IS COAT COLOUR LINKED TO TEMPERAMENT?

IS COAT COLOUR LINKED TO TEMPERAMENT?
Copyright 2001 - 2010 Sarah Hartwell

At the cat shelter where I work we refer to "naughty torties" and "laid back blacks". One of our vets also used the "naughty tortie" epithet and told us it is "well known that tortie cats are temperamental". However, the addition of white has a "calming effect" and tortie-and-whites are "not quite as temperamental as brindled torties. The naughty tortie tag is not applied to dilute torties (blue-creams), possibly because they are less common in the moggy population. Ginger cats are said to be spirited and fiery (and sometimes mean-spirited or sly) - very apt considering their fiery colour and there is the epithet "ginger tom" to describe the supposedly typical alley cat. Blotched tabbies are "real homebodies" while their striped cousins are "more independent".

Common stereotypes are the "archetypal ginger tom" - the flea-bitten, irascible alley cat. Ginger females are "flighty". Confusingly, ginger cats are also quoted as being laid back, but they supposedly have very hot tempers when annoyed - just like the stereotype of human red-heads, especially those of fiery Celtic origin (which would include me). Oddly enough, ginger colouration in cats is relatively common in Scotland. A fiery or assertive temperament might be an advantage in some environments - for both cats and humans! Meanwhile, blotched tabbies of either gender are considered "comfortable, home-loving" cats; languid and good pets. Many cards depict tabby cats curled up by a fire as a symbol of domestic warmth and comfort. Black and white cats are said to be wanderers while white cats are shy or nervy. There is a list of characteristics associated with particular colours at the foot of this article.

Fiery redheads?

 

How much of this is myth and how much is a cat's colour and pattern linked to personality? Both are, after all, inherited and genetically controlled, so it is not impossible for coat colour to be linked to temperament. We selectively breed cats for their looks, but seldom for personality. Coat colour, fur type and certain personality traits may be linked genetically. In some rodents, the white colour is associated with greater docility and increased tolerance of handling which may be why white mice and white rats are common laboratory animals.

EARLY OPINIONS ON COLOUR

Dr Gordon Stables, in 1872, firmly attributed different characters to felines of differing coat colours. In his list of classes at the Birmingham and Crystal Palace shows he described the exhibits. His description of the Red Tabby in class V read; "The Red Tabby ought to approach in size and shape, nearly to the Brown. They are the same kind-hearted, good-natured animals as their brown brethren, and as a rule are better hunters. They go farther afield and tackle larger game. They are often, moreover, very expert fishers." (Cats are, in general, enthusiastic rather than expert fishers.) In the Red "Urbanity of countenance not to be overlooked". Meanwhile, of the Brown Tabby he wrote that they "possess all pussy’s noblest attributes to perfection! They are docile, honest and faithful ... seldom take undue advantage of their great strength". According to Gordon Stables in 1872, there was a tradition that white cats were favoured as mousers by millers as they did not show up against the flour bags.

R S Huidekoper in his book, The Cat (1895) wrote of colours and temperaments. Of the black-and-white biclour he wrote "‘It tends more than any other cat to become fat and indolent, or ragged and wretched, as the case may be. [...] The Black and White cat is affectionate and cleanly, but it is a selfish animal, and is not one for children to play with." Huidekoper went on to claim that the gene which caused a cat to have white markings was also responsible for a drastic deterioration in temperament: "The Tortoiseshell and White [...] is apt to become lazy when old - the more so the more white there is in its markings. These cats are excessively cleanly, and vain of their white, spending much of their time in keeping themselves clean." A tortoiseshell without any white, however was "one of the best hunters [...] a most patient mouser, and is brave to the extreme. It is not over affectionate, and sometimes even sinister and most ill-tempered in its disposition."

An all-white cat was "of a timid disposition, very fond of petting and cuddling, it is quiet in its manners, delicate in its temperament, and honest in its character. It would much prefer to be fed from the saucer, and from the table while lying on a chair, than go roaming for prey or stealing from the kitchen. White Cats are, however, sometimes excellent mousers, and are especially popular pets with millers, as their colour can scarcely be seen among the sacks of Hour. White Cats are often deaf, and sometimes blind, without any appearance of organic change in the eyes."

In 1981, Phyllis Lauder wrote, "I bred a nice Tortoiseshell kitten who, in fact, won her open class at the Southern Cat Club’s Show in London, and an older colleague asked me ‘Does she play with water?’ I admitted with surprise that this kitten dearly loved a tap left dripping and would sit hitting droplets of water with her paws. ‘Tortoiseshells always do,’ said my friend quite seriously, and I realised with surprise that of the many kittens I had bred this, the only Tortoiseshell, was also the only one who played with water."

Adding another layer of confusion to the colour/temperament argument is the idiosyncratic British system of classifying breeds! Under the British GCCF, the Blue Persian, White Persian and Red Persian etc are all different breeds. This meant that differnt colours were developed at different rates (something which was noticeable in Chinchilla Persians for a long while being less ultra-typed than the blue or red Persians). Temperament traits may well have become fixed in some lines as breeders attempted to get the best colour and accidentally bred in docility - or the opposite - at the same time! This may be why I have such differing opinions from the USA where the colour classification system is generally rather more sensible.

LOOKING FOR STEREOTYPES

Part of the problem is that owners expect cats to conform to stereotypes. If you tell people that black cats are sweeter natured and ginger cats a mean tempered, those people are likely to focus on the stereotype behaviours and disregard contradictory behaviours as being "out of character". Human beings dislike chaos and unpredictability and look for order and patterns in everything - that is how we have become the most successful species on the planet - and sometimes we find (or invent) patterns where there are actually no pattern at all.

Naughty Torties?

 

Having learnt that tortie cats are temperamental or hot-tempered, a shelter helper is likely to approach a tortoiseshell cat much more cautiously. The cat detects this nervousness and is more likely to act up with a nervous helper than with a confident helper. On the other hand, having learnt that blotched tabbies are homebodies and that black cats are mellow, the incautious helper risks nasty injuries when encountering a feral cat which just happens to be a blotched tabby or solid black. There is great danger in looking for stereotypes where none exist. In 1958, PM Soderberg wrote in "Pedigree Cats" "Many people have stated from time to time that the character of the Red Tabby is much more independent, and yet at the same time friendly, than most cats which belong to other breeds. This may well be merely wishful thinking, for taken all in all a cat’s habits develop largely according to the people who care for it."

Black and blotched tabby colours are possibly linked to a less assertive temperament, more placid character and better tolerance of crowding than striped tabby or agouti (ticked). If true, this factor would have contributed to a more sociable cat both with humans and with other cats in a colony situation. The predominance of black/black-and-white in urban environments might therefore be linked to this greater sociability. A stressed cat breeds less successfully and passes its genes on fewer times. A stressed mother may miscarry or kill her kittens. A cat which is less stressed in a colony situation will pass its genes on more often. Soon, there will be more of the cats showing a coat colour linked to sociability and less of the cats showing a coat colour linked to unsociability. In the rural environment, a better camouflaged striped cat is likely to be a more successful hunter and will therefore breed more successfully than a less well camouflaged cat. Natoli & DeVito (2001) theorised that orange cats (stereotyped as more highly strung) are uncommon in high-density urban feral colonies compared to "easy-going" black or black-and-white cats. One suggestion is that the more easy-going cats wait their turn to mate with the females: they haven't wasted time and energy fighting and by the time it is their turn, the earlier matings have stimulated the female to ovulate ... just in time to be fertilised by her later suitors' sperm. The actual colours found in these populations would likely depend more on the founder effect.

In a study over a large geographical area in Bavaria, black and black-and-white cats were fund to wander further from home. The study was large enough to suggest that this had a genetic basis and was not purely coincidental. Many professional animal trainers consider black cats to be stubborn and single-minded and more difficult to train to walking on a harness and leash. Some go as far as to consider black cats as hard to work with as uncastrated tomcats, though my own experiences (as a cat owner and cat shelter worker) do not bear this out.

The assertive or reactive temperament is linked to the size of the cat's adrenal glands. Domestic cats have smaller adrenal glands than the ancestral wildcat, making domestic cats less "flighty". A cat with smaller adrenal glands is less reactive. Alternatively, if cats are in a situation where they do not need to be so reactive, selection (natural or artificial) favours those individuals with smaller adrenal glands as they stick around while the others run away. If the black colour really was linked to greater tolerance it would also be linked to the size of the adrenal gland. There is currently no evidence to support this.

Conversely, assertive or aggressive cats would be expected to pass on their genes more often by fighting off the competition. According to Steve Jones in his book "The Single Helix", the gene for the orange colour is linked to aggressiveness hence the preponderance of ginger toms in feral colonies - they out-fight other coloured tomcats. A study conducted by Ledger & O’Farrell (1996) found that cream, red and tortie kittens struggled for longer when held by unfamiliar individuals and tried harder to escape than other coloured kittens, but I can find no other research upholding this claim. The orange gene is carried on the X chromosome (males need only one copy of the gene in order to be a ginger tom) and the ginger colour overrides other colours that are carried on other chromosomes; this is the real reason ginger toms are so common. Perhaps Jones failed to notice the placid ginger males because he was too busy looking for a link with aggression.

A scientific explanation has been offered for the "tortie temperament". Female cats inherit an X chromosome from the mother and from the father. To be tortie, a female has the "O" gene on one X chromosome, but no "O" gene on her other X chromosome. During embryo formation, each cell of the embryo randomly switches off one or other X chromosome (X chromosome inactivation). On the skin, this shows as red and black patches and is known as mosaicism. The switching off takes place in all tissues of the body, including the brain cells. The naughty tortie temperament may be due to X chromosome inactivation in the brain tissues - the brain is a mosaic of 2 types of cell, some with the mother's X chromosome and some with the father's X chromosome. This may cause a mixed-up temperament as well as a mixed up coat pattern.

Blotched tabby and black are both caused by recessive genes. Two black cats will beget more black cats. Two blotched tabbies will beget blotched tabbies, not striped tabbies. These recessive genes can stay hidden in other-colour populations for many generations before resurfacing. If natural or artificial selection favours blotched or black cats, the dominant striped varieties die out because blotched and black breed true. Because recessive genes can be hidden or masked, striped tabbies can produce unexpected blotched tabby kittens so if natural or artificial selection favours striped cats, the blotched or black varieties remain hidden but not lost.

White cats are reputed to be timid or a little dim. Many blue-eyed white cats, and some odd-eyed whites and orange-eyed whites, have hereditary deafness. The white coat colour has sometimes been linked to personality traits of slow thinking, dull intellect and (mostly in females) timidity of character - though these traits could equally well be due to deafness. A deaf cat does not react to sounds - such as the owner calling his name - and this can be misinterpreted as slow-wittedness.

A RUSSIAN EXPERIMENT

In some species, a link between colour and temperament has been established. Red foxes, bred for their fur in Russia, tend to be nervous; if disturbed they will not breed successfully. Ideally, fur farmers wanted more approachable foxes. Though related to dogs, foxes have never been domesticated. Russian biologist D K Belyaev selectively bred from the tamest foxes. The experiment took 26 years and was still in progress 14 years after Belyaev's death. Over five generations he produced a strain of foxes which were much tamer and the experiment is now into the 30th - 35th generations. Along with tameness, other traits had come out: they were pied in colour and they retained puppy-like traits, such as drooping ears, curled tails, short wide muzzles, whining, barking and tail-wagging, into adulthood while losing wilder traits such as territoriality and hunting instincts.

Belyaev's foxes were solely selected for tameness. The other changes, including pied fur and star-shaped white markings on the face, were entirely incidental - byproducts of domestication. The link between colour and temperament in cats is much less clear cut although domestic cats come in a far wider range of colours than do their wild ancestors. Whether this happened as part of the domestication process or was chance mutation incidental to it is unclear.

WHERE DID THE DIFFERENT COLOURS ARISE?

Different colours arose in different parts of the world as spontaneous mutations in local cat populations. Those populations may also have had distinct personalities. The colourpointed pattern arose in Asia and is naturally occurring in Thailand (Siam) and Malaysia. The lilac colour may also have appeared in that general area. Blue (grey) possibly arose in Asia where it is now seen in the Korat breed and this colour may have spread from there into Russia (Russian Blue).

The ticked and mackerel tabby patterns (and the spotted pattern as this is a form of mackerel tabby) are seen in depictions of ancient cats. Just like the tiger's stripes, the mackerel tabby pattern provides camouflage in woodland and grasses at dusk and dawn. Other colours would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb and the cat would be a less successful hunter or would be easy prey for something else. The blotched tabby mutation is believed to have occurred in Britain and spread with throughout the former British Empire with human colonists. Blotched tabby is found in the former British colonies, but is less common elsewhere and unknown in some parts.

Silver tabby - wild ("Sparkle")

Silver tabby - mild ("Silver").

 

The natural environment the cat lives in will determine the colours that predominate. Black and white forms predominate in urban ferals, but rural ferals are more likely to be tabby. In a rural environment, striped tabby provides a better camouflage (hence the European Wildcat is striped) and solid colour cats would be at a disadvantage. The tabby pattern breaks up the cat's outline and blends into the shadows of trees and woodland, when the cat hunts at dusk or dawn. In towns, where cats are frequently scavengers and where they are less likely to be predated upon, black or blotched tabby are not disadvantageous.

Dark-coloured cats are believed to be more common where cats live closely with man, therefore, the earlier the urbanisation of a place, the greater the proportion of dark forms (at least until the advent of neutering). This theory suggests that where cat arrived in America in the 17th century, the greatest variability in colour will be found in the older industrial societies where they have had more time to mutate and where population density has selected for more sociable strains. Body type and fur length show signs of natural selection (e.g. a stocky rather than lithe body type in American Shorthairs, longer fur in Maine Coons), but the theory regarding colour evolution will probably never be proven. The common tabby pattern of the Maine Coon probably reflects that fact that these cats accompanied British colonists all over the world. In Australia, a high proportion of bush cats (rural ferals) have reverted to the brown mackerel pattern (with or without white spotting) which provides the best camouflage when hunting or being hunted.

WHICH BREED DID THAT COLOUR COME FROM?

Black was probably the first colour mutation, followed by red and white. Melanistic (black) forms of other cat species occur so it is probably a simple mutation. Different colours arose in different geographical areas. At the same time, different races of cats (what we call breeds) were evolving to suit the local conditions e.g. longhaired cats in colder climates, cobby shorthairs in temperament climates, skinny oriental-type cats in hot climates. Some colours have become associated with particular breeds and with the temperaments of those breeds e.g. colourpoint (Siamese) in the lithe, extrovert cats of Thailand and Malaysia.

Chestnut Brown - curious? (UK Havana)

 

The appearance of the colour and the development of the personality trait will have evolved as separate mutations; one is not dependent on the other. When hybridizing cats of different breeds, colour and personality may be inherited independently of each other or it is possible that personality traits accompany colour traits if the genes for colour and the genes for personality sit close together on the cats chromosomes. As the colours spread, any linked personality traits will have spread with them.

The spread of cats and of different colour varieties is closely associated with human movement. For example, red (ginger) cats arose in Asia but the main spread of this colour is believed to be via northern Europe with the Vikings. Hence ginger is particularly common in Scotland (which had strong links to Viking countries), but is less common in southern parts of Britain where black and blotched tabby are more common. Blue cats spread out of Russia and France and blotched tabbies spread out of Britain.

 

Part of the influence is through the breeds from which a colour was inherited. It is recognized that breeds have very distinct personality types. For example Siamese cats are extroverts and sexually precocious and this trait is passed on to other Orientals which are basically Siamese cats in disguise. The colourpoint pattern has been introduced into (or suddenly cropped up in) other breeds. It may have been introduced in a roundabout way, but ultimately the pattern traces back to a Siamese-type ancestor even if it was introduced a few generations ago from a Birman or Himalayan. The extrovert personality may be linked to the colourpoint pattern, hence Himalayans (Colourpoint Longhairs) are said to be more spirited than self-coloured Persians. If the colourpoint pattern has managed to be passed on through many generations and matings, it is not impossible that some personality traits have been passed on alongside it.

Likewise, the Abyssinians/Somalis are considered to contribute a sweet temperament as well as the agouti pattern when used as an outcross and the "quiet" temperament of the British Blue may be linked to the fact that early breeders did not distinguish between British Blues, Russian Blues and Korats and bred them all together. Russian Blues and Korats are both quiet breeds.

Mellow blues?

 

DO PEOPLE PREFER SOME COLOURS MORE THAN OTHERS?

Research suggests that colour has a strong influence on what cat people choose. The most popular colours of town cats in the 17th century were black-and-white, grey-and-white or black. Superstition also plays a part with black being considered lucky in some parts of the world. In Japan, mi-ke (tortoiseshell and white) is lucky. In North America, black is unlucky. In various countries different colours are considered lucky or unlucky and this affected the colour make up of cat populations as bad luck colour kittens were destroyed.

In the 1960s in London, there was a preference for ginger cats or ginger bi-colours. In 1975, a study in Glasgow found that suburban residents in the city preferred cats with ginger or partly white coats. More recently in Southampton, there was a consistent preference for black cats. However cats in more run-down areas of the city were usually black or tabby. In a recent study which rated the attractiveness of 8 cat coat colours, grey was the most preferred colour, black was second, with striped and black and white equal third. Ginger was least preferred, with calico as the second least preferred.

Most colour/personality "information" is anecdotal, but there have been studies where owners or veterinarians were asked to associate particular colours with particular personality traits. Profiles are only available on two particular breeds and these ignored the breed-specific traits and concentrated on traits "associated" with the colour/pattern.

Colour

Character Attributes

"-" indicates no info

Persian (Longhair)

British Shorthair

Moggies (mixed breed)

Black

loyal, suspicious of strangers

good-natured

stubborn, friendly, sociable

White

calm, peaceful

streetwise and friendly

timid

Red (Ginger)

polite

-

shifty, unpredictable, unfriendly, laid back but with fiery tempers

Cream

even-tempered

-

-

Blue (Grey)

gentle

quiet, affectionate
Possibly inherited from interbreeding with Korats and Russian Blues

Calm, peaceable

Blue-Cream (DiluteTortie)

-

lively

Mischievous.

Tortoiseshell

maternal

quick-witted

Naughty, hot-tempered, temperamental

Calico (Tortie & White)

calm, sweet-natured

-

Naughty, lively

Black & White Bi-Colour

placid

even-tempered, friendly

wanderers.

Tabby

equable

good-natured

Languid, home-loving, good pets.

Spotted

-

affable

-

Black Smoke

relaxed

good natured (inherited from Persians)

-

Pewter/Shaded Silver

very affectionate and sweet natured

-

-

Cameo

languorous

-

-

Colourpoint/Himalayan

gentle, spirited but not demonstrative
This colour originated in Siamese cats.

-

-

Chocolate/Lilac

outgoing, inquisitive
These colours were introduced from Himalayans i.e. trace back to Siamese.

-

-

Nipper: Black and white ... or white and black? Timid, sociable, stubborn?

In fact Nipper's personality turned out to be as curious as his pattern.

 

In 1973, the following traits were linked to colours in a book called "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" by Pedigree Petfoods:-

Colour

Temperament

Spotted British Shorthair

Good travellers and take well to a collar and lead.

Blue-Cream Shorthair

Interesting and endearing habit of scooping up food with their paws.

Tortoiseshell Shorthair

Affectionate, loyal and excellent mousers.

Tortoiseshell-and-White Shorthair

Distinguished history as rat catchers.

Silver Tabby Shorthair

Shy but extremely affectionate, and very dependent upon human contact. Do not thrive in cattery conditions.

Red Tabby Shorthair

Quiet, docile and affectionate; excellent ratters and mousers.

Black Shorthair

Clown-like delight in "entertaining its owner with gymnastic tricks and enthusiastic affection".

Chocolate Persian
Lilac Persian

"Temperamentally, these self are fearless and will jump on strangers’ laps without waiting to be introduced. Displaying dog-like devotion to their owners, the male cats are probably a better choice as pets than the females. Unquarrelsome, two Selfs - even of the same sex - will be prepared to share feeding dishes and sleeping places without falling out."

Colourpoint Persian

Very hardy and could be outside all the year round with no ill effects.

Black-and-white Bicolour Persian

Excellent ratters and mousers.

Brown Tabby Persian

Quiet, courteous, docile and faithful, but at the same time were hardy and courageous.

Blue-Cream Persian

Very feminine characters, being good if somewhat detached mothers, and being more interested in birds or, particularly, in tomcats!

Tortoiseshell-and-White Persian

Very clean and full of character.

Silver Tabby Persian

Good pets and have "the calm tranquillity common to British breeds of cats, and when on show display an aristocratic dignity which makes it quite plain that acclaim is an essential part of their lives."

Smoke Persian

"Even temperaments and are gentle and affectionate. They will fight, but they are rarely aggressive and are generally glad to call the battle off if honour can be preserved."

Red Self Persian

"Tremendous character, and it very soon becomes ‘top cat’ in any cattery. Females are rare, while the males are often great fighters. Yet, when it suits them, Red Selfs can be most affectionate. They are usually self-possessed and interested in everything going on around them."

Cream Persian

"A most affectionate sweet-tempered nature and makes a delightful pet. The cats usually tend to avoid trouble but are quite capable of standing up for themselves if they have to"

Red Tabby Persian

"Intelligent and active. "They make very amusing companions, but need affection to bring out their best qualities. [...] Contrary to a commonly held belief, they are not spiteful. The males can look forbidding, but this is due more often to apprehension rather than anger."

Blue-eyed White Persian

"Has dignity. It is solemn, and is playful only after serious thought. Afterwards, it will retire to contemplate its frivolity [...]. Whilst a Blue-eyed male may be an ardent lover, its affections towards humans are restrained. The Orange-eyed cats, however, have cheerful, out-going personalities."

Early in the 21st Century, British boarding cattery owner George Ware derived his own theory of colours and temperaments based on his personal experience:-

Colour

Temperament

Silver Tabby

Big, bouncy and powerful. Frequently dominant cats, enjoy human company but are not lap cats.

Tabby

Friendly and relaxed to the point of laziness. Often enjoy tummy tickles but will let you know when they've had enough. Less likely to go outdoors at night, preferring to sleep on the bed.

Black-and-white

True lap cats. Very loyal to their family, especially to a particular family member. Liable to be moody.

Black

Independent and good hunters. Like to be indoors sleeping in daytime and outdoors hunting at night. Doesn't enjoy being fussed over or held.

Tortoiseshell & calico

Generally friendly and gentle, but like being outdoors, especially at night. Tendency to be greedy and become overweight.

Ginger-and-white

Big softies and laid back to the point of laziness. Like being stroked, but dislike being picked up and cuddled. Prefer to sit on furniture rather than on laps.

 

IS COAT COLOUR LINKED TO HEALTH?

According to Albert C Jude, author of "Cat Genetics" in 1955, colour and size in cats were often linked. He wrote "it is found that the "brown" gene tends to an increase in size. An example of "brown" and increase in size is the brown tabby, which may become a really hefty fellow under suitable conditions. Other "color" genes tend to increase of size in other animals, but so far no other instance is found in cats, but the presence of a "silver" gene has effect for smaller size, as noted in silver tabby, chinchilla, and (probably) the Siamese [he considered silver to be an allele of Siamese/Burmese albinism]. It would seem, therefore, that there is a connection between "color" and bone structure, for whereas the brown tabby is heavily boned, the silver tabby, chinchilla, and Siamese are mote lightly boned."

Studies in 2003 suggested that black coat colour may affect a cat's health, if not its temperament, since black fur may be linked to other beneficial mutations.  Black coats have evolved separately many times in different species of cat. Out of 37 cat species, 11 species (excluding the domestic cat) are known to produce black-furred individuals:  Geoffroy's cat, Scottish wild cat, Indian (Temmincks) Golden Cat, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, caracal, serval, jaguarundi, lynx and bobcat (possibly also the puma).

The most common explanation is better camouflage, but this might be incidental to other mutations. The mutations which lead to a black coat are in the same gene family as those involved in human diseases like AIDS. Black cats might therefore have better resistance to disease than cats with other colour coats according to gene studies at the US National Cancer Institute by Eduardo Eizirik and Stephen O'Brien.

Dark colour may be an advantage at night or in thick undergrowth while tabby is better in dappled shade during dawn and dusk. In servals, melanism is seen in those living in a high altitude region, suggesting a thermal advantage. O'Brien suggested that the melanism mutation survives in cats not because of better camouflage, but because cats with the mutated genes were more resistant to viruses.

The study explored the molecular basis of a trait that could have an evolutionary advantage. Researchers mapped two genes associated with feline melanism and identified changes in the "agouti" gene. Agouti controls blackness in the hair of domestic cats; in cats with either one or two "normal" agouti genes, each hair is banded (ticked) with dark and light colours. In cats with two non-agouti genes, the fur is not banded, but is one solid colour. In tabby cats, the background colour is the ticked agouti colour with a pattern overlaid on it. In Abyssinian and similar breeds, the whole body is agouti.

The studies showed that the effect went beyond changes to the agouti gene and coat colour. Black cats also had changes to a connected gene known as MC1R. MC1R is a member of a family of genes which includes the human gene CCR5. CCR5 codes for a protein on the cell membrane and this protein is a key allowing in various viruses, including HIV. Possibly black cats are less susceptible to viral infection.

It is interesting to note that high density feline populations often have black cats (or black and white cats - these are genetically black with an additional white-spotting gene). This is often attributed to black cats being more tolerant of living closely with other cats and therefore breeding more successfully. Viruses spread quickly in cat colonies, so perhaps it is due to non-black cats being at a disadvantage while the black cats survive and breed.

WHAT READERS HAVE SAID

For a start, some readers have entirely missed the point. This is, in many ways, a study of how owners perceive the relationship between colour and temperament. This article does not state that there is a definite, established link between colour and character. It states what different people at different times have observed. A few have added their thoughts on any link between colour and temperament based on their own experiences.

"Tuxedo cats, black with white on the paws, belly and sometimes a little on the face, are lovers: gentle, soft-hearted, non-aggressive and loud purrers. They are lazy and like to be on your lap. Very loveable. Tigers (tabbies) are more wild and tend to be good hunters. Sometimes they scratch. Little grey (blue) cats are independent and smart [UK: bright], also excellent hunters with fast reflexes. Orange cats tend to get a little bit fat. All of these descriptions are based on American shorthair cats, not purebred. "

Allison Voedisch described her three American domestic shorthairs (all adopted strays). Her grey male (no white) is calm, extremely friendly, a wanderer and a peacekeeper. He is also extremely attached to Allison. Her black-and-white "tuxedo" male is a "cat's cat" and slightly overweight, playful, talkative and was found wandering around a cornfield. Her tortoiseshell (no appreciable white) is a good mouser, inclined to be temperamental and naughty, but doesn't bite or scratch; though spayed she has strong maternal instincts. She is affectionate on her own terms and can be very snuggly when she wants to be. A longhaired red tabby male (a tamed feral) was skittish, but affectionate, playful, and an excellent mouser. He was more attached to his tamer, Allison, than to other family members.

Showing that the fiery stereotype of ginger cats doesn't hold true, "Aldo" wrote "I have had 6 shorthair ginger males and ALL have been very loving and sweet natured, with very individual personalities. All were rescues. Ginger males are the very best of companions and have the best temperaments. "

Xochitl Morgan (Texas) writes "I haven't met any other torties, but mine is very high-strung, hisses at the drop of a hat, but doesn't mean it. She gets into things and destroys rolls of toilet paper and paper towels. She's jumpy and hides when people knock on the door. In her other aspect, she transforms into a gurgling lap fungus who will lick your hand for hours. My inlaws have a cat the same color as mine - cream tabby. They're both incredibly mellow and fazed by almost nothing, don't like being picked up, but will be very assertive about sitting next to you and demanding petting. They're lazy; if they get out, they don't go far. They're prone to urinary tract infections. They're all "domestic short hair" mongrels as far as I know."

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan writes: "Well, I can't contribute my data point to the perceived color-temperament link because I don't believe there is one. I do have a suspicion that there are character traits associated with long-established breeds, since despite never having had the honor of owning a Siamese or Oriental (my cats are either foundlings or rescued) everybody tells me they are smart, talkative and affectionate, and I met at least one exceptionally dumb Persian. Personally, though, I've had five cats, three of them tabbies (grey, blue-cream and grey-brown) and each of them had a completely different personality, with the latest arrival, my beloved brown tabby Zip, being closest in personality to short lived hyper black shorthair mongrel Ombra. Black cats are decidedly unpopular in Italy and greatly feared for their supposed ill-luck association. Some people will go so far as to deliberately run over black cats on the road if they can."

Bek Felton of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia write: "I have two Korats, (blue cats) and would agree that they are quiet (they also don't like loud noises or loud people) and are very affectionate and loving. They do have loud voices when they use them and can be very demanding, but only when they aren't getting attention. They ride around on my shoulder when I am doing housework and always have to be sitting on me or my husband when we are sitting down.. I cannot have a bath without them sitting on the side (and usually falling in). They are very friendly to visitors as well and curious about inspecting their handbags etc. The boys are incredibly bright - they watch and learn very quickly. For example, I discipline them by squirting them with a plastic water sprayer (when they do things like climb on the fly-screen). When they want to do something they are not supposed to, they look for the water sprayer (I think to see if I will have to get up to squirt them.) Several times while I have been at work they have taken it to pieces and hidden the bits in different parts of the house. They can open jars and cupboards and doors and have extraordinarily quick reflexes."

Tina in the USA (formerly of Canada) wrote that her cream Persian male was a 'Buddha incarnate' with a sense of humor and her chinchilla female was small, timid and very ladylike. Tina's flame-point Siamese male was a gentle giant who personified love. Her tortie-and-white girl is bright and mischievous and has figured out on her own how to use the toilet as well as wanting to be top cat. Tina's sister's tuxedo black-and-white female, adopted as a kitten, was an unaffectionate cat.

Lisa Lorea added the following observations while researching the temperaments of orange (red) tabby males in 2006. She had heard from several people that orange males were considered particularly intelligent, trainable, affectionate and unflappable. She had met an animal trainer for the film industry who had told her that animal trainers seek out orange males because of those personality traits hence orange tabbies are the most commonly seen cat in movies, television and commercials. Orange cats include Morris the Cat (American cat food "spokescat") who has been played by several animals over the years. Lisa's own orange tabby male shorthair, Peabody, is top cat in her household and has the aforementioned traits as well as being maternal towards kittens. Peabody does a number of tricks on verbal commands. He is also talkative and follows Lisa around in a dog-like manner.

Lisa also added comments based on her mixed breed cats. She found grey (blue) tabbies to be affectionate, but somewhat lazy and uninteresting as pets while solid grey (blue) cats are very independent and will bond strongly to a single person; both of Lisa's solid greys were small females that rode on her shoulder. Her black female Maine Coon/moggy mix seemed to enjoy naughtiness for its own sake, but was also so affectionate as to be emotionally needy. Her tortie female (the runt of a litter) was intelligent, independent and not at all feminine. She was also "a little crazy" and erratic (though she died aged 9 of a neurological problem). This tortie played with the water in her dish and was fascinated by the bath and shower.

MESSYBEAST : BASIC GENETICS FOR BREEDERS & CAT LOVERS