The question as to whether there’s a connection between coat color and behavior is endlessly fascinating one to me, especially when it comes to tortoiseshell cats. A recent study at UC Davis suggests that there may be a link between feline aggression and certain coat colors. A newer study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine investigated the association between breed, coat type and eye color and behavior.

Owners of 574 single-breed, registered cats were surveyed with a standardized behavioral profile questionnaire. The cats were screened for evidence of fear-related aggression, territorial aggression and inappropriate social skills, fear of noises, redirected aggression, separation anxiety, and inappropriate elimination. The breeds evaluated included Abyssinians, Bengals, Birmans, Burmese, Devon Rexes, Maine Coons, Norwegian Forest cats, Orientals, Persians, Ragdolls, Siamese, and Tonkinese. The coat colors included agouti, black, brown, cinnamon, blue, lilac, fawn, caramel, taupe, red, cream, blue cream, apricot, and white. Other variants evaluated were associated with albinism, tabbie and tortoiseshell patterning, inhibition of melanin, production of pheomelanin (the pigment responsible for red hair), and white spotting.

Breed-specific behavior

The study found some breed-specific behavioral associations. For example, Abyssinians scored higher for sociability with people and intercat aggression. Birmans had high scores for activity and playfulness, but were more likely to exhibit fear-induced aggression toward familiar people. Maine Coons had increased scores for owner-directed aggression, which was surprising to me, but were less likely to show separation anxiety.

Coat color and behavior

The study noted some associations between behavior and coat color. Lilac-coated cats demonstrated increased scores for playfulness, attention seeking and separation-related behavior. Red-coated cats were more likely to exhibit fear-related aggression toward unfamiliar people (this was found to be independent of breed) and also had increased scores for prey interest. Cats with a tortoiseshell coat pattern had increased scores for cat aggression and prey interest. something that was also noted in the UC Davis study.

In the study’s final results, it appeared that most association between behavior and physical appearance could be attributed to breed-based behavior differences.

For more details about the study, please visit the Winn Feline Foundation Blog.

As with all studies of this kind, I always worry that the findings will 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.

The Winn Feline Foundation enhances the relationship between cats and humans by fostering improvements in feline health through research and education.

13 Comments on Is There a Connection Between Cat Breed, Coat Color and Behavior?

  1. Very interesting article, but I do think that each cat has their own personality, which does not always correspond with the coat color or breed.

  2. Most of this study means nothing to me, since I’ve always opted for a mixed-breed shelter cat, who don’t seem to be represented here.
    One of my cats, however, is a tortie. She’s very affectionate and isn’t the least bit aggressive!

    • My torie is also very loving and affectionate. She is easy to startle around others besides myself and two children. She loves our older cat, too. She is so well-behaved at the vet’s office as well. I think every cat is different!

  3. I had heard for some years now about “tortie-tude” and it seems to be confirmed by this study. I now have a dilute tortie who does have occasional desires to bite me, sometimes for no apparent reason. But years ago I had a tortie Persian who was the sweetest, most non-aggressive little kitty you could ask for. So the bottom line truly is that all cats are individuals, and over-generalizations do them a disservice.

  4. I have to agree Ingrid we can’t base our decisions on color, or breed when choosing a furry friend. I believe it is up to humans to parent our cats in a loving nurturing way and the results will be positive. Imagine what the results would be if we decided our choice by the color or breed, this would be unfair

  5. This is very interesting. I have two red cats that are total opposites when it comes to personality. One wants all the attention and to be held all the time while the other is scared of people and rarely likes to be touched. My black/grey/white tabby is spooked by everything.

    • Janine. Us too. We two main coons. One (male) who has the more ‘dog like’ qualities. Wants attention. Loves being held etc. Etc. One (female) aloof. Couldn’t give a ‘monkies’ as we say. Only wants you at feeding times. Both excellent hunters (him. More pocessive) both extremely playful and good fun. Both grey.

  6. This is interesting! Binga says that they neglected to mention that tortoiseshell cats have a special charisma that humans have a hard time resisting.

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