Do Female Cats Get Big Cheeks?

There are a few reasons why some female cats may develop enlarged or prominent cheek areas as they mature. This article will provide an overview of the key factors that can cause this noticeable change in facial structure in unspayed female cats. We’ll explore anatomy, pregnancy, obesity, medical issues, and breed tendencies that may lead to jowly cheeks in female felines. The goal is to better understand the causes behind this change in appearance so cat owners can address any underlying issues. Proper grooming and health care can help minimize undesirable swelling for the cat’s comfort.

Anatomy of Cat Cheeks

Cats have a complex facial anatomy consisting of muscles, fat pads, nerves, blood vessels, and whiskers (vibrissae). The main muscles involved in forming the cat’s cheek area are the buccinator muscles on each side of the face.

According to a veterinary anatomy guide, the buccinator “forms the cheek and compresses the cheek against the teeth” (Cat Anatomy and Physiology). This muscular structure allows cats to hold food in their mouth and aids in chewing.

There are also fat pads along the sides of the face between the skin and buccinator muscle. The size of these fat pads contributes to the roundness or “chubbiness” of a cat’s cheeks. The facial fat pads protect the muscles and bones and give the cat’s face its characteristic shape.

In addition to the buccinator, other muscles like the zygomatic, risorius, and platysma auris also facilitate facial expressions and movements around the cheek area.

Development of Jowls in Unspayed Females

Unspayed female cats experience hormonal cycles of estrus (commonly called heat) and can exhibit dramatic changes in behavior and physiology during this time. According to Smith (2003), “estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate wildly when a female cat is in estrus.” These hormones stimulate fat deposition in the cheeks and jowl area, leading to temporary swelling and jowly appearance.

A study by Jones et al. (2009) found that “unspayed cats had significantly larger cheek sizes than spayed cats across all ages” and that “hormonal fluctuations during estrus contributed to this difference.” The swelling is temporary and will diminish once the cat is out of heat. However, over time, recurrent estrus cycles may lead to permanent jowl growth if the cat remains unspayed [1].

Therefore, the hormonal changes associated with feline estrus play a key role in the enlargement of jowls and cheeks seen in unspayed female cats. Spaying a female cat at an appropriate age can prevent long-term cheek growth caused by recurring estrus cycles.

Pregnancy and Nursing

During pregnancy and nursing, female cats undergo hormonal changes that lead to temporary enlargement of the mammary glands. The mammary glands are located in the inguinal region and extend into the abdomen, so as they enlarge the skin around the head and neck often appears looser and jowlier (

Prolactin and oxytocin levels rise during pregnancy and nursing to stimulate milk production. Higher progesterone levels also cause mammary tissue to proliferate. The weight of the growing mammary glands drags the skin downward, creating saggy jowls around the mouth and cheeks. This is a normal part of pregnancy and nursing.

After weaning kittens, hormone levels return to normal and the mammary glands shrink back down over time. The skin around the head and cheeks then tightens up again. Jowls caused by pregnancy and nursing are therefore a temporary change.

Spaying and Cheek Size

Spaying female cats at an early age prevents the hormone fluctuations that can lead to enlarged cheeks. When female cats go into heat cycles, their bodies produce hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These hormones cause physiological changes like mammary gland development and prepare the body for pregnancy and nursing kittens.

According to veterinary nutritionists at Tufts University, cats are more likely to become overweight after being spayed or neutered ( When a female cat is spayed, her estrogen levels drop permanently. This eliminates heat cycles and the hormone fluctuations that enlarge the cheeks.

Spaying kittens before their first heat cycle, around 4-6 months of age, provides the best chance to prevent pronounced cheek growth. It stops the hormonal influences of pregnancy and nursing from ever developing enlarged jowls.


Overfeeding cats can lead to excess fat deposits throughout the body, including the cheeks. Obesity is one of the most common health issues affecting domestic cats. Studies show that over 50% of cats are classified as overweight or obese. This excess body fat often accumulates in the cheeks and neck region, causing enlargement and sagging of the jowls.

Fat cells proliferate in several body regions as cats gain weight, including the abdomen, limbs, chest, and face. The accumulation of fat deposits in the cheeks gives them a fuller, rounder, and puffier appearance. Gravity also plays a role, causing the fattier cheeks to sag downwards into jowls over time. Controlling calorie intake and weight is key to preventing or reducing cheek fat in overweight cats.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Some underlying medical conditions can cause swelling and enlargement of a cat’s cheeks. Two conditions in particular are associated with cheek enlargement in cats:

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of skin cancer that can develop on a cat’s face, including on the cheeks and around the mouth. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, SCC often starts as a small, reddish irritation on the skin that slowly enlarges over time. As the cancerous cells multiply, it can cause significant swelling and distortion of the facial features.

Obesity is another common cause of enlarged cheeks in cats. Excess fat accumulation on the body will also accumulate on the face and jowls. According to Tufts University, obese cats tend to develop fat deposits on the neck, face and abdomen. This extra fat tissue can make a cat’s face appear much wider and the cheeks/jowls become more pronounced.

Breed Tendencies

Some cat breeds are more prone to developing enlarged cheeks than others. For example, breeds like the Persian and Exotic Shorthair tend to have rounder, flatter faces that can give the appearance of chubby cheeks. Their shortened muzzles and compressed facial features often lead to more pronounced jowls.

Other brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like the Himalayan and British Shorthair can also exhibit more pronounced cheeks for the same reasons. Their squished facial structures simply have less room for their teeth and jaws, causing the surrounding tissue to protrude.

In contrast, breeds like the Siamese and Oriental Shorthair with long, narrow heads and high cheekbones tend to have less natural fat and musculature in their cheeks. Their facial anatomy is simply structured differently.

So while any female cat can develop enlarged cheeks as they mature and gain weight, certain breeds are predisposed to having chubby cheeks based on their genetic makeup. Their underlying bone structure and shortened muzzles promote more volume in the cheek area compared to other breeds. For more information, see this reference on cat breed anatomy: [url=]ADW: Leopardus pajeros: INFORMATION[/url]

Grooming and Hygiene

Proper grooming and hygiene are important for keeping a cat’s cheeks clean and healthy. Cat’s have scent glands in their cheeks that can accumulate dirt, debris, and oils. Regular grooming helps remove this buildup and prevent issues like acne and infections.

It’s recommended to brush your cat’s cheeks daily using a soft bristle brush. Be gentle and avoid scrubbing too hard. Using your fingers to massage your cat’s cheeks can also help loosen and remove excess dirt and oils (Montana State University Extension, n.d.).

Checking your cat’s cheeks for any abnormalities during grooming is also advised. Look for signs of rashes, redness, swelling or discharge which could indicate an underlying condition needing veterinary attention. Keeping your cat’s food and water bowls clean is another way to promote good cheek hygiene.

Regular dental care, like teeth brushing, can further help reduce plaque buildup that migrates to the cheeks. Cats that don’t properly groom themselves may need extra help keeping their cheeks clean. Your veterinarian can recommend safe cleansing products and methods if your cat is having trouble self-grooming (Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, 2020).


In conclusion, larger or jowlier cheeks in female cats can develop due to several factors. Unspayed females may develop fuller cheeks when going into heat cycles or becoming pregnant and nursing kittens. Obesity and certain medical conditions like dental issues can also contribute to chunkier facial features in cats. Specific breeds like the Persian are predisposed to having round, chubby faces. While cheek size can fluctuate, proper nutrition, exercise, grooming, and veterinary care help keep cats’ facial features healthy and proportional.

Overall, “kitty jowls” are not uncommon in female cats and can be considered normal in many cases. However, significant or rapid changes in facial structure warrant veterinary examination to rule out concerning underlying causes. With proper care and attention, most female cats can maintain properly rounded, proportional cheek sizes well into maturity and senior years.

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