Don’t judge a tortoiseshell cat by her color

don't_judge_cat_by_color

Even though we don’t like to admit it, we often make snap judgments based on appearance – and apparently, this is the case for cats as well. In a new study published in Anthrozoos, researchers from California State University and the New College of Florida surveyed nearly 200 people. Study participants were asked to associate 10 personality terms (active, aloof, bold, calm, friendly, intolerant, shy, stubborn, tolerant and trainable) with five cat colors–orange, tri-colored (tortoiseshells and calico cats), white, black and bi-colored (white and anything else).

Tri-colored cats (tortoiseshell and calico cats) rated high in aloofness and intolerance. Those of us who love our torties for their unique personalities, also known as “tortitude,” may disagree with this assessment. Torties tend to be strong-willed, a bit hot-tempered, and they can be very possessive of their human.  Other words used to describe torties are fiercely independent, feisty and unpredictable.  They’re usually very talkative and make their presence and needs known with anything from a hiss to a meow to a strong purr.

But even though there may be a connection between coat color and temperament, all cats are also individuals. Tabbies are said to be laid back and friendly, orange cats are said to be very affectionate, black cats are said to be sweet and stubborn at the same time, and tuxedos are said to be even tempered. But for every laid back tabby, there’s a feisty striped hunter. For every friendly orange cat, there’s a high-spirited marmalade clown.

And for every feisty tortie, there’s also a sweet one. Of all the torties in my life, Virginia, my first office cat at the animal hospital I managed at the time, was probably the most “typical” tortie. She may not have written the manual on tortitude, but she had definitely memorized it. Amber was a sweet, laid back and almost shy cat. Buckley was a high-spirited, super-affectionate tortie. Allegra is an interesting combination of a high energy spirit that sometimes almost borders on hyper, and a loving calmness that melts my heart. Ruby is a little imp who goes from playful and feisty to cuddly and purring from one second to the next.

All of this goes to show that you can’t judge a tortie, or any other cat, by her color – and that’s especially important when it comes to adoption. Spend time with a cat and get to know her before you commit to adopting her, because ultimately, it’s the personality of a cat, and not the color, that will determine whether a cat is the right fit for you and your family. Unless, of course, your heart has been stolen with just one look.

Do you think there’s a connection between coat color and temperament?

35 Comments on Don’t judge a tortoiseshell cat by her color

  1. Kathy
    March 21, 2018 at 10:41 am (2 years ago)

    My torti Audrey is a very laidback loving girl she was a rescue whom I fell in love with instantly she is very vocal but definitely doesn’t have fortitude my black cat Danielle is very mischievous I call her my troublemaker but can be affectionate when she wants to my tuxedo Diamond is sophisticated but loving but can be aggressive towards Danielle when she goes near her face so none of my cats fit their stereotypes lol

    Reply
  2. Allison
    June 14, 2014 at 9:38 am (5 years ago)

    I adopted my sweet baby Tortie fours years ago. Munchen is nine and I cannot imagine a more wonderful cat. She has “tortitude,” but she is a lover. She has some odd habits. First, she plays fetch with earplugs (they have to be used). Second, she begs for her food and develops a fluffy tail. Third, she wakes us up for food by batting us with her paws, meowing, and running around on the pillows. My husband usually feeds her and then she jumps back into bed and sleeps with me. She is such a wonderful little lady.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 14, 2014 at 5:24 pm (5 years ago)

      Munchen sounds like a wonderful girl, Allison!

      Reply
  3. Mel
    March 26, 2014 at 2:14 am (6 years ago)

    Haha. These Tortie stories make me laugh.

    I volunteer at a shelter and I’ve seen every kind of kitty there is! Currently we’re housing a lovely pair of orange/white, a grey/white, two tabbies (brown and silver) and one sweet tux. The cats I’ve seen have thier own personalities before coat color as I’ve had some incredibly sweet Torties come through and go. I got one from the shelter I volunteered at before it shut down.

    She’s a Tortie and her name is Leelu. She lives with a tabby who’s much older than her named Stitch; they’re best friends. Leelu loves cuddles and is huge! She’s nearly 20 lbs and three feet but she’s still growing. I love her so much.

    Glad I found this!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 26, 2014 at 5:32 am (6 years ago)

      That’s a big tortie, Mel! Feel free to post photos on our Facebook page (link in sidebar,) we’d love to see her!

      Reply
      • Mel
        May 1, 2014 at 12:57 am (6 years ago)

        Leelu’s watching me as I type this but I posted some lovely pics in your messages on FB.

        They say that you know your cat when you meet but she chose us. Walked right up to us, rubbed her gooey little face (she had kitty pink eye at the time) against ours and I was a goner. Best birthday present ever; the gift that’s going to keep on giving me love for a long time.

        Reply
  4. lolo
    February 26, 2014 at 10:33 pm (6 years ago)

    Wow that cat that’s posted you won’t believe it but I’VE the purrfict match..they look like book ends.. I was reading about torts mine is all that ..she even fetches..very ex to train. One bit of advice for pet lovers…the key to pets or humans start in very early stages or its no good.. my cat is 9 mo.likes baths , hide n seek. Fetch , now says mama..I love her..my first cat..she is a wild outside but now loves in doors.I think females are more easy to train…

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 27, 2014 at 6:32 am (6 years ago)

      I agree that ideally, you start training cats at a young age, but even older cats can be trained. It may just take a little more time and patience – especially with a headstrong tortie!

      Reply
      • lolo
        February 28, 2014 at 1:15 am (6 years ago)

        How do I put a picture of my cat on here?.. mau mau has big tortitude… she hates me to get next to anyone..
        If I do she pushes me away LoL.. this my first cat.. she humped my arm? Blew me away.. no blood? I think she’s in heat.she bites me to but not hard…like women go a bit wacky that time of cycle ..I need to learn more about her.. other then that she’s a super clean smart cat..always smells great..to.:-)
        I wish you could see mau .the cat on the couch is a clone to her..

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          February 28, 2014 at 7:10 am (6 years ago)

          You can post photos on our Facebook page (link in the sidebar), Lolo. We’d love to see Mau Mau! Please consider getting her spayed.

          Reply
  5. Rebecca
    July 31, 2013 at 8:12 am (6 years ago)

    I love this site, we picked up a stray this morning, heartbreakingly someone had thrown her/him (we aren’t sure yet it’s so little) into a random yard and rode away the day before a huge thunderstorm hit with flash floods and everything.

    My fiance picked em up on his walk to get me from work, poor little thing was shaking and soak to the bone (my fiance was too!) when I found him and the kitten in a friends car. Biggest surprise of my life was seeing the two of them curled around the cars heating vents while our friend just laughed at the view.

    We brought it home, fed it, cuddled it, didn’t let it out of our sights for most of the day until we needed another can of kitten food. Then we got a big surprise when the moment we came in the door it stopped bouncing off the walls and started bouncing on us! This little one is soo feisty and energetic for about 30 mins and then crash lands next to us on the bed all purrs and cuddles and it’s only been day one! It may have “tortitude” but I think that it makes it one of the cutest kittens I’ve ever seen.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 31, 2013 at 9:38 am (6 years ago)

      Bless you for saving this little kitten. I’m not sure whether you’re seeing tortitude or simply the “kitten crazies,” but she sound adorable!

      Reply
      • Patty
        August 29, 2013 at 10:27 am (6 years ago)

        We got our first torbie about 3 months ago. She displays the highest energy level of any kitten we’ve ever had. She bounces off the walls – literally. Hunts any little scrap of paper, investigates every box or paper bag, pounces on the dog, (dog LOVES her and is very gentle), disembowels my feet when I’m sitting on the loo – and tries to sleep on my face purring all night. She is a remarkable little monster and I love her to pieces!

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          August 29, 2013 at 11:11 am (6 years ago)

          She sounds like a sweetie, Patty!

          Reply
  6. Heather
    November 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm (7 years ago)

    This is just as silly as saying that redheads are hot-tempered and blondes stupid. Every cat is different, just like people.

    We went looking to adopt an orange cat and came home with a black one because she is the one that cuddled into my arms and purred. She is a cuddly sweetheart and very playful. I also have a big grey boy who is very goofy and not very cuddly, except at bedtime when he wants to sleep as close to my head as possible.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm (7 years ago)

      I agree, Heather. Your two babies sound wonderful.

      Reply
  7. Dorothy A
    November 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm (7 years ago)

    I just don’t think you can expect coat color, or length , or whatever, to predict personality. I try not to pigeonhole people by their looks, and I don’t think you should do it with cats. I have a black kitty, a gray and white, and two orange and white kitties. They all have their own personalitites and are like no other I’ve known. Sometimes I think they change with the person their interacting with. They seem to provide what they think we need at any given time.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2012 at 9:21 pm (7 years ago)

      I agree, Dorothy – each cat is an individual.

      Reply
  8. Bernie
    November 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm (7 years ago)

    I am going to be very short in my response to this article. Junk science. Torties are special and just don’t p— them off. Jay is right. It took two very special and definitely “typical” Torties to bring us together to meet such very special perople.

    Reply
  9. Jay
    November 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm (7 years ago)

    Bernie and I might not have met unless Steeler and Stir were the “typical” Torties. And I would not have met such a wonderful group of people here on CC.

    Reply
  10. Bonnie Still
    November 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm (7 years ago)

    I work in a shelter and I agree with everything you have written. I’ve met Tortis, Calicos and Torbies that are super sweet & friendly, and I’ve met the fiesty ones as well. Most orange tabbies do seem to be quite laid back. As for the tuxedos, well, this year, at the shelter, we found these were the most challenging cats to work with. I never noticed that until this year, but nearly every tuxedo that came to us had some kind of behavioral issue. Deep down, they were sweet & friendly, but we really had to work with them for that to show. I also never thought of black cats as stubborn – most seem to be quite friendly and talkers!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2012 at 2:53 pm (7 years ago)

      That’s really interesting that you had all these tuxies with behavior issues, Bonnie.

      Reply
      • Bonnie Still
        November 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm (7 years ago)

        It WAS really interesting. It’s never happened like that before, but this year it really stood out. Luckily, most of them came around.

        Reply
  11. maru
    November 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm (7 years ago)

    Those are human perceptions, and might be wrong -as happens so often- I think the temperament of a cat has to do with many things, but coat color.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm (7 years ago)

      I agree, Maru, coat color is probably the least of what determines a cat’s temperament.

      Reply
  12. Marg
    November 7, 2012 at 8:26 am (7 years ago)

    I totally agree with you. That the color of furs does make a difference in personalities. As usual I think it has a lot to do with their upbringing. But basically, the color does have something to do with it. Interesting subject. I might have to write about everyone here. Wonder what category the Gray and White cat goes in?? I guess the same as the Black and white. Take care.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm (7 years ago)

      You’d have quite a variety to write about, Marg! Some people say that dilute tri-color cats have more pronounced personality traits, so I wonder whether that would also apply to gray and white cats – if you consider them dilute tuxedos. Okay, I’m reaching here!

      Reply
  13. Jay
    November 7, 2012 at 7:46 am (7 years ago)

    And what do we say about Stirfry ?

    Reply
  14. Lianimal
    November 7, 2012 at 7:45 am (7 years ago)

    Aww, the survey is totally untrue, Peaches, my Tuxie, is anything BUT even tempered, and Monkey (tortie) is a big squishy love-muffin. Shanks, my little black chick, IS sweet, but she’s also shy and a little weird and creepy. In the most lovable way, of course!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 7, 2012 at 2:51 pm (7 years ago)

      Just goes to show that personality trumps coat color, Lynn.

      Reply
    • Mark
      November 4, 2013 at 11:08 pm (6 years ago)

      I have a tortie that looks almost identical to Ingrid’s kitty! Mine’s named Greta and she is very sweet but also has tortietude. She also can be aloof & intolerant (so adorable)! She’s four and a-half & has a variety of sickeningly-silly nicknames (like Gretsie, Gret-Gret, baby girl, Mousie Mama … (Barf … You get the idea!) She is so smart, really studies my wife & my’s human behavior and then imitates it! She’s also thoroughly-modern … loves flat-screen TVs, DVD players (runs when she hears the sound of the drawer ejecting, fascinated by seeing it go in & out of the player, has learn how to turn up the volume on the home theater, turns the TV off, changes the video source (I swear she’s learned what buttons does what), loves computer art & animation and also runs to the printer when she hears it, just to see the paper come out 🙂 She is the perfect tease cat girlfriend to our other cat, a long-haired mostly Maine Coon male named Charlie. They play & groom each other. Greta (unlike Charlie) is very petite, slender & incredibly graceful like a gymnast. Greta is also a tree-dweller inside cat who has lots of high places throughout the house to jump up on. She loves the fireplace when it’s cold, since she is a shorthair and is naturally very thin. We love her very much.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        November 5, 2013 at 6:42 am (6 years ago)

        Greta sounds like a wonderful little girl, Mark! Post photos on our Facebook page, I’d love to see her!

        Reply
        • Lisa
          September 23, 2014 at 9:31 pm (5 years ago)

          My husband and I just got our tortie kitten minou a few weeks ago we didnt know
          what a tortie was untill after we got her but she is the most affectionit cat I have
          ever met. I bought her for my husband for his birthday I myself have never been
          a big cat person but the tortie has completly won me over and she seems to be
          more attached to me then my husband I guess Im still not really a cat person
          but I am a big tortie person

          Reply
          • Ingrid
            September 24, 2014 at 6:18 am (5 years ago)

            I’m not surprised that it would take a tortie to start turning a non-cat person into a cat person, Lisa. 🙂

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