At a glance, it’s difficult to tell male and female cats apart. For most owners, you have to wait until your cat reaches maturity. Only when it shows mating behavior or spraying does its sex become obvious. However, you can also get a clue by examining the build and shape of a cat’s body. It turns out that you can tell a cat’s sex by its face.
Male and female cats have different facial features. Some of the more prominent differences lie in their head structure, such as the size, forehead, snout, cheeks, whisker pads, nose wings, and fur color. That’s because of the different sex hormones that are responsible for developing secondary characteristics. Male and female cats only develop these if they are allowed to grow into adults without being fixed (neutered or spayed).
The common trend in male versus female cats is that males are larger and heavier. They have blockier, sturdier bone and body structures. Meanwhile, females are smaller and lighter, with more delicate and slender physical features. Depending on the breed, this isn’t always true, making it a rough estimate at best.
Do Male Cats Have Bigger Heads than Females?
Male cats have bigger heads than females. This is partly because their cranial bone structure is thicker and heavier. They also tend to have more muscle and larger bodies, allowing them to grow to a bigger size than females. When you match it all together, a bigger cat must have a bigger head, too.
This is a generalization. There are exceptions across different breeds, or even within the same breed. You may own a female cat that’s larger than a male, and its head will be larger as a result. If you buy two kittens of different sexes, the largest isn’t immediately the male, head size or not. As they mature, their body types and skull sizes will change.
Additionally, a cat’s health and any genes inherited from its parents are factors to consider. If you want to get a firm understanding of the cat’s sex, you need to look into more specific tells. These may disappear if you had your cat fixed.
Role of Hormones in Growth
Typically, if you do not plan on breeding your cats, you’ll get your male cat neutered before 1 year of age. For male cats, neutering them before 1-year-old will prevent them from developing:
- Extra muscle
- Thicker heads
- Bigger heads
This is because neutering will remove the testes. The testes are the main source of testosterone. This hormone is responsible for muscle growth and strength. By limiting your cat’s testosterone before it fully reaches maturity, you can prevent normal sexual behaviors that would otherwise be exhibited at between 4-6 months.
Testosterone also stimulates other growth hormones to be produced. Increased levels of growth hormone in a male cat promote higher bone density and bone marrow. This further adds to an unfixed cat’s size difference, and it’s why a male could feel heavier than a female cat. It also explains why males have a blockier and sturdier build to them, in addition to more muscle.
However, even if male cats are neutered, they tend to have bigger heads than females. According to Reproduction in Domestic Animals, 2 groups of male cats were neutered; one group at 7 weeks and the other group at 7 months. Both groups of fixed male cats had a 13% greater bone radius than intact females.
It was also found that there was a higher likelihood of fractures in fixed male cats. That’s because neutering inhibits the exaggerated bone growth and density seen in unfixed males. Therefore, male cats have larger and thicker bones than females, fixed or unfixed.
How to Tell Cat Gender by Face
Aside from its head size, you can guess a cat’s sex by its facial features. However, depending on the cat breed, it may be more subtle.
Much like head size, if your cat is not spayed or neutered, it will begin exhibiting sex characteristics that match its sex. This is because leaving your cat unfixed allows sex-related hormones to be produced. That contributes to the development of male or female structures.
As a rule, male cats have much rounder and fuller faces than female cats. The following table outlines several characteristics to watch for:
|Facial Features||Male Cat||Female Cat|
|Cheeks||– Cheek pads look like jowls|
– Cheekbones are blocky
|– Smaller cheek pads|
– Cheekbones are slender
|Snout||– Larger (length and width)|
|Whisker Pads||– Large|
– More pronounced
– Less Prominent
|Forehead||– Large, thick – Blocky structure||– Small|
– Gently curved structure
|Nose Wing||– Broad||– Tiny and dainty|
|Fur Coloration (certain cat breeds)||– Tortoiseshell and calico cats are rarely male||– Tortoiseshell and calico cats are almost always female|
Why Do Male Cats Have Big Cheeks?
Larger cheeks are just one of the secondary sex characteristics found in male cats. Secondary characteristics are features that develop from the production and secretion of sex hormones. These characteristics are visibly seen on the body. They’re similar to pubertal changes in humans.
Cheek pads in male cats are more developed than in female cats. Have you ever seen an unfixed, adult male cat (also known as a “tom cat”)? You may notice that his cheek pads resemble jowls more than cheeks. Jowls are a slight sag in the skin around the chin or cheekbones.
If you know how bulldogs look like, you may notice that their cheek pads sag past their mouth, and the skin is loose. This is the same in male cats, although not as exaggerated as in bulldogs.
Male cats also have more angular cheekbones compared to female cats. This is because they have thicker and larger bone structures. These blocky cheekbones contribute to the iconic look of male cats.
Whisker pads, the part of the cheek where cat whiskers grow from, are also different in male cats. They are larger and much more pronounced than the dainty whisker pads of females. Much like their cheekbones, these whisker pads further add to their bigger-looking cheeks.
Larger cheeks and whisker pads in male cats may be an evolutionary adaptation. They serve as a type of “protective padding” during fights and scuffles. Wild or non-domestic male cats fight each other for mates. This often results in hard bites to the cheeks.
Males that have bigger and fuller cheeks are able to withstand more attacks. Without this trait, they would suffer injuries that could become infected and deadly. The thicker the cheeks, the more likely they are to win, and then consequently mate with a female cat in heat.
Male Cats Have Bigger Snouts
The snout is a part of the face that includes the mouth, nose, and whiskers. It is the part of the cat’s face that protrudes from the flat part of its head. This lies below where its eyes rest.
Because male cats are usually larger in size, they naturally have bigger snouts. This is clear if you compare a male and female cat’s snout side by side. The female cat will have a more slender and narrow snout than the male.
Male snouts are blocky, with a more rigid structure than female snouts. Since female snouts are more delicate and narrower, they tend to be shorter.
Male Cats Have Larger Foreheads
We are beginning to see a common trend in male versus female cat features. Since males have sturdier and larger bone structures, they naturally have larger foreheads.
The forehead of a male cat appears blockier and more geometric. In contrast, females have a gentle, sloped structure to their forehead.
Male Cats Have Broader Noses
This facial difference is more subtle across male and female cats. Nonetheless, male cats have broader nose wings. This stretches the width of the nose, from one nostril to another. In male cats, it’s much wider than in females.
Fur Coloration is Very Telling
Facial fur coloration only differs across certain breeds of cats. For example, cats with tortoiseshell and calico fur are, more often than not, females. This has to do with genetics.
Two chromosomes determine the sex of your cat. A pair of X chromosomes (XX) results in a female cat. Meanwhile, an XY pair results in a male cat. Calico and tortoiseshell fur patterns are linked to these sex chromosomes. More specifically, they are linked to the presence of 2 X chromosomes, which can only be a female cat.
There are, however, some rare exceptions. Some cats can have 3 chromosomes, rather than the typical 2. In such cats, it’s possible to have a male calico or a male tortoiseshell. That’s true if (and only if) they have chromosomes that look like this: XXY.
Male cats that have calico or tortoiseshell fur are rare for a reason. They are sterile, and therefore cannot pass their genes onto future litters, even if they did mate.
How To Sex A Cat
Although it’s not always easy, you can tell a cat’s sex by its face. Male cats are larger, sturdier, angular, and blockier than females. Thus, they have more rugged, tough faces. Female cats are more slender, narrow, delicate, and, oftentimes, tiny.
Male cats also have larger heads than females. This is partially because they have heavier and thicker bones.
It’s always easier to tell male and female cats apart when you have two for comparison. Even still, telling a cat’s sex by its facial features is not the most reliable method. If you are unsure, a quick stop at the veterinarian’s will give you an answer. They are well trained and have more experience in sexing cats.
There is a way to do this at home. However, it requires that you take a look at the other end of your cat. According to Washington State University Vet Med, you will need to lift your cat’s tail and examine its anus and genital opening.
- A male cat has a larger distance between the anus (the hole right below the base of his tail) and his genital opening (the hole below the anus).
- A female cat has a shorter distance between her anus and her genital opening.
- Likewise, you may notice that her genital opening has a small slit.
This does not replace veterinary expertise, however. If you want to confirm the sex of your cat, it’s best to have a vet examine it firsthand.