What Is A Tomcat?

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  • A tomcat is a sexually mature entire (un-neutered) male cat. The name tomcat is derived from an eighteenth-century work of fiction titled The Life and Adventures of a Cat authored by Willoughby Mynors. The main character was Tom the Cat, a promiscuous male cat. Before the publication of The Life and Adventures of a Cat, males were known as rams, boars or gibs.

    Tomcat appearance

    Difference between an entire and neutered cat

    Tomcats are larger and more muscular than neuters and female cats, with a broad neck, and prominent stud (tomcat) jowls on the face. The testicles are clearly visible in the adult tomcat.

    Battle scars are common in Tomcats who are allowed to roam, who will often have torn ears and facial scarring.

    Tomcat behavior

    Tomcats have two things on their mind, protecting their territory and finding females to mate with. As such, tomcats tend to roam and engage in fights with other males in the area. Squabbles over territory and females may be restricted to verbalization, with howling and yowling, if this doesn’t chase off the intruder, it will progress to a full-blown fight. Territorial fighting puts the tomcat at risk of bite-wound abscess and transmission of feline immunodeficiency virus.

    The incidence of spraying on vertical surfaces is higher in tomcats. Their urine has a more pungent odor to that of females or neuters due to increased levels of felinine. Felinine is a chemical compound in cat urine made from sulfur-containing amino acids. When deposited, feline is odorless, however, it develops its characteristic smell due due to breakdown products contained in the urine.

    Cat spraying

    Middening is the deposit of uncovered feces in prominent positions to mark territory and send a message to other male cats in the area.

    Are tomcats a certain cat breed?

    A tomcat is not one specific cat breed—in fact, every cat breed can have tomcats. A tomcat refers to an un-neutered, sexually mature male cat, regardless of what breed he is.

    While tomcats can be any breed, shape, and color, they do all share similar physical characteristics, like a large, muscular build and a broad neck.

    What is a desexed (neutered) male cat called?

    • Male neuter, neuter
    • Ram, boar, gib, gibble cat (old terms)

    The term gib or gibble cat preceded Tomcat, particularly in northern England. In his book Cat World A Feline Encyclopedia, Desmond Morris claims that the word is a contraction of Gilbert.

    What is the feminine equivalent of a tomcat?

    An entire (un-spayed) female cat who is not pregnant or nursing kittens is known as a Molly. If the cat is pregnant or nursing a litter of queens, she is known as a queen.

    Do tomcats make good pets?

    While you can give a tomcat shelter and resources and you can even pet them and play with them, they don’t make good pets in the traditional sense.

    Tomcats love to roam, especially during mating season. If they sense a female in heat anywhere nearby, they will wander off, sometimes even over great distances.

    Tomcats are also notorious for spraying. Cats are naturally territorial animals, and tomcats even more so. If you were to keep a tomcat as a pet, it’s likely that most of the vertical surfaces in your home would be sprayed on, leaving behind a strong, unpleasant urine smell.

    Because tomcats are so territorial, they can also be aggressive, particularly toward other male cats that they feel are a threat.

    Do tomcats look for female cats?

    Tomcats typically reach sexual maturity between 6 and 7 months of age. From then on, healthy tomcats spend a large part of their day on the lookout for female cats to mate with.

    Female cats emit pheromones when they’re in heat, and tomcats use these as signals, following them like a map to find the female cat.

    Tomcats have no problem traveling when they need to. In fact, un-neutered male cats make claims to large territories, often about 150 acres. Some tomcats will travel as much as 1-2 miles to find a female in heat.

    What is a feral tomcat?

    A feral tomcat is an un-neutered male cat that is unsocialized. This means that he has had little to no physical contact with humans for an extended period of time, so he is likely uncomfortable around people.

    Feral cats tend to live in groups, known as cat colonies, where they form close bonds and depend on each other for food and territory.

    Though feral cats may be scared or even aggressive towards humans, they aren’t technically wild animals. Though some may hunt, many of them still depend on humans for food whether that’s directly or through their trash.

    Because tomcats have already reached sexual maturity, feral tomcats are beyond the age where socialization is possible. Because of this, they’re likely to never become indoor pets, even if they were neutered. 

    Frequently asked questions

    Will tomcats be aggressive towards people?

    In most cases, a tomcat’s aggression is directed toward other male cats, usually over territory disputes, and they should not be aggressive toward people.

    The exception to this rule is feral or under-socialized tomcats. If a tomcat was not exposed to humans during the first 7 weeks of his life, he may be uncomfortable around humans.

    Usually, this means the tomcat will avoid contact with people altogether, but in some cases, he may resort to aggression if he feels scared or threatened. 

    Are tomcats attracted to spayed females?

    Tomcats are attracted to the pheromones that a female cat releases when she’s in heat. They can act as a siren song, bringing the tomcat across miles to find her. If a female cat is ever pregnant, she stops releasing these pheromones, and the same is true if she’s spayed.

    In most cases, tomcats will no longer come around for a spayed female, and they’ll continue their search elsewhere for cats in heat. 

    Can tomcats go missing for days?

    Tomcats love to roam and wander, especially when they’re searching for a female cat in heat. If they pick up the scent of a female, they can travel a far distance, often leaving for days at a time.

    If the female they smelled is inside a house, they will wait outside until they’re able to be with her. Because of this, tomcats can be gone for as long as a week during their search for a female cat. 

    Do tomcats take care of their kittens?

    In most cases, tomcats will leave the mother cats to take care of the kittens. Tomcats will ignore their kittens. They may even become aggressive towards them, sometimes killing them if another tomcat goes near them or the mother cat.

    Some tomcats have been documented, however, as being nurturing towards kittens, and their reactions will depend largely on their background. If they live in a feral cat colony, for example, they may take care of their kittens for the betterment of the colony, often grooming them and sharing their food. 

    What is feline immunodeficiency virus?

    Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a viral infection that attacks the cat’s immune system, similar to HIV in humans. Over time, it can lead to Feline Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (FAIDS).

    FIV is caused by an RNA lentivirus, and it affects 1.5%-3% of cats in the United States. It’s spread from cat to cat through saliva and blood, typically through bite wounds.

    Because of this, aggressive tomcats are the most frequently infected because they fight often over territory. 

    Do tomcats prefer female owners?

    Your cat’s affection and affinity for you ultimately depends on the cat’s personality, but studies have shown that all cats, not just tomcats, prefer female owners over males.

    One study showed that cats with extroverted women owners experienced the strongest connection and the greatest influence over each other’s behavior. In the study, cats also approached female owners more frequently and initiated contact more frequently. 

    Do tomcats kill other cats?

    Tomcats are extremely territorial. They will resort to aggression with other cats if they feel like their territory is being threatened. While they can kill other cats, these altercations are common and rarely result in death or even severe injuries.

    Tomcats may also kill kittens. In some cases, they’ll kill their own kittens if another tomcat goes near them or the mother, as a way to stop the mothering cat from nursing so she can go into heat again.

    In other cases, tomcats may kill another litter of kittens as a way to stop a rival tomcat from further spreading their genes.


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio