weeks are much more tolerant of strangers as they grow up. Indeed, responsible cat breeders will not allow you to adopt a kitten under 12 weeks old.
  • Breed/Genetics – Certain cat breeds are valued for their docile and friendly nature. It would be quite rare to find an overtly aggressive Siamese or Maine Coon, for example. That’s why these breeds make ideal pets for families with children. Although socialization/handling plays a role in developing the cat’s personality, genetics play a role, too. According to this study from Science Direct, kittens with ‘friendly’ fathers were more likely to grow up to be friendly cats. They were also more likely to be accepting towards human strangers. This suggests there is a genetic component to friendliness in cats.
  • The Color of Coat – Some interesting research from T and F suggests that the color of a cat’s coat might indicate how aggressive they are. According to this study, orange tortoiseshell/calico/torbie cats are slightly more aggressive than other colored cats. (Orange tortoiseshell/calico/torbie cats are nearly always female, as a male would require XXY chromosomes to produce this coloring). Nevertheless, black-and-white, and gray-and-white cats (of both sexes) were also found to be slightly more aggressive than other colors.
  • Feeling Under Threat – Understandably, any cat who feels under threat may lash out to protect themselves. It’s important to remember that subtle changes in your behavior – or small changes in your home – can cause your cat to feel threatened or uncomfortable. Most cats give off ‘warning’ signals when they’re feeling stressed or irritated, so you can often step in before the cat turns aggressive.

Why Do Cats Become Aggressive?

Cats can become hostile for all sorts of different reasons. Here are some common examples:

  • Unwanted Stroking – Don’t assume your cat wants to be stroked all the time. Even if they were particularly affectionate one day – they might need some space the next. If your pet doesn’t want to be stroked, but you continue to touch them, they might lash out and bite your hand. Adults can usually tell when a cat is becoming irritated, but children might have a harder time noticing the signs. For this reason, it’s important to make sure all family members can detect the signs of aggression.
  • Being Ill/Tired – If your cat is recovering from illness, they might be more hostile than usual – especially if you bother them too much.
  • Excessive Noise – A cat’s ears are extremely sensitive; they hear noises up to 20 times louder than humans do. Screeching children, barking dogs, and noisy vacuum cleaners can be a trigger for some cats.
  • Food – If you don’t provide your cat with enough food, or you remove the food bowl too early, this can trigger aggression.
  • Protecting Their Young – As mentioned, female cats are fiercely protective mothers. If you try to take a young kitten away from its mother, the mother will hiss, scratch, and probably bite.
  • Boredom – Many owners bond with their pets through rough play. If you neglect your cat for a few days, they may feign aggression so that you ‘play’ with them.
  • A Threat to Their Territory – If another pet or stray enters their territory, your cat might become aggressive. If your cat is neutered, another cat entering their territory is unlikely to trigger a full-blown fight. Nevertheless, there may be hissing and growling, and they may even redirect their aggression towards you (more on this below).

How to Detect the first Signs of Aggression in Cats

It might sound silly to be discussing the signs of aggression – surely aggression is one of the clearest behaviors to detect? Not necessarily. Sure, some cats will immediately scratch, claw, or bite when they’re feeling unhappy. But most of the time, anger builds up gradually.

If you’re vigilant, you’ll be able to detect the first signs of aggression:

  • Flattened ears
  • Wide eyes (dilated pupils)
  • Hissing/whining
  • Crouching low to the ground
  • Flexing the claws
  • Flipping tail
  • Quickly turning their head towards your hand or swiping your hand to warn you to stay away

When petting your cat, it’s important to be aware of these signs. That way, you’ll know if you are handling them too much and making them feel uncomfortable. Many cases of cat aggression can be prevented if the owner is sensitive to their cat’s needs.

What Causes Unprovoked Aggression in Cats?

Though most cases of aggression can be prevented, cats occasionally become very aggressive – seemingly out of the blue. This can happen in both male and female cats.

According to the ASPCA, this ‘out-of-the-blue’ type of aggression is actually redirected aggression. Your cat is triggered by something in their environment, and they redirect their feelings of anger onto you. So, what could trigger this type of emotional reaction?

  • Seeing prey outside the window but not being able to stalk/attack
  • Smelling the scent of other animals on your clothes
  • Seeing another cat outside the window
  • Hearing very high-pitched noises
  • Being forced to come inside if the cat wants to stay outside
  • You intervene in a catfight, and the attack gets redirected onto you

This can be worrying because some of these ‘triggers’ would be out of your control.

is it best to have a male or female cat?

How Do I Calm Down My Cat?

No one wants to live with an aggressive cat. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to lessen the chances of an aggressive outburst:

  • Make sure your cat’s basic needs are being met. Is there enough food, water, space, warmth, and stimulation? If you have more than one cat, make sure they are not competing for resources.
  • Try not to drastically change your cat’s routine – allow them to spend roughly the same amount of time outdoors each day (if they go outdoors).
  • Try to keep noise to a minimum in your household – if you have visitors round, make sure there is a quiet space for the cat to hide away. Similarly, try vacuuming when the cat is outdoors, and discourage children from making any loud noises near the cat.
  • When petting your cat, keep a close eye on their responses. If your cat starts to become agitated, move your hand away immediately. If you pick up your cat and they start to struggle – put them down immediately. Similarly, don’t restrain your cat in any way, even if you are cuddling them. If you are quick to respond to their signs of discomfort, your cat will find it easier to trust you.
  • If there are strays in your neighborhood, don’t let them inside your home.
  • If you’ve visited a friend’s home and they have a cat, try to change your clothes before spending time with your cat (this is not usually necessary but may help if your cat is showing signs of deflected aggression).

If these interventions do not work, your vet may be able to offer further advice.  Health conditions can sometimes cause aggressive outbursts so your vet will be able to rule these out.

Are Male or Female Cats More Likely to Spray?

Cats spray to mark their territory. As mentioned, both male and female cats are territorial animals so both sexes might spray from time-to-time. Intact males are more likely to spray than intact females. However, there’s typically no difference in de-sexed cats; most will not spray very often – if at all.

If your neutered/spayed cat is spraying inside the home, it could be due to one of the following reasons:

  • The litter box is dirty – or it is being used by another cat.
  • An underlying health condition – perhaps a urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Your cat is being influenced by the behavior of another cat – perhaps a stray intruder.

Is It Best to Have a Male or Female Cat?

No two cats are alike; some are wonderfully affectionate whereas others are distant and standoffish. However, the sex of the cat seems to bear little influence on their personality and behavior – especially if you’re talking about spayed/neutered cats.

According to the evidence, female cats (particularly orange tortie/calico/torbie) may be slightly more aggressive than males when they are taken to the vet’s office. This is probably due to their strong maternal instinct – which causes them to be risk-averse. Their cautious nature can sometimes make them slightly more reserved than males. But having said that, plenty of people know female cats to be extremely loyal and affectionate.

When it comes down to it, it seems many other factors influence how friendly a cat will be. So, if you want a cat that’s calm and friendly, choose a breed renowned for these qualities, do not adopt a kitten that was weaned before 12 weeks, and choose a cat that has been regularly handled by humans. Not only that, make sure your pet feels safe and secure in your home.