Can cats tell the difference between male and female humans?

I think this is an interesting question but we don’t truly know the answer unless someone can correct me. My preference is to suggest that domestic cats cannot tell the difference between women and men in a strict sense. They will be able to tell the difference between the scent, visual appearance and sounds of men and women but I don’t think they are able to use this information to inform themselves that they are interacting with a man or a woman. They are just interacting with two different creatures. They might have preferences and probably do.

Cat with man and woman in cartoon

Some cats seem to like men and some cats seem like women but that doesn’t mean that these cats can tell the difference between men and women. My former lady cat was frightened of the sound of workmen’s footsteps – harder and noisier – but she was scared of the sound not the men.

I think most people would probably believe that domestic cats can tell the difference but, as mentioned, I don’t think they are correct. My cat can’t tell the difference between a fluffy dressing gown and a female cat! He thinks my dressing gown is a female cat because he thinks that he can create babies using it. How, therefore, can a cat tell the difference between a man and a woman?

Any thoughts?

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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3 Responses

  1. Sarah Hartwell says:

    Yes they can. Mammals have a common set of hormones and pheromones which cats (and some humans) can smell (male pheromone smells a bit like sandalwood, trust me).

    However most of our cats are neutered so their interaction with us is generally not related to our gender. However, some male cats get excessively friendly when a female owner is ovulating. Way back, my neighbour had trouble with her big tabby neuter climbing on her shoulders and nipping her when she ovulated. The cat never bothered me as I was on hormone contraception at that time.

  2. Albert Schepis says:

    No doubt. My cat “Buddy” (Maine Coon) was famously flirty with my female vets. WAY too charming. Really something, down to the decibels of his purr, which you could probably here in the next exam room.

  3. Kit says:

    Good question. Dogs can….why wouldn’t cats be able to…..?

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