Busting cat-color myths: Your orange tabby isn’t dumber than its feline pals

Screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper / CNET

The recent viral popularity of an orange cat named Jorts has led to discussions about whether Jorts are less intelligent than other cats simply because they have orange fur. Some have said that it is unfair and unfair to judge cats based on their appearance.

But is there really a known medical relationship between a cat’s fur color and personality or intelligence? People think so, but science doesn’t, Zara Hedge, chief medical officer of the San Diego Humane Society, told me.

“While there may be some genetic components associated with coat color that also influence personality, there is little scientific evidence to prove that this is the case in domestic cats,” said Hedge, who owns five cats of different colours.

The idea that the color of the fur dictates the character is not as crazy as it sounds. Some studies show an association between coat color in other mammals and their behavior – silver foxes, for example. But this has not been proven in domestic cats. Cats’ fur color can vary even within the same breed. The common domestic shorthair cat comes in many fur colors, so stereotypes often compare apples to apples.

However, even if cats do not behave a certain way due to the color of their fur, we humans may think they do, and this can cause problems.

“Although there is no strong evidence linking coat color to personality, people are likely, to some extent, to make decisions about which cat they bring into their homes based on that,” says Hedge. “It can make people have unrealistic expectations of how a cat will behave in the house.”

Orange cats: friendly but dim?

Let’s take a look at the stereotypes: The orange-spotted cat is considered by many to be the most gregarious of the cats, although some, as we’ve seen with Curious Jorts and Jan Saga, think the Spotted Orange cat is also the least intelligent.

“I’ve definitely seen and worked with hundreds of orangey cats, and I’ve seen a variety of personality types,” Hedge says. “I would say that cat breeding and socializing with humans, other animals and different environments play a bigger role [than fur color] in their public personality and how they interact with humans.”

Orange cats are also a pop culture favorite. Morris the Cat, the 9 Lives cat food mascot and the comic cat Garfield and Heathcliff are orange. Hedges speculates that the creators of these characters may have had orange cats as pets, but suggests that the artists may have been influenced by the stereotype of orange cats as being friendlier and more social.

“From a marketing standpoint, it kind of makes sense,” she says.

Concave and fun tuxedos

Got a tortoiseshell cat? These cats can be of many different breeds, but they have a distinct tricolored coat. Does your tor seem particularly rude and lively? This fits the stereotype about their color style as well.

“There has been a long-standing belief that tricolored cats have what’s called ‘concavity,’ or tortoiseshell behaviour,” Hedges says. “The tortoiseshell is notoriously hot and rude.”

But she does note that a 2016 study from the University of California at Davis found little difference in cats’ attitude between different coat colors.

“I’ve also heard that tuxedo cats tend to be more playful” than most cats, Hedges says. “And of course, there has been a long-standing myth surrounding black cats. Having lived with many different cats over the years, and working with many other cats at the shelter, I can say that these stereotypes are not true. Each cat has its own unique personality.”

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