UC Davis study finds calico, tortoiseshell cats to be most aggressive

CIERA PASTUREL / AGGIE
CIERA PASTUREL / AGGIE

Online survey of 1,200 cat owners reveals aggression tendencies among various coat colors.

Recently, veterinarians at UC Davis discovered a possible correlation between feline behavior and fur color. In the research from experts in the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the researchers discovered that cats with calico and tortoiseshell coat patterns tend to be the most challenging and aggressive cats compared to those with less flashy, single-color coats.

To determine this, the researchers collected data from an online survey of more than 1,200 cat owners. The survey asked these cat owners about their felines’ behaviors, and requested that they choose a color category and written description that fit their pets best. They used a scale from zero to five to assess the frequency of behaviors, such as hissing and biting.

The study showed that cats with calico and tortoiseshell coat patterns tended to challenge their human companions more and exhibit more signs of aggression.

“We undertook this research to explore a long-standing assumption among veterinary professionals and cat owners that calicos and tortoiseshells are somehow different,” said Dr. Liz Stelow, a behavioral expert in the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. “We looked specifically at aggression and friendliness. They were significantly different from most other coat colors for aggression toward humans, but not for friendliness.

The study found that cats with these types of fur color are more likely to hiss, chase, bite, swat or scratch when interacting with humans.

“I have had Nala [a calico cat] for two years now and she’s feisty, but she’s also very lovable and just as good as a companion as my other cat,” said Sarah Ellen, a third-year animal science major who owns a calico cat and a black-coated cat.

The data also suggests that cats with gray and white or black and white coats are slightly more likely to engage in those behaviors compared to cats of other colors. The research found that cats with solid black, gray and white coats display less aggressive personality characteristics.

But this discovery does not intend to portray calico and tortoiseshell cats in a negative way. Dr. Stelow said the findings should not discourage people from adopting a tortoiseshell or calico cat; she owns one herself and believes they are great companions.

“Just because they have a higher incidence [of aggression] does not mean they are a problem,” said Melissa Bain, veterinarian and associate professor of clinical medicine and epidemiology, who worked with Dr. Stelow on the study.

Written by: Demi Caceres – campus@theaggie.org