Domestic cat facial stereotyping

I’ve called it “domestic cat facial stereotyping” but it needs explaining. What I’m saying is that the domestic cat evolved to have a very impassive some would say, enigmatic face. Although a recent study tells us that the domestic cat has 276 facial expressions! It’s hard to believe it because normally we see a face which is less expressive than the human’s. And people are used to looking at humans and therefore we tend to measure the domestic cat against the human and this applies to facial expressions as well. It also means that we anthropomorphise cats and expect them to behave like little humans sometimes.

Domestic cat facial stereotyping refers to people sometimes stereotyping the cat as having a certain character because of their impassive face.

The domestic cat facial stereotyping
Image: MikeB using Canva.

Relating to cats as toddlers is unsurprising because to many people, they ARE little toddlers and an essential part of the family unit. But I would argue that the domestic cat’s impassive expression has become a kind of stereotype by which we assess the domestic cat. To some people it can be a little unnerving. This might happen in homes where the human-to-cat relationship is not great. We have to accept that there must be a wide range of degrees of bonding between human cat which always depends on the human’s level of concern and affection for their cat.

The human dictates the relationship and controls the environment which colours the cat’s behaviour which also affects the relationship. My thoughts about the domestic cat facial stereotype comes from an article today in my newspaper, The Times.

It’s entitled: “How certain features leave criminals facing longer sentences”. Yes, it’s about humans and in fact murderers who look untrustworthy. They are more likely to be executed for murder in the US where the study was conducted.

The difference is between the baby-faced murderer and the arch-criminal type murderer with the square wide face which is very much an alpha male sort of face created by piles of testosterone (c.f. the jowly unneutered male cat face).

It’s the latter sort of expression, stereotypical of a criminal, which might encourage a court to punish them more severely as in the US juries have a role in sentencing in death penalty cases. Facial stereotypes can lead to hidden biases in the human world and I think it can lead to human biases in the cat world as well.

RELATED: Stereotyping cats because of their coat colour – stereotyping can also occur because of the cat’s coat colour.

The domestic cat does have certain characteristics which both lend it to great relationships with humans and also sometimes create a barrier to the relationship. People need to recognise them. They need to get beyond the facial stereotype and enjoy the warmth of the relationship.

Cats can be very expressive in their behaviour towards their caregiver. I’ve just written about domestic cat hand signals; the paw tap request as one example of communicating between cats and people.

Body language, and behaviours in context are great forms of communication. They facilitate the human-to-cat relationship but the fact that the domestic cat is a top predator and is armed with weapons; claws and teeth, presents a barrier to the relationship. The barrier is so great for some that they remove their cat’s claws which for me is a horrific operation and indicative of human failure and a failure in cat domestication.

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Unneutered male cats have a more masculine facial appearance compared to neutered male cats

This is a discussion about whether the neutering of male cats (castration) changes their facial appearance. It can also have an impact on their overall appearance indirectly i.e. lower metabolism leading to putting on weight. But I’m focusing on the face. My argument is that it feminises the male cat face by making it narrower. A wider face is linked with male dominance and a narrower face is associated with a female appearance.

Uncastrated male cat. You can see that he has been fighting.

Tomcat jowls created by the presence of testosterone
Tomcat jowls created by the presence of testosterone

Compared to my cat:

My neutered male cat Gabs
My neutered male cat Gabs. Image: MikeB

Introduction

Years ago, I said that I preferred the appearance of the unneutered male cat because it is more natural. They look more like male cats to me. I based my assessment on looking at hundreds of thousands of pictures of cats as you can imagine in writing this website.

At that time, my information was through observation without reference to science. In other words, it was empirical evidence.

In this article I’m going to look at scientific evidence. I feel the need to do this because I’ve been challenged as to whether it is true. I welcome counterarguments and always have done. I welcome these discussions. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT.

Scientific evidence that testosterone changes facial appearance

Having spent about 30 minutes digging around the scientific community on the Internet and on other websites, I feel that I can confirm that the presence of high levels of testosterone can alter the facial appearance of both male humans and male cats.

Testosterone in uncastrated male cats can give them wider faces and a more dominant appearance
Testosterone in uncastrated male cats can give them wider faces and a more dominant appearance. Image: MikeB at PoC

It should be said, right away, that the veterinarians on the Internet of which there are many never state that testosterone changes facial appearance. They got it wrong in my opinion.

And testosterone is the key hormone here because castration, the removal of the testes which is the neutering operation, removes the production of testosterone from the male cat. I say this feminizes the face of at least a substantial proportion of male cats. The adrenal gland can produce testosterone too in small amounts.

AVMA study

I’m going to start off with an AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) study of a 13-year-old neutered domestic shorthair cat. Yes, this cat was neutered and therefore they were not producing testosterone but the cat suffered from an adrenal gland tumour which stimulated the production of testosterone.

This male cat was demonstrating behavioural characteristics of an unneutered tomcat. He was spraying pungent urine to mark territory and he was aggressive. His owner was concerned. He was a former shelter cat.

His owner had noticed that his face was larger than in previous years but that he had lost weight. Everything else was normal.

He was healthy according to veterinarians. However, “The cat was thin with a body condition score of 2/5. It has a round face with enlarged masseter and caudal mandibular regions and a coarse hair coat.”

The region referred to contains two muscles, the masseter muscle and the other the muscle in the caudal mandibular region. These are in the cheek area of the cat’s face.

Muscle mass and jowly appearance

There is no doubt in my mind that the increased the size of these muscles due to the presence of high levels of testosterone unexpectedly gave this male cat a jowly appearance.

Big Boss Cat - Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan.
Big Boss Cat – Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan.

And it is the jowly appearance of unneutered male cats which makes them stand out as shown in the photograph on this page. You will see many stray male cats with this appearance.

Although, I’m not saying that all male cats have such a strong male appearance. It will vary from individual to individual.

This is the link to the study I just referred to if you’re interested: https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.234.4.505.

RELATED: Does neutering male cats make them less strong?

Male humans

There are quite a few studies on the facial width of men linked with testosterone levels. High testosterone in men gives the face a more dominant appearance.

One study (link) found an association between the levels of testosterone and a wider face. They were looking at the width-to-height ratio of the male human face. The study, for me, supports (1) a similarity between cats and humans in terms of the effect of testosterone on facial appearance and (2) facial appearance is affected by testosterone which I think we can bring into the argument about cats’ faces becoming wider and more masculine when they are unneutered. There is a similarity in human and cat anatomy.

RELATED: How male cat neutering affects their appearance

And another study:

“Study found that men with a low digit ratio (associated with higher prenatal testosterone) exhibited a wider jaw and zygomatic arch (i.e. face width) as compared to those with a higher digit ratio.”

Pets4Homes website

Interestingly, the nonscientific article on this website supports what I’ve been saying. I don’t know their source. They say that “A mature and unneutered male cat will often develop a very round, broad head by the time they are two or three years old due to the levels of testosterone and other sex hormones coursing through their bodies.”

They go on to state that if an adult male cat is neutered later in life, they will retain that broader face but if they are neutered early in life as is usual, they don’t develop it. This is what I’ve always stated.

Daily Paws website

Once again this is nonscientific and the author does not quote their sources but they refer to the Best Friends non-profit organisation and state that “testosterone levels alone won’t make a cat’s cheeks ultra-chunky”. That at least implies that testosterone levels in a male cat affects facial features and makes the face wider and chunkier or as I would describe it jowly because it is the sides of the face, the cheeks, which become enlarged due to the presence of bigger muscles in that area.

RELATED: Castration of male domestic cats increases hair length from short to medium

Conclusion

There is a surprising lack of hard information to support my theory that neutering male cats can feminize their faces in many instances but perhaps not all. I don’t know the percentage. But the evidence is there nonetheless if you dig around. I’m also surprised that the veterinarians don’t state this.

My conclusion is that I am right which pleases me. I been able to convert empirical evidence to hard scientific evidence I feel.

Male cat appearance is important

I feel that this topic is quite important too. It is unfair to male cats because the spaying operation for female cats does not change their appearance. In the human world, women typically like the male appearance. They tend to go for the more masculine looking face, the man with high testosterone levels as it indicates a better lifestyle in a competitive world.

But in the cat world we don’t get that. Women cannot enjoy the strong male feline face. They are left with an androgynous male face. A male cat which is neither female looking nor male looking but often somewhere in between. We have learned to accept it. We don’t even recognise it as an issue but it’s there.

Neutering still important

And I’m not saying that we should not neuter male cats. Far from it. I’m not even saying that we should like natural male cat behaviour because we shouldn’t really because it’s quite difficult. I’m just saying that they look different after neutering sometimes.

And this leads into a previous article that I have written about turning domestic cats into ‘living toys’ which you can read by clicking on this link. In that article I refer to the male vasectomy operation as an alternative to castration which allows the cat to retain his natural behaviors and his wider face as the operation does not remove the production of testosterone.

Castration in men

Years ago, I wrote about the effect of castration on men (link). It is interesting as it gives insights into how it changes the mentality, behavior and mood of male domestic cats to make them more acceptable to humans.

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