Understanding Why Your Boy Does The Things He Does: Is there a difference between female and male cat behavior? Most people who have lived with both would probably say there’s not. Male cats tend to be more affectionate, but females can be very loving, too. Females are often better hunters, but males can also be awesome hunters. But while your cat’s behavior may depend more on personality than gender, there are some subtle differences between male and female cat behavior.
Not Just A Guy Thing
Male cats are notorious for what humans consider “bad” habits. They spray, they fight, they roam. Although this male cat behavior is most common in unneutered cats, many neutered males and spayed females also spray and fight over territory, especially when they’re stressed by life in multicat homes.
The Male Cat Psyche
Underlying all male cat behavior are the needs to establish and protect a safe territory and to mate. Testosterone is a powerful hormone in unneutered male cats and drives almost everything they do. With those hormones coursing through his body, an unneutered male cat may wander seven miles or even more in search of a mate.
The Neutering Effect
Neutering is a simple operation that can eliminate or reduce behavior problems. Neutered males no longer feel the need to search for a mate and are less likely to wander. They’re also less likely to fight.
How will neutering change your cat’s personality? A survey by veterinarian and animal behaviorist Bruce Fogle found that “neutered males are much more hygienic, are much friendlier to other cats, tolerate handling better, give more affection, are more playful and demand more attention than entire males.”
But while neutering may solve some common behavior problems, neutered males are still all male. It’s the Y chromosome unique to male cats that bathes the brain in testosterone as it develops in the mother’s uterus. The testosterone permanently changes the structure and chemistry of the brain. Since these changes don’t disappear when the cat is neutered, he will always demonstrate some male cat behaviors.
To humans, the most offensive male cat behavior is spraying. But to a cat, spraying is a perfectly normal way of setting boundaries and coping with stress. Both males and females may spray to let other animals know their territory is occupied or to reassure themselves with their own scent.
Is your cat spraying? Here are some ways to resolve this common male cat behavior problem.
- Relieve his stress. Going outside is a great stress reliever for “strictly indoor” cats. Try taking your cat out on a harness and leash, provide supervised outdoor time or consider building an outdoor enclosure so the cat can go outside whenever he wants to but won’t be able to roam.
- In multicat households, providing high places for perching and low spaces, like tunnels and boxes, for hiding can create the feeling of more space and reduce stress.
- Sprinkle catnip in the places where the cat sprays. Catnip is a “friendly” scent and discourages urine marking. Using synthetic pheromone plug-ins can also discourage urine marking. The synthetic pheromone mimics the friendly scent in a cat’s cheeks and relieves stress. Put a plug-in in every room your cat uses.
- If your cat is spraying on furniture, rub catnip on the legs of the furniture or spray them with a synthetic pheromone product. Pet supply stores sell synthetic pheromone sprays and plug-ins.
- Use an electronic deterrent to keep the cat away from walls and off counters and other surfaces where he sprays. The cat won’t like the tingling sensation the deterrent causes when stepped on and will stay away. Pet supply stores sell electronic deterrents that are safe for cats.
- Try anti-anxiety medication. It will relieve your cat’s stress and stop the spraying. But unless you identify and eliminate the cause of his stress, he’ll begin spraying again when you discontinue the medication.
Never yell at your cat or hit him when you see him spraying. Punishment, including spraying him with a water bottle, will only increase his stress and make him feel the need to spray even more. Remember, this is normal behavior to him, and your angry reaction will just confuse him.
While neutering reduces or eliminates male dominant and territorial aggression, redirected aggression can be both a female and male cat behavior problem, especially in indoor cats. A cat visiting outside, the scents of other animals and unfamiliar people and environments can all cause redirected aggression. The cat becomes so agitated by the intruder or unfamiliar scent, he lashes out at anyone who comes near him, including his human caretaker or another cat who shares his home.
If your cat becomes aggressive when he sees a cat outside, an electronic deterrent that sprays water or makes a high-pitched sound will keep the visitor away from your house. Or close the blinds and curtains on that side of the house so your cat can’t see what’s going on outdoors.
If your cat becomes aggressive when people he doesn’t know are in the house, set up a “safe room” where he can stay when you have company. Or ask your visitors to rub an unwashed towel or washcloth on their shoes and legs, so their scents blend with the familiar scents of home.
A cat coming home from a vet visit or the groomer can also trigger aggression in some cats, since cats recognize each other more by scent than sight. Going over the cat with an unwashed towel or washcloth before bringing him into the house will make him smell familiar to your other cats.
You’re stroking your neutered male cat, and he suddenly turns on you and grabs your hand with his teeth and front claws. Veterinarian and animal behaviorist Myrna Milani says the stroking “has awakened shadows of sexual behavior.” If you mimic an experienced female cat and remain quiet and motionless, your cat will lose interest and let go of your hand.
To avoid getting bitten, count the number of times you can pet your cat before he attacks. If he attacks at five pets, stop at four. And learn to read his body language. Most cats will warn you when they’ve had enough attention. It’s also a good idea to teach kittens to play with toys, not human hands.
Know Your Cat
For the most part, there’s little difference between sterilized male and female cats, although females tend to be more territorial and many people think males are more affectionate. Understanding your cat’s unique personality quirks and providing a stress-free, stimulating environment will help you avoid the unique challenges of male cat behavior.