Study Suggests Link Between Feline Aggression and Certain Coat Colors

coat-color-aggression

A new study at the University of California Davis suggests that there may be a link between feline aggression and certain coat colors. Lead researcher Dr. Liz Stelow and her team looked at data from 1,274 anonymous cat caretakers who answered an online survey about their cats’ behavior.

Guardians reported sex-linked orange female (tortoiseshells, calicos, and “torbies”), black-and-white, and gray-and-white cats to be more frequently aggressive toward humans in three settings: during everyday interactions, during handling, and during veterinary visits. Sex-linked genes are genes that are carried by either sex chromosome.

Are you surprised to see torties and calicos on this list? While the survey’s findings seem to validate that tortitude is real, I would interpret these results with a healthy dose of caution. Keep in mind that the data is based on reports by the cats’ guardians, not independent observation of the cats’ behavior. I suspect that some of the feedback may have been biased simply because tricolor cats have a reputation for being more feisty and temperamental, and this may have skewed the data a bit.

The study’s lead researcher cautioned against relying on the study’s findings and against choosing to adopt a cat purely based on coat color. “It’s not that your average white cat is an angel and your average calico is a devil,” Dr. Liz Stelow of the University of California-Davis told The Huffington Post. “We’re looking at a continuum here.”

Like me, the researchers were surprised that the study also suggested that cats with gray and white coats, as well as cats with black and white coats, may have increased aggression.

I’m hoping that the often overly simplified media coverage around this study won’t deter people from adopting certain cats based on their coat color. It’s important to remember that ultimately, every cat, regardless of coat color, is an individual.

For more information about the study, please visit The Huffington Post. You can also find the study’s abstract here.

19 Comments on Study Suggests Link Between Feline Aggression and Certain Coat Colors

  1. Marci
    January 6, 2016 at 8:56 am (3 years ago)

    I have had 5 cats in my adult life. Only one of them was an unfriendly sort, very aggressive to be truthful! She was black and gray.
    My two orange and white were extremely calm and loving, one who lived with us for 18 years. Sundance was the sweetest of all and I cannot even write about him without tearing up. He has been gone for 3 years and I miss him everyday. My present kitty is a Tortie and is exactly like Sundance ! Lucy is loving, entertaining, adorable and well- behaved 99% of the time! … Only 1% “little stinker”!, which adds to my complete enjoyment of her! I love, love, love Lucy! And, she and my Yorkie are best buddies! Purrfect!

    Reply
  2. Louise
    November 5, 2015 at 11:40 pm (3 years ago)

    Interesting study, but I take it with a grain of salt. It’s true that my Tortie bites my hand sometimes when I pet her, but I also got her when she was about 3 yrs, and know nothing about her background. I think someone played with her using their hands, which I was taught is a no-no. Other than that she is very affectionate.
    My black/white tuxedo is the most docile cat I’ve known. I got her as a 1.5# kitten and she has never known rough play from humans.
    I believe that cats, like humans, may have genetic tendencies, but their behavior is mostly influenced by how they were treated when young.

    Reply
  3. Jay
    November 4, 2015 at 11:15 am (3 years ago)

    I did mention that Stirfry, my 1st Tortie, was a feral and took a while to come to me. Hot dogs over a few months got her close. Then 1 day she jumped onto my deck and rubbed against my leg. I took her inside to be a forever cat months later. But she did have a habit of changing behavior in milliseconds. Sweet and innocent to holy terror and then back. After finding Ingrid’s blog and reading Bernadette’s description of the extra chromosome, I think that affected Stir’s brain. She could not control that and I loved her more than any of my other cats. She was special. So Tortitude due to genetics plus upbringing really made her what she was.

    Reply
  4. Cynthia Southern
    November 4, 2015 at 4:04 am (3 years ago)

    I have a calico and she has calitude. She is very independent, not aggressive. She is a cuddle cat but on her own terms. She doesn’t like being picked up. She is the first calico I have owned and I adore her and love her independent attitude. Aren’t all cats independent to some degree? This article seems to think aggressiveness is the same as independence.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 4, 2015 at 6:31 am (3 years ago)

      Calitude – I love it, Cynthia!

      Reply
  5. Maria
    November 4, 2015 at 2:36 am (3 years ago)

    I have a calico-and-white beautiful cat and 2 black female and they are kind and like to cuddle. They sleep with me and pur while i pet them. I hate this kind of “studies”, they should release that article like “Cat caretakers think there is a link between feline agression and coat color”. “Study” is not a proper name for a survey 🙁

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 4, 2015 at 6:32 am (3 years ago)

      I couldn’t agree more that this truly wasn’t a study, Maria, and I should have used a different headline for this post.

      Reply
  6. linda
    November 3, 2015 at 3:48 pm (3 years ago)

    So much that is written about cats is ridiculous. As with humans there is no absolute analysis. I have had cats of many colors, some naturally sweet, some fitting all other categories, and like it was with my kids I accepted them all for what they were/are Please just love them… some weirdos out there don’t need much as an excuse to abuse cats…don’t provide them ammunition!

    Reply
  7. Sue Brandes
    November 3, 2015 at 2:31 pm (3 years ago)

    Very interesting. I had one orange kitty that got aggressive at the vets when he got older and I have another that plays aggressive towards my other kitties(he was a stray). I’ve had a black and white one and she was very gentle.

    Reply
  8. Julie Merrill
    November 3, 2015 at 12:47 pm (3 years ago)

    I have a beautiful Calico –my adorable Daisy…she has 3 colors no red in her coat. She can be aggressive but i notice it when she is not getting enough exercise or especially if she has been petted too long. I suspect she is quite sensitive and can only stand petting for a certain length of time. When she was little I practiced holding back on petting–leaving her wanting more!! It worked quite well. I also take care to control the pressure I use in petting her that seems to work as well. I notice that sometimes it is also a matter of dominance so I usually don’t put myself below her in space. If she gets too randy, I let her know I have been hurt and she backs off. She really tries to work with me, I appreciate how hard she tries…sometimes she gets a bit out of control, if so I patiently and calmly place her on the ground. She gets the point very quickly. Alot of this behavior also has mellowed as she matured. I really enjoy my dear girl…she is a great friend and worth understanding. She lets me know in so many ways how much I mean to her as well.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 4, 2015 at 6:38 am (3 years ago)

      It sounds like you read Daisy well, Julie, and you make an excellent point about lack of exercise being a possible contributing factor to becoming aggressive. For some cats, it’s a way to discharge extra energy, and if that energy can be released during play, it doesn’t become an issue.

      Reply
  9. Eli
    November 3, 2015 at 11:51 am (3 years ago)

    The only cat Ive had that attacks the vet happens to be a tortie but, Ive been temporary caretaker(foster) to two other torties and a calico and those torties were the sweetest babies, total hams. The calico was a bit shy and skittish but not feisty or agressive. Also, our tuxie(male) is a total goofball, he is silly and fun and while sometimes he plays a little too enthusiastically I would never say that he is aggressive. Romy, my current tortie girl can become aggressive when very upset Im afraid but with the people she loves she is a total sweetheart. She’s just picky about who she wants handling her(not the vet haha). My favorite(shh dont tell the kitties) cats have both been grey tabby girls. The most intelligent, nurturing, loving babies Ive ever had. Dont think it has to do with their coloring but they just happen to be grey tabby. And the orange cats, 2 were incredibly playful as kittens, one girl(orange and white) was a bit clumsy and the boy was rough and got into trouble a lot, had a bad experience that landed him in the vet and he’s been shy and regressive ever since. The new orange and white female is manipulative! She is adorbs but a little two faced haha. She’s like those kids who act all angelic when mom is around and then is a bully when they leave. She is a cutey with and around humans she knows she can get stuff from. Haha

    Reply
    • Eli
      November 3, 2015 at 12:00 pm (3 years ago)

      Btw I dont think coloring has much to do with behavior. All cats are individuals with their own personality. I also fostered a black and white boy, brother of the calico and one of the torties. He was the opposite of Ben, our tuxie. He was shy and you had to be slow paced and gentle with him but once he trusted you he was a purr machine. He preffered to cuddle in silence than to get crazy and play like Benny does. We’ve also had white cats, mother and son. They were both noisey weirdos but they where related so they were very similar.

      Reply
  10. Jay
    November 3, 2015 at 10:03 am (3 years ago)

    Have been the caretaker of 4 Torties ( so far) I would say the upbringing and early experiences have more to do with their attitude. Stirfry was a feral and took a long time to accept me. Styx had a rough early years with a woman in the early stages of Alzheimers. Tabatha was a Tortie with white and a very gentle cat. And Diver, my male tortie has no Tortitude at all He is a greeting cat and takes in any kitten he meets.

    I have met quite a few orange or orange and white cats and they seem to be on the large and gentle side. Were they in the study ?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 4, 2015 at 6:39 am (3 years ago)

      The study didn’t mention orange and white cats, Jay – and I couldn’t agree more that early experience may have a lot more to do with attitude than coat color!

      Reply
  11. Cindy B
    November 3, 2015 at 8:18 am (3 years ago)

    Having adopted out every color of cat possible, I can honestly say it rarely has anything to do with the color of their coat.

    The torties I have had in rescue, have been incredibly sweet. (Now I am sure they have a reputation to maintain and would argue that.) I remember a particularly stubborn tabby and long-haired black cat. They certainly demonstrated a vast amount of tortitude.

    I think people fall in love with cats by how they look. I certainly try and debunk the myth the black cats are bad luck or torties have an attitude. The goal of my work is to find the perfect cat their purrfect home.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 4, 2015 at 6:42 am (3 years ago)

      I couldn’t agree more, Cindy. Thank you for all you do for cats!

      Reply
  12. Dorothy
    November 3, 2015 at 7:49 am (3 years ago)

    I doubt very much that living with 2 orange & white males, 1 grey & white male and 1 female black cat, plus a couple of others, mostly male, mostly black that have enriched my life in many ways, gives me any special insight, but if it did I’d be quick to epouse my belief that just like humans, dogs, horses, and every other mammal I’ve known, color has very little to do with personality. Like most animals, I think cats personalities are as much nurture as nature. We are all born with tendencies but our experiences have a great deal of influence on how we express whatever talents we are born with. While I understand why studies like this are scientifically important, I can’t help worry that it will prejudice adopters against cats of particular colors. It’s important to remember that love comes in many colors.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 4, 2015 at 6:43 am (3 years ago)

      I feel the same way you do, Dorothy. As I mentioned in the article, I worry that these types of studies just make it harder for cats of certain colors to get adopted.

      Reply

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