The recent viral fame of an orange tabby cat named Jorts has led to debates about whether Jorts is less intelligent than other cats simply because he has orange fur. Some said it was unfair and biased to judge a cat based on its appearance.
But is there really a medically known connection between cat fur color and personality or intelligence? People think so, but science doesn’t. Zara Hedgechief medical officer at the San Diego Humane Society, told me.
“While there may be some genetic component to coat color that also influences personality, there is little scientific evidence to show that this is the case in domestic cats,” said Hedge, who has five cats of different colors.
The idea that coat color dictates personality isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Some studies do show connections between fur color in other mammals and their behavior — silver foxes, for one. But this has not been proven in domestic cats. And the color of a cat’s coat can vary even within the same breed. The common domestic shorthair cat comes in many coat colors, so indeed stereotypes often compare apples to apples.
Still, even if cats don’t behave a certain way because of their fur color, we humans might think they do, and that can cause problems.
“Although there is no solid evidence linking coat color to personality, to some extent people probably make decisions about which cat to bring into their home based on this,” says Hedge. “This can lead people to have unrealistic expectations of how the cat will behave in the home.”
Orange cats: friendly but moody?
Let’s take a look at the stereotypes: Orange tabby cats are considered by many to be the most social of cats, although some, as seen in the strange saga of Georges and Jean, consider orange tabby cats to be the least intelligent.
“I’ve definitely seen and worked with hundreds of orange tabby cats, and I’ve seen a wide variety of personality types,” Hedge says. “I would say that the upbringing and socialization of the cat with people, other animals and a different environment plays a bigger role [than fur color] in their overall personality and how they interact with people.”
Orange cats are also a pop culture favorite. Morris the cat, the 9 Lives cat food mascot, and comic book cats Garfield and Heathcliff are orange. Hedges suggests that perhaps the creators of these characters had orange cats as pets, but notes that the artists may have been influenced by the stereotype of orange cats as friendlier and more social.
“From a marketing point of view, it makes sense,” she says.
“Tortitude” and playful tuxes
Got a cat with a tortoise shell? These cats can be of many different breeds, but have a distinctive tri-colored coat. Does your turtle seem particularly sassy and lively? This also fits the stereotype of their color pattern.
“There’s a long-held belief that tricolor cats have what’s called ‘tortitude,’ or like a tortoise shell,” Hedges says. “Turtles are known for being more sassy and sassy.”
But she notes that a 2016 study from UC Davis found little difference in cats’ attitudes between different coat colors.
“I’ve also heard that tuxedo cats are more playful” than most cats, Hedges says. “And of course, there is a longstanding superstition surrounding black cats. And having lived with many different cats over the years and worked with many others at the shelter, I can say that these stereotypes are not true. Every cat has its own unique personality.”