Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 6, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Veterinarians from UC Davis have discovered, in recently published research, that cats with calico and tortoiseshell coat patterns tend to challenge their human companions more often than cats of other colors. This certainly comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever been owned by a tortie or calico, but I found it interesting that we are starting to see studies that seem to confirm that tortitude is real.
The Sacramento Bee reports that the research backs up long-standing observations among veterinarians that such cats often are “difficult,” Dr. Elizabeth Stelow, a behavioral expert in the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, told the Bee. Her study, based on a survey of more than 1,200 cat owners, found that calicos and torties are more likely to hiss, chase, bite, swat or scratch during interactions with humans.
In the study, cat guardians were asked to use a scale from 0 to 5 to report frequency of behaviors such as hissing and biting. Analysis found statistically significant differences between the frequency of these behaviors in “orange” females, including torties and calicos, and most other cats.
There are limitations to the study from a scientific standpoint, primarily the fact that researchers relied on observations from the cat guardians they surveyed, rather than observing the cats themselves. More research is needed to really explore this theory, but I’m hopeful that this research will come eventually.
Then again, do we really need a study to prove that torties are unique?
You can read more details about the study in The Sacramento Bee.
Photo of Frieda, who is available for adoption from Lapcats.org, via The Sacramento Bee
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
I am owned by a ten year old Calico cat. She has calitude but is the most affectionate and loving cat I have ever had. She doesn’t like to be held and will cuddle on her own terms. She sleeps and cuddles with me every night. Calicos and Tortoise Shell cats are affectionate and wonderful to have. I haven’t been owned by a Tortie but hope to someday.
I have a two year old calico. She is a sweet cat but definitely does not want to be held.She shows affection on her terms.
aka the term “fickle”
I have 2 tortie that are sisters. They are 3 now and I have had them for 2 yrs. they are rescue cats. And I will say they are the gentlest, sweetest, most loving cats ever!!!! I had a rescue Tortie for 2 yrs before them that was older and developed a tumor and died during treatment. She also was the love of my life but not as affectionate as the ones I have now. By the way, I graduated from UCD
Tori yes always, calico tend to always be gentle around here even the feral ones we turn into babies. All they want is love but holding and picking up not as much.
My calico is the sweetest, most loving kitty I have ever had. 😀
I have a tortie and she is exactly as described. And yes, we dread every year when we have to bring her to the vet for her shots. She is loving and VERY VOCAL with my wife and I, but the howling in the cat transporter and the mess she makes (she originated projectile pooping!) at the vets office makes the vet visit a special experience we dread.
Have you considered using a housecall vet, Mike?
Where I live the housecall vets come out to work on horses, not cats 😉 The cost would be prohibitive.
My tortie is a perfect blend of sweetness and sass! She was in the shelter for 8 months before I adopted her, possibly because she (gently) bit the hand that petted her. Now she hardly ever bites my hand. She’s learned, through my tone of voice I think, that I don’t like to be bit, and she really does want to be my friend! She hangs out with me all the time.
These are my kind of kitties!
I’m really enjoying all of your comments! I think they prove one thing without a doubt: while there may be certain commonalities and an increase in tortitude in tri-color cats, each cat is an individual!
I had a dilute calico many years ago, that was as sweet as sweet could be. But more recently I had a very dark-colored tortie like the girl in the picture, and the difference was night and day. Sophie was a stray I found as a kitten in the middle of a snow storm. She was very sweet and playful at first, but as she got older, she became a little ‘witch-on-wheels’! She ruled the roost, and even beat up my elderly tuxedo, sending him to the hospital for head trauma after she attacked him while he was eating, chased him through the house, then pushed him head first off a table. Any pets or snuggles were on HER terms, not mine, for sure! It was almost like, the darker the color pattern, the feistier they are. Not sure I’ll ever have one again, since I now have another tuxedo and a cow cat. They are both boys, and have distinct personalities. But neither is anything like Sophie was.
Judy, you are describing my Tortie Jezebel to a tee….a witch on wheels…she too was a stray I found wandering the streets. She used to beat up my timid Ginger cat, Buster, though he was twice her size! However, she was a pale Tortie. She always had to have the last word and loved strangers and men, but gave me, her saviour, a dog’s life! I would tell her that no one else would put up with her, but she would just give me a filthy look and a growl or a hiss… she was such a character!
the current foster tortie kitten is sweet as can be. that said, Ivy is a “torbie” – that calico/tabby mix and heavens she can have some attitude 🙂
i am on my 4th calico and have found all of them to be laid back, easy going and very loving. i have adopted them from 3-6 years of age. maybe the calicos you are talking about probably were abused.
I have three torties and one calico, and they all have those attitudes. They definitely are the chiefs around here. But they do love the human in many ways. Just look out all the other cats.Great study.
My human does not like to call torties and calicos “difficult.” She prefers to call them “spicy!” Life would be boring for all of us without Binga!
I don’t like calling torties difficult or challenging, either, Summer, which is why I put the word in quotes. I like “spicy!”
I have a torbie with a big red streak down her head and back. Although she is very sweet and loving most of the time she is unpredictable and has even put me in the hospital. It was so bad I consulted with Jackson Galaxy and UC Davis. Nothing really worked and at age 13 she has trained me to love living with her as she is.
I think acceptance is one of the lessons many torties teach their humans, Gervaise.
I’ve had only two torties personally, and no calico cats myself in over 40 yrs of being on my own & a responsible adult for any pet – intentional or who ‘found me’. However even before being independent [still a teenager in college & not allowed any pets], I did observe the ‘unique
nature of my parents’ neighbor’s beautiful calico named Wanda. Later they adopted Willie, as scrawny solid black shorthaired male cat who was rowdy but sweet. Wanda was gorgeous and sweet [when she wanted to be], and extremely aloof when she wanted to be. I never observed any aggression from her but fickle? Oh my yes! Now as for the two different Torties rescued & who lived here [one passed sev. yrs ago, & the other still here, now in her early teens ] were/are extremely sweet & affectionate and consistent in their demeanors — completely opposite in the stereotypes. After decades of unofficial, unscientific observations of cats and dogs, particularly cats and of all breeds, mixes and coat colors, I can see why the general trends do hold some validity, but I have also observed the exceptions to the stereotypes. Guess I’m just lucky that the ‘negative’ portions of the cat stereotypes just have not been my experience.
As much as I believe that tortitude is real, I’m always careful to caution people that every cat, regardless of coat color, is an individual. Amber was one of the sweetest and most gentle cats I ever had – what little tortitude she had manifested in a single-minded obsession with eating, which I always chalked up to her having been a starving stray for the first two years of her life.
Well, I guess that there is always one who breaks the cycle or curve, when I read this I could not believe my eyes. .. Haley, my Tortie, has always been a sweet heart, kind and loving from day one, I have had her since age 8 months and she is 16 this year and is kind and loving to my other 2 kitties who have entered her life along the way, and yes they all sleep together and always get along!
I have heard that the ‘dilute torties’ do not have the same reputation for being difficult. I am curious what others have to say about that.
People seem to be divided on this issue, Maureen. Some say that the dilution enhances tortitude, others say it’s not as pronounced.
I have many years of rescue and I have always said that the calico or tortie had the bitch gene. I have seen someone bring a calico into a vets office and watch everyone in the room magically disappear.
When I still worked in veterinary clinics, we certainly had our fair share of tortie clients whose charts had caution stickers, Laurie! 🙂