Why is a female cat called a queen?

Female cat as a queen
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Female cat as a queen. Photo in public domain.

Because she behaves like a queen towards courtiers, the people who attend the court of a monarch. When a female cat is on heat – a period called ‘estrus’ and the time during which she is receptive – she lords it over the toms who gather around her like a circle of courtiers. They approach the queen with deference and she often punishes them in an autocratic manner after sex when she aggressively slaps them while screaming abuse.

Note: we are referring to an unsterilised, unspayed female cats. It is only unsterilised female cats who are called queens because it is only unsterilised female cats who go into heat! This is important because some people on the Internet are saying that all female cats are called queens which is untrue. However, all male cats are called toms but I think in general people are normally refer to intact male cats. Clearly, it is cat breeders who use the word “queen” in relation to their female cats more than anybody else. It is very rare for a standard cat owner to use this language. They call their male cats “studs”.

Cat in heat

Cat in heat. Photo: O’Meara – Pet Informed. I modified the image slightly to make a bit different.

In matters of sex, in the feline world, the queen is dominant. Toms may fight each other but when they attempt to mate with the queen they are not bossy but deferential. The tom protects himself from being swiped by the queen by biting the scruff of the neck. This is not a physical restraint but it elicits in the female a more passive response as happens when a mother cat carries her offspring to a new den site by grasping the kitten by the scruff of the neck in their jaws.

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P.S. The word ‘tom’ to describe a male cat can be traced back to 1760 and an anonymous story published in The Life and Adventures of a Cat. The male cat in the story was referred to as a ‘ram cat’ as was commonplace in those days but he was given the name ‘Tom the Cat’. The story was popular leading to a preference to calling male cats ‘toms’ rather than ram cats.


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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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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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