Does Cat Color Influence Personality?

Perceptions Versus Realities

Photo of Calico Cat
Calico Cat. © Getty / Norlyn Tay Abidin / EyeEm

Most owners recognize their special cats have a distinct cat personality. But are there behavior differences between a black cat and an orange kitty? Some surveys say cat color matters, though most reputable researchers say otherwise. On the other hand, cat breeds (Siamese, Russian Blue, and so forth) really do have personality types.

Perception Versus Reality

Most household cats are American shorthairs.

These cats come in a wide range of colors and patterns but share a common ancestry. In other words, a single litter can easily include a black, orange, and calico kitten. These siblings are likely to have a good deal in common, fur color notwithstanding.

But that doesn't stop people from believing that cat color influences personality. For example, one survey indicates black cats more easily tolerate crowding and indoor living than tabby-pattern kitties. Owners of calico kitties say that they're "different" with c'attitude-plus compared to other color kitties. The "red" color was another early mutation, so this gene could be associated more closely with the personality of the earliest domesticated cats. A study of 84 British Shorthair kittens revealed that red, cream or tortoiseshell kittens (with the "red" gene) threw fits and struggled to escape for longer periods when handled by unfamiliar people, compared to kittens of other colors.

Impact of Perception on Cats' Lives

While it's unlikely that color alone has much of an impact on cat personality, peoples' beliefs have a strong impact on how they choose and care for their cats.

A study described on the UC Berkeley site discovered that: "Overall, orange cats and bi-colored cats were characterized as friendly, while black cats, white cats and tri-colored cats were regarded as more antisocial.

White cats were considered to be more shy, lazy and calm, while tortoiseshell cats were more likely to be depicted as both more intolerant and more trainable. Black cats were typified as having less extreme character traits, which might contribute to their mysterious reputation."

Whether these characteristics have much truth to them or not, though, according to the Smithsonian, "A 2002 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, for example, found that black cats and brown cats were the least likely to be adopted. Dark cats were also more likely to be euthanized. And despite there being little genetic evidence that the genes that guide the coloring and patterning on a cat’s coat also influence its behavior, the study found that people frequently believed that tortoiseshells had too much attitude (or “tortitude”), which may explain why they don’t get adopted quickly or get returned to the shelter."

Impact of Cat Breeds on Personality

Unlike color, cat breeds really do make a difference in a pet's personality. For example, Ragdoll cats are almost universally placid as are Ragamuffins and Persians. The Egyptian Mau, on the other hand, is generally active and athletic. As pedigreed cats are much more expensive than "mutts" available in shelters, it's important to research you prospective pet before making a purchase.

Picking Personality with Color

Breeding won't be an issue with spayed and neutered pet cats. But if coat color can help predict temperament and tolerance, that could be an important consideration when choosing a new cat companion. Tolerance of crowding and friendliness toward other kitties is particularly important when adding to your existing cat family.