Petting your cat on the belly almost guarantees a series of painful bunny kicks or even sharp kitty teeth sunken into your forearms, but when your four-legged friend bears his fluffy tummy while out cold, you can’t help but sneak in a quick gentle pet. Then, you feel something on his belly that makes you furrow your brow: nipples. But why do they (male cats) have nipples?
Male cats have nipples because nipples form in the womb before a kitten’s sex is determined. Despite having no use for them, male cats have two parallel rows of 2-5 nipples for 4-10 in total. On the other hand, female cats use their nipples for breastfeeding their kittens for the first 4-6 weeks.
All cats have nipples — even males. While it’s certainly a confusing topic from the onset, the mystery of male cat nipples is about as complex as the reason male humans have nipples as well. To learn about why male cats have nipples and what purpose they serve, read on!
The Function of a Cat’s Nipples
Nearly every mammalian species — from kangaroos to opossums — has nipples by default in male and female members. However, whereas male fruit bats or goats may lactate (produce milk) to potentially feed young, a male cat’s nipples don’t boast these same features.
As of now, scientists don’t believe a male cat’s nipples serve any purpose at all. Yet, a female cat’s nipples can mean the difference between life and death for a litter of newborn kittens.
In the days leading up to giving birth, a female queen’s mammary glands will begin producing milk in preparation. It takes only a matter of hours after delivery for kittens to begin nursing with mom. Sucking on their mothers’ teats will provide them with the essential nutrients they need to develop strong muscles, bones, brains, and immune systems.
Female cats will continue to breastfeed their kittens for up to eight weeks—although 4-6 weeks is more common—before milk production begins to slow. The reduction in hormones (like estrogen) and lack of kittens requiring regular milk will return the nipples to their normal function: none!
The video below shows just how critical a role the nipples play after a female cat gives birth:
Why Male Cats Have Nipples
A male cat’s nipples don’t produce nutrient-rich milk to feed a litter of newborn kittens, nor do they play any role in a male cat’s overall health status.
So, you might be wondering, “Then, why do male cats have nipples?”
The only reason male cats have nipples is that the nipples begin developing in the womb, far before a kitten becomes male or female. Once the Y chromosome (denoting male) becomes apparent, no further development in the breast area occurs. If an X chromosome (female) appears, the milk-producing mammary glands will continue to grow and attach to the nipples.
Although male cat nipples are all but useless, you still might be curious about your kitty’s chest and belly protrusions.
Where Are the Nipples of a Male Cat Located?
After a quick pat-down, many cat owners shrug their shoulders and say, “Maybe my cat just doesn’t have nipples.” However, it’s far more likely that you’re looking for your cat’s nipples in all the wrong places.
A cat’s top row of nipples usually starts in the center of the chest (somewhere around the front leg attachments). The rows are rather evenly-positioned, so the final row of nipples will usually be on the lower belly, about where the hind legs connect to the torso.
What Do a Male Cat’s Nipples Look and Feel Like?
Cat nipples are incredibly easy to miss if you’re looking for large, easy-to-notice protrusions. If a cat has long hair on its belly or chest, the typically tiny kitty nipples are usually well-hidden under tufts of hair. A cat’s nipples look (and feel) like warts, pimples, or small cysts. They’re typically light pink or flesh-colored, making them far easier to spot in cats with darker fur.
How Many Nipples Do Male Cats Have?
While it’s standard for species like humans and chimpanzees to have two nipples in the same locations, the number of nipples a cat has mostly depends on genetics. Most cats will have two parallel rows of nipples (right and left) with 2-5 nipples each and spread a few inches apart.
So, male and female cats may have 4-10 nipples in total, though 6-8 total nipples are most common. It’s also possible for a cat to have uneven rows, meaning an odd number of nipples is possible.
Can a Male Cat’s Nipples Fall Off?
Locating your cat’s nipples is a feat in and of itself. However, some worried cat owners may notice that their kitty’s nipples don’t seem to be where they once were — as if they’d fallen off or something.
Cat nipples do not fall off, and these seemingly “missing” nipples have most likely become inverted. Nipples that grow inward are more common in male cats and can cause concern since they’re more prone to infections.
Health Conditions That Can Impact a Male Cat’s Nipples
Since a male cat’s nipples don’t produce milk or use their mammary glands to feed their young, there are far fewer health concerns in this area of the body. However, the lack of regular nipple usage doesn’t make male cats “immune” to health concerns. The following conditions can impact a male cat’s nipples in rare circumstances:
When we think about infections, our minds immediately go toward bacteria entering through open wounds.
Unfortunately, a male cat with a knack for excessively scratching (or licking) his nipples might cause minor tears in these naturally delicate areas of the body. These micro-wounds can give harmful bacteria a direct pathway through the nipples and into the teat canal. As a result, an infection can begin festering in the mammary gland.
An infection of the mammary gland is known as mastitis in both male and female cats. Mastitis tends to be more common in male cats who have inverted nipples, as they’re more likely to hold onto dirt and bacteria and are far harder to keep clean.
Mastitis can trigger discoloration in the nipples (red or purple), scab development, or leakage on top of mild swelling. Luckily, a round of antibiotics should clear up a tamer case of mastitis and get your kitty back to normal.
When a cat’s body begins producing estrogen and progesterone — the “female” hormones — in larger quantities than before, it triggers growth and swelling in the mammary glands. This swelling is completely normal when a queen is lactating or preparing to give birth, as the swelling is due to milk engorgement.
However, this swelling is not typical in hormone-controlled kitties (like spayed females or male cats). The continued growth of the mammary glands can ultimately lead to the development of mammary tumors. These tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or benign and are far more likely in cats ten years or older or those within the Siamese breed.
Fortunately, mammary tumors are incredibly rare in male cats, and treatment is possible.
The lack of estrogen and progesterone makes a male cat’s nipples all but useless in the realm of feeding young. However, that doesn’t mean a male cat’s nipples are entirely worry-free. A male’s nipples can develop infections or mammary tumors just like female cats, though these medical issues are undoubtedly far less common.
So, keep a close eye on any changes you notice to your cat’s nipples (i.e., crustiness, discoloration, swelling, and oozing). Many of these conditions are cheaper and easier to treat when diagnosed early by a veterinary professional — don’t hesitate!
- National Geographic: Here’s why cats hate belly rubs so much
- Wikipedia: Male lactation
- Austin, Texas: Nursing Mothers and Their Kittens
- NCBI: The Feline Genome and Clinical Implications
- VCA Hospitals: Mammary Tumors in Cats
- VCA Hospitals: Mastitis in Cats
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.