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So, We're Forcing Gender Roles on Our Cats Now, Are We?

A male cat is called "motherly" because he cares for needy kittens. But in cats, as in all species, nurturing transcends gender -- and here's proof.

 |  Jun 20th 2012  |   22 Contributions


Let me start by saying that if you're expecting a humorless rant about gender politics and you came here to troll, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm discussing gender roles and cats only because the source of inspiration for this post made me happy.

In my daily Internet searches for interesting cat stories, I found an animal rescue organization's weekly adoptable animals update. Its featured feline was Buddy, a "motherly male cat."

What makes Buddy "motherly" is that he's willing to take in and care for kittens that are still a bit too needy to be adopted. Buddy grooms the kittens, helps them learn their litterbox habits, and even lets them nurse (or pretend-nurse) from him.

Although Buddy's behavior is not typical of the Y-chromosome-equipped feline -- with most male cats, it's pretty much "bang-bang, bye-bye" -- it's not unheard of. Check out the awesomely sweet story of Floyd and Ranger from the W.V. Cats Forum, for example. Some male cats may even produce milk in response to nursing from kittens.

"Floyd immediately adopted Ranger like he was a long lost son. At least twice a day, Floyd gave Ranger a complete grooming. It even got to the point where all Floyd had to do was to look at Ranger and he would come to Floyd for his 'bath.'"
-- Mark, as posted on the W.V. Cats Forum

That said, I believe it's a misnomer to call this behavior "motherly." Males of any species are quite capable of being loving and nurturing.

Thomas always loved his Dahlia. Photo by JaneA Kelley

My sweet tabby guy, Thomas, certainly took Dahlia under his wing when she became a member of my family. He groomed her and snuggled with her and even did some tail-kicking if other cats dared to lay a tooth or a claw on his girl. He has even nurtured me -- curling up next to me and offering purr therapy when I'm sick, or licking my sparse "arm fur" into shape with his sandpaper tongue.

I imagine neutered males are more likely to be nurturing in this way because they have no instinctive stake in bringing mother cats back into heat by getting rid of their kittens. But even tomcats aren't all about senseless kitten mayhem and murder, either. Male cats seem to know which kittens are theirs, and even if they are inclined to wreak havoc, they don't wreak havoc on the fruit of their own loins.

I even have an example of a loving daddy-cat from my own life. Long, long ago, in the days of my youth and early adolescence, we had an intact male and an intact female -- which, of course, had predictable results. The male was always kind to the kittens -- and even licked them and gave them TLC on those occasions when mom-cat let him get near the nest. Of course, the male in question was a Maine Coon cross, and he'd inherited that awesomely mellow personality for which the breed so well known.

Ultimately, what I'm saying is that although nurturing and loving care is defined in our culture as a female trait, there's no shortage of males -- of all species -- who will step up and care for younger cats who need a parent (or a big brother).

And here, for an extra dose of awwwwwww, is a video of a male cat lavishing care on a pair of orphaned kittens.


(In a reader? Watch the video here.)

Do you have a man-cat who has been extra loving and cuddly and caring? Was his love reserved for cats, or did he dote on other animals (including humans), too? Extra bonus points if you have photos to share!

Oh, and by the way, if you're interested in adopting Buddy, he's a big, beautiful long-haired gray cat living at the Orphans of the Storm shelter in Riverwoods (Deerfield), IL, and here's his story. I do hope the shelter staff won't think I'm trying to shame them for highlighting this wonderful cat's behavior in a way that many people would understand. If I lived nearby and I had room in my house, I'd adopt the big guy in a heartbeat. I love "motherly" cats of either sex!

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