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Telling the Sex of a Kitten Isn't Always Easy

Learn the Rules But Be Prepared for Surprises

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Photo of Kitten Ariel

Photo of Kitten Ariel

Photo Credit: © Jacque

The rules for determining the sex of a kitten are fairly simple and straight-forward. They are a matter of "Punctuation Points," with the female kitten's sex organ resembling an upside-down exclamation point, and the male kitten's penis and anus mimicking a colon, with space in-between for the testicles. An About.com Video on the Cats site provides a more visable example, with a veterinarian using live cats for demonstration.

So far, so good, right? However, things are not always what they seem to be, and mistakes are easy to make, sometimes even by veterinarians and other professionals. I teased my late husband Asa unmercifully, after taking advantage of his mistake with our kitty, Arthur, whom I'd deceitfully represented as a "boy kitten" when I brought her home one day. Arthur was spayed in a timely manner, shortly after Asa's "balls is balls" proclamation, but still loved to be a surrogate mother to kittens up to a point, once she became an adult cat. She lived to be 18 years old, and had she been an indoor-only cat, may have lived much longer, as she died of cancer of her ears and nose, common to white cats exposed to the sun.

We'd been down this road before after adopting two young "male" kittens, Tiger and Figaro, from a shelter early in our marriage. We'd neglected having them neutered, and one day I observed Tiger mounting Figaro, and asked Asa "Why is Tiger humping Figaro?" Sixty-some days later, Figaro (now Figaroa) delivered five kittens. We found homes for all but one of the kittens, then spayed and neutered Figaroa and Tiger.

Much earlier, when Asa was a young boy, his mother was a great rescuer of cats, and an early believer of spay and neuter. She took Spunky, a beautiful longhair tuxedo cat to their veterinarian, asking him to spay her "sweet little female cat." When it was time to pick Spunky up, the veterinarian told her that he had neutered her little boy cat. It seems that feline gender mistakes ran rampant in the Syufy family, from generation to generation.

Jacque, a loyal reader and rescuer of cats, emailed me with a story about her kitten, Ariel, pictured here. She wrote:

A few months ago, I rescued a tiny kitten that was abandoned outside. It must have been outside for some time because it was not friendly at all; when I tried to approach it, it would hiss at me. I finally caught the kitten and brought it into my home. In checking it out, I was certain I had a girl.

I wanted to find a very positive and biblical name so I chose Ariel, a modern Hebrew name meant for a boy but I liked the meaning, 'lion of God' so I kept that name.

About a week ago when I was playing with Ariel, she got up and started walking away from me. I looked her way and then in a shocked voice said "Where the hell did you get those?"

Turns out Ariel really is a boy. However, I can't fault Jacques for her mistake. Ariel's photo, shown above, looks very much like a female kitten, without even inspecting his genitals. And so it goes.

Most important is to be sure to have Tina or Terrance spayed or neutered before they reach adolescence. Actually, many veterinarians now practice early spay and neuter, both for medical reasons, and to avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Fortunately, typically, once we've grown close to a kitten, and it has stolen our heart, it really doesn't matter a whole lot what its sex turns out to be.

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