Q: In your experience, have you found any truth to breed stereotypes? I’m thinking of adopting my first cat and have heard so many confusing opinions such as orange cats are good tempered, black cats are the least popular, torties are feisty, Siamese are hyper, Persians need too much grooming. I just want a friendly easy-going cat. Any advice?
A: In an age where the word “stereotype” can ruffle lots of feathers, let’s talk about some of the common characteristics of cat breeds: they are furry (well, except for the hairless ones), they purr (except for the ones that don’t), they’re independent (except for the ones that are social). My point is: every cat is an individual, and should be judged as such. I loved my orange cat “Charlie”. He was the friendliest cat I ever met – he could have run for mayor. But just last week, I saw an orange cat that the owner had dubbed “demon cat” because of his less-than-friendly demeanor at home. The characteristics that you mentioned are sweeping generalizations that some owners would agree with, and some wouldn’t. And very often, the situation that a cat finds himself in will affect his personality much more than his breed. I find that very hyper pet owners often have very hyper cats, and easy-going pet owners often have easy-going cats. Even diehard breed-specific owners will often say “this cat is not your typical Siamese/Maine Coon/Persian.” Who’s to say what’s typical? Who’s to say which personality is right for you?
Here’s my advice when trying to choose a cat: Go to your local shelter and visit with some cats. They’re loving, wonderful pets just waiting for a terrific forever home. Some shelters (like New Rochelle Humane Society) have big rooms where lots of cats roam free, and you can judge for yourself. I guarantee you’ll know which one is right for you. When I got my first cat, I said, “the first one that comes over to me and squints his eyes like George Burns is the one for me.” Seconds later, my cat “Salem” did just that – and he was with me for 14 years (and he did the BEST George Burns imitation!). He was a plain old domestic short haired tabby cat with a feisty personality, sometimes hyper, but overall good-tempered and easy-going, who never needed help with his grooming. He was all the stereotypes wrapped up into one, and that’s what I love.
Editor’s Note: I agree with allowing a cat choose us without a premeditated agenda. Even breeds with distinct characteristics can have exceptions. When I was a teenager, I’d heard Siamese cats could be high-strung, but that didn’t stop me from adopting my first Siamese. She turned out to be the sweetest cat and I was instantly hooked on the breed for their intelligence and affectionate nature. It’s a question of knowing what you can live with. Chatty Siamese cats can drive one crazy with their loud talking. Merlin, true to his breed has the lungs of an opera singer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Updated info: May 2020
When we cat lovers discuss our fabulous felines, we usually compare their personalities. And, the conversation often includes color. How many times have you found yourself saying something like ‘our tabby’s a free-spirit but loves cuddles’ and found a fellow tabby owner nodding in agreement? So, are characters and coats linked or are we just a little too fond of stereotypes?
Humans love logic and tend to put everything into neat little boxes. If, like me, you’ve actually tried putting a cat into a little box (in my case it was a badly-designed pet carrier), you’ll know that throughout history, researchers have been trying to pigeon-hole pussy-cats.
In 1876 Dr William Gordon Stables wrote a book called ‘The Domestic Cat’. He was convinced that a cat’s make-up was determined by the color of its coat. He said that the silver tabby is a sweetly pretty cat that is proud, elegant, fond to love and quick to resent an injury. Stables also thought that red tabbies were fierce hunters. The tabby time machine whizzes forward to 1995 and France’s Université Lyon 1 where Dominique Pontier et al ‘s research was published. This links coat colors to genetic profiles and behavioral differences. It revealed that the orange may be linked to aggressiveness in males and that they’re often to busy fighting off the competition in order to have the pick of the females.
One hundred years earlier, a well-known vet called Dr Rush Shippen Huidekoper (now there’s an impressive name for a kitten!) wrote a book called ‘The Cat’. He thought that the gene that causes cats to have white fur was responsible for a deterioration in their temperaments. He said that black and white cats were the most likely to become fat and wretched: ”This is a selfish animal and is not one for children to play with.” (At this point, I can imagine thousands of Felix fans screaming in disapproval).
Huidekoper also said that tortoiseshells are great hunters; they are brave but ill-tempered and unaffectionate. In addition, he thought that tortie and whites were vain (due to having to clean their white fur so often). He adds “An all-white cat is timid and fond of petting. It would much prefer to be fed from the saucer than go roaming for prey.”
By now, like me, you probably have mixed feelings. While I was researching this subject, I found that most of the information available was based upon observation rather than science. Sarah Hartwell, in her web article, Is coat color linked to temperament? alludes to a survey that asked owners and vets to associate cats’ colors and their personalities. They said that blacks were stubborn and friendly; whites were timid; gingers were shifty; grays were calm; tortoiseshells were naughty; black and whites were wanderers and tabbies were home-loving.
One cattery owner, George Ware, was so fascinated by the relationship between cats’ personalities and their colors that he carried out his own on-the-job research. He concluded that ginger-and-whites are big softies who are laid back to the point of laziness. He said that they ‘like being stroked, but dislike being picked up and cuddled.’
Unlike Huidekoper, Ware observed that tortoiseshells and tortie and whites are ‘friendly and gentle but like being outdoors.’ He says the silver tabby is a ‘bouncy, powerful, dominant cat that enjoys human company but not sitting on laps.’ Ware saw the grey tabby as friendly and relaxed to the point of laziness.
And, the moment you previously-offended Felix fans have been waiting for – Ware’s view of black and whites is that they’re true lap cats – they’re very loyal but liable to be moody. He saw black cats as independent and good hunters.
Over the years, I’ve been owned by cats of many colors and I’ve formed my own opinion: there is a cat for every kind of human.