By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 April 2011)
Because both fur colour and temperament are heritable traits, it’s possible for them to be linked. Anecdotal evidence provided by veterinarians, cattery workers, and cat owners, along with a handful of studies, offer some evidence for associations between feline fur colour and temperament. However, these are tendencies only; there are plenty of exceptions to these rules.
White Cat Personality
In the past, many people have assumed that white cats are either timid or not very bright, but this is a misinterpretation of their behaviour, given that white cats with blue eyes are often deaf. When these cats appear unable to learn their own names, come when called, or respond appropriately to loud noises, owners mistakenly assume that they’re unintelligent or frightened.
Overall, evidence regarding white cat temperament is mixed. Some surveys have found trait associations with white fur in particular breeds. For example, white Persians are thought to be calm and peaceful, and white British Shorthairs friendly and outgoing.
Red, Cream, and Ginger Cat Personality
As with white cats, the evidence for temperament associations in red, cream, and ginger cats is mixed. Some surveys have found certain red and cream breeds to be even-tempered and laid back, while others have suggested that such cats (particularly gingers) have fiery tempers, unpredictable behaviour, and less friendly dispositions. Some support for this latter observation was provided by a study conducted by Ledger & O’Farrell (1996), which found that cream, red, and tortie kittens struggled for longer when held by unfamiliar individuals and tried harder to escape than did kittens with other fur colours.
Cattery owner George Ware has found ginger-and-white cats to be lazy and laid back, and describes them as “big softies.” But Pontier et al. (1995) have suggested that the gene associated with orange fur may be linked to aggressiveness in males. Natoli & DeVito (2001) have theorized that this may be why orange cats are relatively rare in urban high-density feral colonies compared to more easy-going black and black-and-white cats. Given that female cats are promiscuous, in large, crowded colonies, laid-back males that are willing to wait their turn will have greater reproductive success than those who waste their time and energy fighting.
Tortoiseshell and Calico Cat Personality
Cats with patchy markings in shades of red, brown, white, and cream may differ by breed. Surveys have found Persian calicos to be maternal and Persian tortoiseshells to be calm and sweet-natured. British Shorthairs with tortoiseshell markings are said to be quick-witted, and mixed-breed calicos to be temperamental, naughty, and lively. Cattery owner George Ware describes tortoiseshells and calicos as gentle and friendly in most cases, and notes that they have a tendency to eat too much and become overweight.
Tabby Cat Personality
Surveys indicate that cats with tabby markings tend to be good-natured, affable, home-loving, and languid. Cattery owner George Ware says that tabbies are usually friendly, relaxed, and somewhat lazy.
Colour-Point Cat Personality
Cats with coloured point markings such as the Siamese and various Siamese crossbreeds (including the Balinese, Burmese, Colourpoint Shorthair, Himalayan, Javanese, Ocicat, Oriental Shorthair and Longhair, Snowshoe, and Tonkinese) tend to be extroverted, spirited, inquisitive, clever, talkative, and highly active. Generally, such cats have personality traits similar to those of the Siamese, though modified by the traits of the other breeds involved.
Gray Cat Personality
Blue-gray fur is associated with a quiet, mellow temperament. Cats with gray coats are said to be affectionate, peaceful, calm, and gentle, though if the blue has cream tones, the disposition may be livelier.
Black Cat Personality
Traits that have been associated with black cats through various studies and anecdotal evidence include friendliness, loyalty, stubbornness, and a generally good-natured personality. In the case of black-and-white cats, surveys indicate that the temperament is usually placid, even, and friendly, and the cats have a tendency to be far-ranging wanderers if allowed outdoors.
Research indicates that black fur may also be associated with health benefits. Many assume that the mutation that produces black fur is selected for because it provides better camouflage. However, gene studies conducted at the U.S. National Cancer Institute have linked black fur with a gene family involved in a number of illnesses, which suggests that black cats may be more resistant to certain diseases. This theory is supported by the fact that black and black-and-white cats are more abundant than those of other fur colours in feral colonies where virus resistance would be particularly beneficial, as close proximity with other animals can easily spread disease.
Sadly, despite the fact that most studies suggest black and black-and-white cats are inclined to have the best temperaments of all coat colours, and perhaps the best health prospects as well, they are the least likely to be adopted, and many are euthanized at shelters as a result.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Hartwell, Sarah. (2007). “Is Coat Colour Linked to Temperament?” MessyBeast.com.
- Turner, D., C., & Bateson, P.P.G. (Eds.). (2000). The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.