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Why Do Cats Have Barbed Penises? (According to Science)

Hallie Roddy

By Hallie Roddy

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If you’ve ever witnessed two cats mating, you notice that the experience seems rather painful for the female. Female cats tend to make screaming noises during mating because of the male’s barbed penis containing keratinized penile spines. These aren’t the first male mammals to have barbs on their penises, but what purpose do they really serve? Keep reading to learn why a cat’s penis has evolved this way and how it assists during reproduction.

What are Penile Spines?

It’s not easy to thoroughly understand the male anatomy of a cat. The male cat penis is known for having penile spines that resemble small spikes and only present themselves when they mate with a female feline. They immediately disappear when the penis retracts back into the skin once the mating is over. These barbs are rough like a cat’s tongue. The texture of a cat’s tongue papillae helps to grip the food ripping the flesh from the bones while they eat. But that doesn’t seem useful for mating, right? What do the barbs do?

cat penis surgery
Image Credit: Todorean-Gabriel, Shutterstock

Stimulating Ovulation

The barbs found on a cat’s penis are known to help aid in the female’s ovulation. Because female cats do not ovulate before intercourse, the spikes stimulate her vulva to let her body know that it is time to release an egg.

Prevent Her from Escaping

This seems a little brutal, but the barbs on the male’s penis keep the female from running away before the mating process has been completed. Cats are animals that prefer to be alone and run from pain. Mating is painful for female cats, not only because of the barbs but because the males also bite the back of their necks during intercourse.

How Cats Mate

Mating between cats takes place when a female is in heat or during her most fertile stage. Cats are seasonal polyesters and continue to go into heat based on both the hours of daylight and the temperature. Feral cat populations tend to breed year-round because they are exposed to more daylight.

Male cats don’t go into heat as females do. Intact males are stimulated whenever they sense a female cat pheromone. Both males and females meow excessively during this time, and the males tend to urinate or mark things around them. This is also when your cats tend to escape from the house most or have other types of behavioral changes.

Two cats in the grass
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The Cat’s Heat Cycle

Cat mating can happen year-round and several times throughout the year. A female cat reaches sexual maturity between 6 and 9 months of age, but some present their first heat as early as 4 months old. They also remain fertile for most of the remaining years of their life. If your feline isn’t spayed, she starts to go into heat and works through the four parts of the cycle.

  • Proestrus: Proestrus is the first part of the heat cycle and is when females start to attract nearby males. She is not quite ready to mate at this time, and you might not even know that she’s in heat. Proestrus take place over one to three days.
  • Estrus: The next stage of the cycle is the estrus stage. It lasts for about an entire week, and this is when your female becomes receptive to male cats because estradiol hormones are flooding her body.
  • Interestrus: Females that are unable to mate or get pregnant start to enter the interestrus stage. This period is one that happens between heats. She may act normally for a few days to three weeks before going into heat again.
  • Anestrus: This is the dormant phase in the cat’s heat cycle. Females exhibit no signs of being in heat until their breeding season starts again. As mentioned before, the breeding season is influenced by daylight and temperature. The number of times she goes into heat could be constant with regular exposure to light.
orange cat lying in the garden
Image Credit: Darkmoon_Art, Pixabay

Do All Males Have Spiny Penises?

Male kittens are not born with spines on their penises. If you neuter your male felines early on, they won’t develop them at all. Neutering removes the male’s testicles and stops them from developing the spines. This only happens under the influence of testosterone, they start developing at 3 months old and reach full size when they are around 6 months old.

What to Do When a Female Cat is in Heat

With all the meowing that goes on, you think being in heat alone would be painful. It isn’t, but your kitty may need some special attention while she goes through her cycle.

1. Groom Her

Help your kitty take extra good care of herself while she’s in heat. Brush her more regularly and pet her to help her feel more at ease while her body goes through these changes.

brushing cat with gloves
Image Credit: Mariia Boiko, Shutterstock

2. Give Her a Safe Space

Some females that are in heat because more aggressive and crankier than normal. Give her a space of her own where she can run off when she isn’t in a good mood.

3. Play with Her More

A cat’s urge to hunt is lower when she is in heat and gives her a lot of pent-up energy. Play with her more often during these times.

cat playing with owner
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

4. Secure Your House

More cat escapes happen when a female is in heat than when they’re not. Her instinct is to find a suitor, even if that means leaving your house. Take some precautions and ensure that there isn’t a way for her to get outside when you don’t want her to be.

5. Clean the Litter Box More Often

Males and females both spray more when they are ready to mate. This has to do with marking territory and emitting pheromones. Encourage your queen to keep her spray in the litter box by cleaning it more often than normal.

Wood shavings for cat litter
Image Credit: Yuliya Alekseeva, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Who knew that mating cats could be such a handful? While it may tear you apart to know that the mating process is painful from the spines on a male’s penis, this is a part of life, and there is a purpose for it. A male cat’s penis barbs ensure that conception is successful and that these cats can pass down their genes. If you aren’t interested in taking good care of your cats during this time, plus their new litters that are bound to show up, then get them spayed and neutered to prevent these things from happening.

Featured Image Credit: nokchu, Shutterstock

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