I’ve been around cats my entire life. I was a cat-crazy kid who was lucky enough to grow up and work with cats at one of the largest animal shelters in the US.
Over that time, I’ve been around thousands of cats of all shapes, sizes, and genders along with thousands of cat people. And one of the most common cat myths that’s popular not only for your average cat owner but also within the veterinary world is that male cats are more affectionate than female cats.
But is this true? Are male cats more affectionate?
This can actually be true but not for the reason you’d expect. If you look only at gender, there’s nothing to suggest that a male cat is more affectionate than a female. However, this myth is likely perpetuated because of the genetic connection between a Tortie or Calico’s coat pattern, gender, and sassy attitude.
Yep, the sassy attitude of Tortie cats isn’t just a myth and studies have found a connection between Torties and an increased chance of aggression. Tortie cats are also overwhelmingly female and the chance of a male Tortie cat is less than a half of a percent!
In other words, because Tortie cats have a slightly increased chance of aggression and almost all Tortie cats are female, male cats could be considered to be a little more affectionate- at least from a strictly statistical perspective.
But there’s a lot more going on here than just some sassy Torties so let’s take a closer look at this myth and possible reasons why it’s so popular.
What Does Affection Mean To You?
Before we dig into the explanations, we need to ask ourselves one important question…
What does “affectionate” really mean to you? The definition will be a little different for every person and every cat.
For example, my cat Debbe is one of the most affectionate and loving felines I’ve ever met. But unlike some cats, she has almost zero interest in sitting on my lap. Instead, she’s happy to be pet while hanging out near me- not on me.
If you were to just meet her one time and promptly plop her in your lap she’d likely walk away or even run off into the next room! Despite the fact that some cats love nothing more than sitting in your lap, that’s just not how my cat shows affection.
But that certainly doesn’t mean she’s not affectionate! Instead, she just might not have the same definition of affection!
So remember that every cat is going to be a little different in how they like to show and receive affection. Before we peg a cat as “not affectionate”, whether they’re male or female, we’ve got to make sure we’re speaking the same language and that it’s not just a difference of style!
Spaying and Neutering Makes A Big Difference
If you’re comparing spayed female cats to neutered male cats, then you’ll find that the level of affection really just depends on the individual cat and not the gender. Of course, Torties are a bit of an exception and we’ll cover that in more detail later.
But things get very different when you start comparing intact cats, or cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered to any other cats.
The search for a mate, or in the case of cats several different mates, is an extremely powerful drive that impacts both male and female cats but in different ways. Let’s look at a few of them and how they can make a cat seem more or less affectionate.
Female Heat Cycles Can Cause Unpredictable Behaviors
During the peak of a female cat’s mating cycle, they are extremely focused on finding a mate at just about any cost. This can make female cats act a bit crazy and behavior can range from extreme affection to unpredictable aggression with plenty of vocalizations and yowling mixed in.
Even for the experienced cat guardian, these behaviors can be confusing but oftentimes, female cats in heat can become extremely affectionate. They’ll constantly seek attention from you including headbutting, meowing, and even some flirtatious flops in front of you.
However, what makes this confusing, is that all this extra energy can quickly turn to aggression. You can see this in action here:
Of course, this cat guardian probably shouldn’t be rubbing their cat’s belly unless they already know that their cat is a fan of tummy rubs. But it does show how quickly a female cat in heat can go from happily flopping around to giving you a little chomp!
Despite the fact that heat often makes female cats more affectionate, because it can also make their behaviors erratic they usually get pegged as not affectionate.
It’s also fair to say that when most folks consider affection, they imagine a loyal feline friend happily sitting next to you or in your lap. They probably don’t think of affection as having your cat demand petting while yowling and showing you her behind. That’s not exactly the highest form of affection for most cat parents!
Taking Care Of Kittens Can Change Behavior
Not only are female cats worried about finding a mate, but they also have a lot to do if they successfully mate. Taking care of kittens is a lot of work and when a momma cat has six kittens to feed and discipline there’s not much time left for you!
While some momma cats will try to work you into the parenting process by bringing you their kittens, others will prefer to be left alone with their newborns. Not only do momma cats have more to do, but they may also experience some protective instincts kicking in that may make them appear less affectionate.
You really can’t hold any of this against your cat, and being a momma cat is an important job!
What About Unneutered Male Cats?
Unneutered male cats can certainly be more aggressive than their neutered counterparts, however, that aggression is typically directed towards other male cats and not humans. That’s why it’s so common to see tom cats with scratches, scrapes, and worse.
Male cats just aren’t going through the same hormonal rollercoaster that female cats are put through and as a result, their behavior is usually a bit more consistent. They also aren’t worried about protecting kittens or really devoting any time at all to taking care of them. As a result, they’ve got more time and attention to give to humans.
That doesn’t mean unneutered cats are calm, cool and collected but they are more likely to be affectionate towards humans than a busy momma cat or a female that’s desperately shouting from the rooftops in search of a mate.
Spay and Neuter Your Cats
As you’ve probably noticed, cats that aren’t spayed or neutered can have more than their fair share of problems that go way behind whether or not a cat is affectionate. Spaying and neutering will eliminate the heat cycle for female cats and outright aggression in male cats along with other unwanted behaviors like spraying.
Not only that, but spayed and neutered pets generally live longer, healthier lives as well. If you need to get your cat spayed or neutered check out the free or low-cost clinics offered by PetSmart which you can see here.
Gender, Color, and Affection
This is where things get even more interesting!
I’ve already mentioned that there’s a connection being the Tortie coat markings and a slight increase in aggression.
But how is that possible?
Well, the connection between coat color and any number of other traits (including general attitude and disposition) has been well established. One of the most famous examples comes from a 10 generation study that attempted to domestic wild foxes.
Researchers specifically bred foxes that were friendly and over time, new generations of foxes grew to have floppy ears, curly tails, and other physical features that are common in dogs. In other words, the same genes that impacted friendliness also affected certain physical traits.
The same can be true for health factors as well and white cats are significantly more likely to be partially or completely deaf.
With those easy-to-see examples behind us, the results of that 2015 study that found a connection between Tortie cats and aggression doesn’t seem quite so surprising! Affectionately called “Tortitude” by loving cat parents, the researchers define this as an increase in “stubbornness, independence, and unpredictability”.
But unlike the other examples we’ve seen so far, the Tortie attitude is also tied to gender since there’s a roughly 1 in 3,000 chance a Tortie will be male.
Things can get even more interesting when you consider that other colors, like orange, are connected to being male in cats and that there’s no connection between strictly male cat colors and fussy attitudes.
Putting this all together, there’s nothing about female cats alone that makes them less affectionate or more aggressive but there is a connection between the Tortie color and more attitude. Because cats with the Tortie coat pattern are 99.97% female, it’s possible this helps perpetuate the myth of male cats being more affectionate.
Bias Towards Bad Experiences
Almost all humans suffer from something called a negativity bias. Simply put, this is a tendency to remember negative experiences above positive ones.
When it comes to female cats, you may have briefly met 10 friendly females but if the 11th cat is unpredictable and aggressive you’re much more likely to remember that cat over the others.
Because female cats are slightly more likely to be a bit assertive as a result of being in heat, protecting kittens, or just being a Tortie it’s more likely that if you do encounter an aggressive cat, that she happens to be female. It’s also more likely that that memory will stand out.
Humans can also be reluctant to accept ideas that may challenge their existing assumptions and as a result, one bad encounter with a female cat could literally last a lifetime. Even more so if the bad experience was a complete surprise- as is often the case.
Finally, there’s the fact that we often make sweeping generalizations any time we have a bad experience. While this habit has real practical purposes, it can also mean that we’re not as likely to look at the specifics of the situation.
Instead of trying to figure out if the cat was in heat or protecting kittens, we just focus on the easy-to-understand gender aspect and come to the conclusion that female cats can be more feisty and less affectionate.
There’s More Behind Affection Than Gender
Between finding a mate, caring for kittens, and even just being a Tortie we’ve established a handful of reasons why female cats may not come off as affectionate as their male counterparts.
But that doesn’t mean every female cat or every Tortie is going to be more aggressive.
Far from it.
Just as with people, there are many factors that can impact a cat’s personality that go well beyond any genetic makeup alone.
So let’s take a quick but closer look at what can impact how affectionate a cat can be.
Socialization is an absolutely massive factor when it comes to how affectionate a cat will be and a key part of raising a cuddly kitten. If a cat was raised completely closed off from humans, they’re going to have a hard time suddenly becoming affectionate.
This means more than just playing with them when kittens are walking around. Before their eyes are open, you want to make sure that kittens are getting used to the sounds and smells inside a human home.
That’s because socialization isn’t just about feeling comfortable around humans. It’s about feeling comfortable around humans and all the things that humans do!
So does that mean nurture, or socialization, is more important than nature?
We’ve already seen how the genetic markers that control a Tortie cat’s coat color can also impact their personality. While Torties aren’t considered their own breed, the same connection between attitude and behavior can be seen in specific cat breeds.
Ragdolls and Burmese cats are some of the more famous examples of affectionate breeds but you can find all kinds of differences between each breed. The Maine Coon is another cat that’s got a reputation for being affectionate, regardless of gender.
That doesn’t mean you need a purebred cat in order to find an affectionate feline! There are shelters around the world that are full of affectionate cats just waiting for the perfect home!
Environment and Routine
Even well-socialized cats may reach their limit from time to time and if their environment is constantly stressing them out then cats of any gender may become less affectionate. Stressors could include children, dogs, other cats, construction, or just about anything else in the home. Any of these could lead our sensitive cats to have a decrease in affection.
The impact of environmental changes can also be different based on whether or not your cat is spayed or neutered. For example, if your indoor cat is unneutered and there are male cats outside then your resident feline may become more aggressive, less affectionate, and irritatable due to the constant presence of males outside the home.
As it turns out, there isn’t exactly a difference in affection between male and female cats. At least, if you exclude the whole factor of Tortitude from the equation.
Instead, the much bigger factor is whether or not cats are spayed or neutered since the presence of increased sex hormones can cause wild changes in behaviors especially for female cats that go through frequent heat cycles. From there, socialization and other environmental factors play a huge role in how affectionate a cat will be.
The combination of sassy Tortie behavior along with female-specific behaviors is probably what helps keep this myth alive.
But when the only difference is gender, and factors like socialization, environment, and breed are the same, there’s no real difference between how affectionate a male cat is versus a female cat.