HEALTH & CARE

How to Tell If a Kitten is Male or Female: Don’t Mistake Charlie for Chloe

two kittens sitting in basket
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

It is exciting to have a new litter of kittens joining your family. You want the best for them and hope they get to love their new home as well. But there’s a catch: you have no idea whether your new furry companion is a Charlie or a Chloe. You are not alone. Many cat owners often wonder how to tell if a kitten is male or female.

If you are able to tell the gender of the kittens early on, you will be able to give them appropriate names and help them recognize their name ASAP. However, the ability to distinguish the boys from the girls in young kittens is an intricate exercise that has many cat owners racking their brains. The genitals of small kittens can be very hard to tell apart. Even well-meaning and experienced veterinarians have often found themselves mistaken. Is there a sure way of getting a kitten’s gender right? We are glad you asked.

This article will offer you a reliable guide on how to tell the sex of a kitten. Even though the genitals of both male and female kittens often seem awfully similar, a closer look will reveal the right gender. We shall also explore other glaring clues that can help you determine whether kitty is male or female.

Physical Examination

examining kitten

While doing a physical examination, you will need to study your kitten’s genitalia and color of their coat. Young kittens are delicate and will need to be handled with care. As curious as you may be to find out their gender, you need to go about this exercise cautiously.

While physically examining them, remember they are not used to being handled and can get easily distressed. Here are ways you can prepare them to make the exercise bearable for your little furry babies:

  • Choose the Right Time: You can tell the gender of your kitten when they are three to four weeks of age. It is important to wait until this time since kittens under three weeks are very fragile. Additionally, their genitals cannot be accurately differentiated if they are younger than this. This process of identifying the gender of kittens is known as Sexing. It is important to wait for a time when your kittens are calm and less likely to resist your efforts. A good bet is when the kittens are well-fed and sleepy.

  • Provide a Warm Environment: Your little kittens need to be kept warm at all times. Being exposed to cold temperatures will take a toll on their health. Their mother plays a big role in providing warmth. When seeking to determine their gender, you need to carry out the exercise in a warm room. Be careful not to place the kittens on a cold surface while inspecting their genitals.

  • Observe the Mother Cat’s Mood: If the kittens are with the mother, she may get alarmed when you take them away from her. If you attempt to take away the kittens and notice she is getting nervous about it, you need to stop and look for a better time. A mother cat may get distressed when you handle her young too much. She may not like it when your human scent is all over her babies. Do not, therefore, spend more than ten minutes handling her young. You don’t want a distressed mother cat.

  • Get an Extra Hand: If your cat has given birth to a number of kittens, it helps to check their gender together. This is because you get a chance to compare them and you are bound to be very accurate in your findings. Checking a large litter can be overwhelming if you are trying to do it all by yourself. Get an extra pair of hands. Your assistant can hold the kittens as you do the physical examination.

Keeping all of the above preparatory tips in mind, you will need to examine your kitten’s genitalia and coat color physically. Here is how to go about it:

Physical Examination Method #1: Study Their Genitals

detecting kitten's sex

Though the genitals of male and female kittens often look similar, there is indeed a visible difference. Here is a step by step guide on how to tell the two genders apart.

Step 1: Gently Hold the Kitten

Gently pick up the kitten and place them on your lap. Make sure the room is warm enough for their delicate bodies. You can place a warm (not hot) towel on your lap and let the kitten stand on it.

You can start by petting the kitty or stroking him softly to keep him at ease. In case you are examining a number of kittens, get an extra pair of hands. Place the kitten on your lap with their head facing away from you.

When sexing very young and small kittens, you can place them in the palm of your hand. This will give you an unobstructed view of their genitals.

Step 2: Lift the Kitten’s Tail

With the kitten’s rear end facing you, gently lift the tail to reveal the kitten’s genitalia. You can try to have the kitty voluntarily get their tail out of the way by stroking the point where their tail meets their back.

If this doesn’t work, be as gentle as possible and lift the tail up. Beneath the tail, you will see two openings. The first opening past the tail is the anus while the next one is the kitten’s genitalia.

Step 3: Examine the Shape of the Genitalia and its Distance from the Anal Opening

detecting kitten's sex

The shape of the genitalia will tell you whether yours is a male or female kitty. In male kittens, the genital opening has a round, dotted shape. In females, it appears like a vertical slit.

When viewed together, both the anal and the genitalia openings of a male will mimic the colon symbol (:). On the other hand, the female anal and genitalia openings mimic the letter “i” in lower case.

The distance between the anal and genital openings will also help reveal the gender of the kitten. In males, the distance is larger than in females. The female genitalia is placed right next to the anus while that of males is further down.

If you are inspecting several kittens, the distance between the anal and genitalia openings will be more apparent. Kittens of similar age will have similar body sizes and structures. It will, therefore, be easier to pick out the gender when comparing several kittens.

Step 4: Check for the Presence of Male Testicles

In male kittens, the scrotum will be visible from ten weeks of age. The scrotum is the bulging pouch that will appear between the male’s anal opening and his genitalia opening. It contains two testicles.

If you are examining older kittens, you may be able to spot the scrotum effortlessly in male kittens. In younger kittens, you may also be able to feel the male kittens’ testicles. You can gently touch the area between the two openings using your thumb and forefinger. If you feel two small round pea-sized protrusions, that’s a male kitty right there. You need to be very gentle while touching the kitten’s scrotum to avoid damaging any of his delicate organs.

There are, however, some kittens with undescended testicles. You may not be able to feel the testicles in such kittens. Also, many kittens are neutered early; you can only check this in intact males.

Physical Examination Method #2: Study the Kitten’s Coat Color

calico kitten walking

Although it’s not a sure way of sexing kittens, the color of their coat is another way cat owners can use to determine whether the kitten is male or female. It has been observed that certain colors are more prevalent in specific cat genders.

Kittens whose coats appear in calico colors (black, orange, and white) are almost always female. Also, tortoiseshell-colored cats (orange and black) are more likely to be female.

This color and gender correlation has everything to do with the kitten’s genetic composition. Calico and tortoiseshell colors, for instance, commonly require two X chromosomes to be formed. Therefore, they usually only appear in female cats whose genetic makeup has two X chromosomes. On the other hand, certain coat colors like orange tabby (stripped) are almost always found in male cats.

It’s important to note, however, that there are genetic disorders in the feline world that may cause exceptions in this color theory. Observing a cat’s coat color is, therefore, not considered a definitive way of sexing kittens.

Analyzing the Kitten’s Behavior

funny tabby kittent sitting

Some cat behaviors are gender specific. A cat owner can, therefore, rely on them to identify their kitten’s gender.

Kitten Behavior #1: Spraying

From as early as four months of age, unneutered male cats may begin spraying. They do this by spraying strong-smelling urine on walls, furniture, and other parts of your home—a very unpleasant experience for many cat owners.

They do this in a bid to mark their territory especially when they feel their territory has been intruded upon. Although female cats also spray, this phenomenon is more common in unneutered males and can be used in sexing kittens.

Kitten Behavior #2: Going into Heat

kitten meowing strongly

From the age of five to six months, unspayed females begin to go into heat. This is known as the estrus season and lasts for a week on average. Since only female cats go into heat, cat owners can easily predict their feline’s gender during the estrus season.

The tell-tale signs that a cat is in heat include the following:

  • Intense and frequent vocalization with loud meows and yowling

  • Excess grooming of their genitals

  • Spraying urine

  • Excess rubbing of head against humans and objects

  • Excess display of affection even to inanimate objects

  • Raising her rear parts

  • Strong urge to venture outdoors

  • Rolling on the ground

Wrap Up

two kittens sitting in sink

It can get quite embarrassing if your family and friends discover that you had your precious kitty’s gender all mixed up. It, however, happens to the best of us. Even veterinarians and experienced cat owners can sometimes declare the wrong gender, especially in very young kittens. This is why it is important to wait until a kitten is at least three weeks of age.

It is important to be very gentle while examining young kittens as they are very delicate. The room in which you carry out the exercise should be warm. Also, pay close attention to the mood of their mother. Don’t aggravate her by handling her babies for too long. Do not hold her kittens for more than ten minutes; she won’t take it too kindly. Also, comparing a number of kittens will give you more accurate results as you can easily spot the differences between the genders.

As we have discussed in this article, you can physically examine your kittens or observe their behavior while seeking to determine their gender. However, the most reliable way to sex kittens is by physically observing their genitalia.

Male kittens have round-shaped genitalia openings whereas females have genital openings that appear like a vertical slit. The male genitalia opening is also set quite far away from the anus unlike in females. By ten weeks of age, the scrotum of unneutered male kittens will be visible and the testicles can be felt, so determining the sex of your kitten should be even easier from this point on.

Analyzing the coat color of kittens is another physical way of sexing kittens. Coat colors are linked to the X and Y chromosomes. Some coat colors are only found in females and others in males. Analyzing the coat color is, however, not a guaranteed way of sexing your kittens. This is because genetic disorders abound and can cause many exceptions.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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