This week I read a brilliant post over on Medium in which the author Adam Roberts describes what happened when he discovered that his cat of 16 years, Lolita, was not female as he'd long believed, but male (If you're wondering about the anatomy of that, have a read of his article, it's fascinating!).
Ever since I read Adam's article, I've been wondering about gender in cats. In the last few Sunday Reads we've already seen some superficial differences between the sexes, like the fact that almost all calico and tortoiseshell cats are female, and ginger cats are more likely to be male.
But are the differences between the sexes more than skin deep? And does neutering erase those differences, or are boy cats still fundamentally different - in their personalities and behaviour - to girls?
WHO IS FRIENDLIER? MALE OR FEMALE?
When we were choosing our cats I always felt sure that I wanted female cats, because I had the idea that they would be more sensitive and affectionate. I think when I thought about boys I had in my head the vision of the swaggering, independent tomcat, who doesn't have time for anyone or anything, least of all cuddles.
In dogs, this is actually true. Males - even once neutered - do tend to be less affectionate and friendly towards their owners than females. But perhaps surprisingly (at least to me!), in cats, the trend seems to be the exact reverse. (Turner, D. & Bateson, P. 2013)
Studies have shown that neutered male cats are, on average, more affectionate than their female counterparts, and spend more time being expressive towards their owners (e.g. licking, body rubbing, trill purring and circling).
That's not to say females can't be all of the above, but if you're getting a new cat and want to stack the odds in favour of it being a little cuddle bucket, then a boy cat might be the one for you!
ARE MALE CATS MORE AGGRESSIVE THAN FEMALE CATS?
In free-ranging cat societies, male cats have to defend a larger territory than females, so it would make sense that in the home they would tend to be more territorial aggressive (Rodan, I. 2015).
When researchers studied the dynamics in a home of 14 unrelated cats, they found that sure enough, female cats are more likely to remain in a few rooms whereas male cats tend to roam between the rooms - staking out their territory (Bernstein and Strack 1996).
But does that translate into aggression? The jury's still out, but there are some clues:
So far, two studies have found no difference between levels of aggression in male and female cats in the home. In a more focussed study that looked only at pairs of cats there were routinely fighting, males were more likely to start the fights - and they directed their aggression to males and females equally (Moesta, A. & Crowell-Davis, S. 2011).
The overall picture is that when tensions are already running high, males may be more likely to pick a fight. But in a generally peaceful multi-cat household, gender doesn't seem to make a difference at all.
If you are thinking of adding another cat to your home and want to know whether a boy or girl is best, I can highly recommend taking a look at our previous Sunday Read, which goes into lots more detail on the subject: Should I get another cat?, The Sunday Read
Do male cats spray more than females?
In a word, yes! They do, even once neutered. But that's not to say that female cats don't spray too.
Incidentally, while I was looking into this I read something that I'd sort of observed but never fully appreciated. Cats have two ways of peeing. There's the sit-down squat which is a normal 'wee'. And them there's the stand up spray which smells different and is a deliberate form of scent marking.
Sure enough, this latter behaviour - known as spraying - is much more frequently practised by males, even once neutered. But adult female cats that have been spayed do it too, and there are large inter-cat variations in how frequently they do it. Spraying is also influenced strongly by what's going on in the environment around - for instance a cat that is anxious or feels threatened by the presence of other cats may spray more frequently. (Turner, D. & Bateson, P. 2013)
Do male cats grow bigger than females?
Across the feline family, there is a general tendency for males to be larger than females. Male lions, for example, can be up to 50% larger than the females in a pride (Bateson, P. 1993).
In domestic cats, the trend continues - male cats are on average 20% larger and heavier than females (Pontier et al 1995). Of course, this is like saying men are taller than women - you'll still find 5'3" men and 6'2" women - so there's no guarantee your male kitten won't be overtaken by his sisters as they grow! But in general, a boy cat's body size will be larger, and will drive a greater appetite as a result - studies have shown that male cats are greedier and less finnicky eaters than females. (Turner, D. & Bateson, P. 2013)
Most fascinatingly of all, it seems as though the colour of a cat have an influence too. Orange cats in particular have a much starker difference in size between the sexes - as high as 30% difference in size and weight between males and females (Pontier, D. et al 1998). It's still something of a mystery as to why this might be the case, but there are some fascinating theories being tested - and I'll be sure to report back if there are any major breakthroughs!
As ever, I'd be fascinated to hear your thoughts and experiences when it comes to the gender of your cats! Have you noticed any differences between your male and female cats? Do they follow these trends or buck them? Or have you ever had a shock like Adam did when he discovered he'd assigned his cat the wrong gender for the last 16 years?
Join in the conversation in the comments below, or over on our Instagram or Facebook (both @supakitstore).