Just like humans, cats are mammals. Like other mammals, they have mammary glands. In the females, these glands secrete milk to feed their young until the babies are old enough to eat solid food. This is known as lactation. Lactation is triggered by hormones released during pregnancy and childbirth, although it can sometimes be induced by other causes — for example, certain medicines or health conditions can cause a cat to lactate even without pregnancy. Nipples are the part of the mammary gland that the baby animals drink milk from. They’re present in both male and female individuals but are usually vestigial in males.
Do boy cats have nipples? Yes, male kittens and cats have nipples. These are vestigial and don’t normally produce milk. Nipples on a male cat are normal and do not present any medical concerns. The presence of nipples is not a good way to determine a kitten’s sex.
You’ve probably arrived on this page because you have questions about your cat’s anatomy and health.
- Is it normal for a male cat to have nipples?
- How can you tell a cat’s nipples from skin tags, warts or insect bites?
- What should you do if there is discharge coming from one of your cat’s nipples?
- What kinds of medical conditions can affect a cat’s nipples?
- How can you tell a male cat from a female cat if they both have nipples?
To find out all of this and more, keep reading. We have the answers you’re looking for right here.
Do boy cats have nipples?
Some people are surprised to discover that their male cats or kittens have nipples. It’s not really so odd, though — they have nipples for the same reason that human males do. When the foetus is developing in the womb, certain structures develop before the primary sexual characteristics. Nipples are some of these structures. Under normal circumstances, a male cat’s nipples will remain vestigial and will never produce milk.
Because people aren’t expecting to find nipples on a male cat, they’re sometimes worried that this may represent a medical problem. Nipples are sometimes mistaken for warts, skin lesions, insect bites, injuries or even tumours. Some people think that the nipples themselves are parasites such as ticks. This can result in worried cat owners rushing their furry companions to the vet in a panic. Fortunately, these concerns are easily allayed with better information. Once people realise that these are simply normal structures that every cat has, they’re generally reassured.
In general, a healthy cat’s nipples should be small and free from inflammation, bleeding or discharge. If your male cat or a spayed female produces discharge from the nipples, you should have the issue checked out by your vet. Blood can be an indication of an injury or a severe infection. One or more swollen nipples on any non-pregnant cat can be a sign that there’s a health issue you need to address.
A cat’s nipples should be arranged in two symmetrical rows down the underside of the animal’s tummy. There should be an even number, although supernumerary nipples are possible. The exact number is around six but can vary. Some cats have as few as four, while others may have ten. You may even see different numbers in kittens from the same litter. If your cat seems to have rather too many or two few, don’t be overly concerned. With very young kittens, you may not find all the nipples at first because baby cats are so tiny. Don’t be surprised if you discover an extra pair as your pet gets larger, especially in the case of longhairs.
People who attempt to sex kittens without expert knowledge are sometimes misled when they find nipples on the cat’s undercarriage, assuming that their presence must mean the animal is female. In fact, it’s not really possible to sex kittens without looking at their genitals, and even then it can be tricky without a little training. You can sometimes discern a cat’s sex by lifting the tail and peeking. In general, a male cat or kitten’s genitals are further from his anus than a females. Your vet will be able to tell you when you take your cat in for necessary checkups and immunisations. Whatever sex your cat or kitten is, you will need to have the animal spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the raft of other problems that come with an “entire” cat. De-sexing your kitten or cat is part of being a responsible pet owner; it should be done as soon as is practicable.
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Can male cats lactate?
Yes, although it is quite rare. In the normal course of events, lactation occurs in mother cats who have given birth. The process of gestation and giving birth triggers the production of milk by the mother; the nursing infant then stimulates the mammary glands to continue producing milk throughout infancy, until weaning.
That said, lactation can be induced without pregnancy occurring. The right stimulation can cause a mammal to produce milk without pregnancy — even in male animals. Lactation can be induced in male cats, as well as spayed females and entire females who have never been pregnant. Lactation often occurs when the mammary glands are stimulated, which can happen due to affection or snuggling between cats.
It’s not unknown for a male cat to act as a foster carer for young kittens — males are often hostile to kittens fathered by other toms but there are some exceptional male cats who absolutely dote on babies. The kittens may knead and suckle on a male cat’s nipples just as they would on a female. These attempts to nurse may end up triggering lactation.
The same thing can occur between two adult cats who are given to grooming each other. Cats who are particularly affectionate may nuzzle and knead their fellow cats’ bodies like kittens, causing the recipient of these attentions to produce milk just like a mother cat. It’s even possible for a male cat to self-induce lactation if he’s fond of grooming his tummy.
While uncommon, lactation in male cats is not abnormal and shouldn’t cause any concern. It’s worth having the cat checked out by a vet, however, as there are health issues that can produce lactation or other forms discharge.
Can male cats feed kittens?
The next question people ask when they discover the possibility that a male cat can produce milk is: “Could a tom-cat feed kittens, then?” The answer here is “probably not”.
To be honest, I am not completely clear on whether this is theoretically possible — but I wouldn’t recommend trying. It’s true that some very special male cats adore baby kittens and will happily provide love, physical affection and other forms of care and nurturing for them; what he can’t realistically do, though, is provide a supply of food. That’s a task much better left to their mother.
The question of whether a male cat could produce enough milk to feed a kitten, or indeed if male cats’ milk contains much in the way of nutritional value, has not really been adequately explored. It’s rare enough that a male cat might lactate and even rarer for him to be the sole carer for a litter of unweaned kittens. I am not aware of any properly documented cases where kittens were successfully reared in this way, nor of any reliable analysis performed on male cats’ milk. For these reasons, I would not attempt to rely on a lactating male to nurse kittens.
For those who might still be contemplating such an experiment, it bears repeating that baby kittens are tremendously fragile and vulnerable. When kittens are under the age of twelve weeks, they should be kept with their mother if it’s at all possible to do so. If this is really not possible (because the mother is dead, sick, or injured, or has rejected the babies), kittens should be fostered by a lactating female or bottle-fed by an experienced human caregiver. Rearing kittens until weaning should be left to the mother cat or a well-trained human.
Conditions affecting the nipple in cats
Infections, hormonal abnormalities and other conditions can cause a male cat to produce fluid from one or more of his nipples. Cats can develop mastitis, an infection of the milk ducts that can cause swelling, pain and discharge from the nipple. Mastitis is a condition that usually affects lactating mammals; as we’ve seen, though, this can include the occasional male.
Hormonal disturbances can also affect a male cat’s nipples and may even cause lactation. These conditions can arise spontaneously due to glandular or other disorders in the cat. Some medications can also cause swollen nipples or lactation in male cats; these treatments contain hormones or hormone analogues, and may duplicate the effect of female hormones in the cat’s body. A cat may also absorb hormones from other sources. One fairly common scenario is for the human caregiver to be using some topical cream containing hormones, which is then ingested by the cat. Sometimes cats lick the preparation directly off the owner’s skin; alternatively, the medicine may be transferred to the cat’s fur when the cat is petted, and then ingested later on when the cat grooms himself.
Injuries to a male cat’s nipple can cause some kind of discharge. This might initially be bloody but it could also be clear or straw-coloured. If the injury becomes infected, it’s possible for the nipple to exude pus.
Very rarely, it’s possible for a male cat to develop a tumour in his nipple. This is extremely unusual but it is something to check for.
If you’re concerned about a discharge from your male cat’s nipples — especially if there appears to be pain or swelling — you should get the condition checked out by your family vet. Prompt treatment can take care of most issues.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.