Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 25, 2023 by Crystal Uys
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 behavior1.
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.
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.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.