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How to tell if a kitten is male or female: Vet's step-by-step guide

kitten standing on a table
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not sure how to tell if a kitten is male or female? Whether you breed kittens or rear them from newborn, there's a lot you need to know!

Caring for older or newborn kittens is a big responsibility. Not only do you need to consider everything they'll need to live a long and happy life -  from their basic training and socialization to their nutritional needs - you'll want to add preparing for their first vet visit to your checklist! 

Of course, your vet can help with a wide range of questions you may have, but it's likely you may want to have a go at determining your kitten's sex at home. 

If you’re not sure whether your new addition is a boy or a girl or you’re surrounded by a litter of kittens and you’ve no idea which are male and which are female, here are some tips to help you out. 

At what age can you gender a kitten? 

Determining the gender of a kitten is most easily done when the external genital organs can be seen more clearly at around 6 to 8 weeks of age. 

Of course, it’s understandable that you may want to know your kitten’s gender before this. It’s best not to handle them much before 2 weeks of age, as you may stress the mother cat or cause her to reject the kittens. 

Therefore, if you’re keen to give sexing a go sooner rather than later, between 2 and 3 weeks is a good time to try.

Ways to determine a kitten's sex 

Genitals

Although looking at your kitten's genitals is by far the most accurate method of determining whether they're male or female, did you know some other things might give you a clue?

Color and markings

Some color patterns are associated with certain genders in cats. For example, tortoiseshells (also known as 'torties' or calicos) are almost always female. 

If they don't have obvious female genitalia, they're likely to be intersex and may have a combination of male and female parts. 

Ginger cats are more often male than female, however, female ginger cats do exist so it’s always best to check! 

Behavior

It’s a bit of a stereotype, but male kittens are usually more mischievous, active, and boisterous than female kittens! I once took home a very young kitten, who was thought to be female but too young to be sure. 

However, her naughty behavior soon gave me the feeling that something was wrong, and after another look, it was clear she was a he! He still lives with me now, and thankfully there haven’t been any damaged sofas or dismantled bathrooms for a while!

Size

Male kittens are often bigger than female kittens, but not always. So, although you might assume the bigger kitten is male and the smaller one female, you could be wrong!

Ask your vet

If you’ve tried yourself but you’re still stumped, why not ask your local veterinary team to sex your kitten? 

You’ll need to take your kitten for their first health check and kitten vaccinations anyway, and your vet won’t mind taking a look. 

If you have other questions, like when and how to wean your kitten, you can ask them at this appointment. 

Handling your kitten during sexing 

The mother cat won't be too happy if you suddenly swoop in and grab one of her babies! Once the kittens are more than two weeks of age you should spend a few moments slowly and gently getting the mother used to you being present and then handling the babies. 

Once the mother seems more comfortable, keep the kitten near to her while holding them gently in the palm of your hand, with their head and neck between your index finger and thumb, and their legs facing upwards. 

If the mother cat becomes distressed or the kitten seems stressed, stop immediately and try again another time.

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS
Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet with a love of dentistry and soft tissue surgery. She lives in Wales with her partner, son, and their two cats.

How to tell if a kitten is male 

  1. Pick up the kitten gently and place them in the palm of one hand with their paws facing upwards and their rear end towards you. 
  2. If it’s easier, you can ask someone to hold them for you so that you can focus on getting a good look. 
  3. Identify their anus and genitals, which should look like two circles. 
  4. There will be a larger gap between the anus and the genitals (penis), where their testicles will soon develop. 
  5. Their genitals (penis) will be round rather than a slit shape. 

How to tell if a kitten is female 

  • Follow steps 1 and 2 for sexing a male kitten above. 
  • Identify their anus and genitals, which should look like a dot and a line, or an ‘i’ shape. 
  • The anus and vulva/urethra will be very close together. 
  • Their genitals (vulva) will form a line or slit rather than being round. 

Summary 

When it comes to sexing your kittens, it’s a bit of a tricky business. However, with the tips above you’ll soon be able to find out whether you have a purry prince or princess! Don’t forget, though, that if you’re struggling, your local vet or veterinary nurse will be able to give you a hand.