Calico Cat Behavior

by Michael
(London, UK)

Meet the cat: MAYA - a calico cat - photo by fofurasfelinas (Flickr)

Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Meet the cat: MAYA - a calico cat - photo by fofurasfelinas (Flickr)

Calico cat behavior has been described by a well known cat commentator as, “sassy, spunky, and very independent. On the other hand, calicoes are sweet, loving, and loyal cats….” But is this really true? And what does it mean anyway? She seems to be describing any cat. I did however find a connection between coat colour and aggression in dogs and that cats with white in their cat (“and white” cats) have less behavioral problems.

People do say that their Calico cat exhibits odd behaviour or a particular type of behaviour but what is it and is it true? Are people just describing their cat’s individual traits? Our expectations on cat behaviour can sometimes make it seem strange to us when in fact it is what can only be expected under the circumstances in which the cat finds itself. People with stereotypical expectations of cat behaviour including calico cat behaviour largely dictates how they judge the behaviour of a cat.

The real point, it seems to me, is to see if we can inject a bit of science and logic into the argument. I am not by the way saying that calico cats don not behave differently, just that it would be nice to see some real evidence that they do. Next I describe how I got along in my search for evidence beyond the mere anecdotal and unsubstantiated. Here goes….

I started at the top. Robinson’s Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians 4th ed makes absolutely no mention of how the genes that create the distinctive calico coat affect the character and behaviour of the cat. This book is the number one book on cat genetics, so if there was some credence to the story about calico cat behaviour you would have thought that it would be referred to in this book. But read on please…

The Encyclopaedia Of The Cat does not mention the calico cat in the index and there is certainly nothing in the behaviour of the calico cat being specific to the cat.

Wikipedia has an article1 about tortoiseshell cats and refers to calico cats. Calico cats are tortoiseshell and white cats. There is no reference in the article about calico cat behaviour. People sometimes criticise Wikipedia for accuracy. They are wrong.  There are 140,000 Wikipedia authors and they regularly quote references so the source material can be checked. Not many websites do that.

Sticking with Wikipedia for a minute but switching to people, I thought I would see if there was a real connection between people with red hair and behaviour. This would at least tell me is their is the possibility of a link between the colour of hair (or fur!) and the character of an animal. There are known medical implications, it seems. People with red hair showed “differential sensitivity to pain compared to people with other hair colours”. OK, if that is research is sound it is still not about behaviour. There are “beliefs” that red heads have fiery temperaments3. This is notable. Red is the colour of fire. Is is possible that we have extended this “belief” (no scientific data to support this I would say) about red headed people to reddish coloured cats? This seems to be the case.

In short, having surfed the internet in the conventional way, I could not find any scientific link between the genes that create the tortoiseshell and white coat and the character of the cat. However, I have found an interesting discussion page on Flickr, the Yahoo photograph website. They have groups and this one relates to calico cats. It is a group discussion about calico personality2. I have read a number of the comments of the calico cat owners and see no pattern of behavior or what could be described as calico cat behavior. See the page here.

I also discovered a research article on Google Scholar (that cost me $31 to access!). In this article4 I found a connection between the colour of a dog and its behaviour, in this case aggressive behaviour. Here is a direct quote from the document which I must publish verbatim for the sake of accuracy:

“..There is a direct metabolic reason why coat color might be linked to aggression. DOPA is the precursor of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, and of the pigment melanin DOPA. Genes that code for the enzyme that synthesizes DOPA and its products are probably involved in some way with the aggressive behavior associated with coat color. The relation between coat color and temperament is a topic that researchers must consider seriously in the future…

…aggressive behavior may be hereditary and coinherited with genes controlling pigmentation”

As to calico cat behavior, it was stated in the document that when cat fanciers and veterinarians were questioned about this topic they responded by saying that calico cats were “quite aggressive”. This was investigated. The researchers compared the frequency with which black cats, orange cats and tricolor cats were presented to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals for medical problems and to the Animal Behavior Clinic for behavioral problems. They found no significant difference in the proportions of coat colors. There was one other observation namely that when cats had white in the coat (i.e. not all white) the cat was less likely to be presented for behavioral problems.

Back to dogs..”Dogs with a coat of a solid color rather than a particolored coat and dogs with red or golden coats rather than black coats tended to exhibit aggressive behavior……yellow Labrador Retrievers made up a larger proportion of dogs presented for aggressive behavior than those presented for medical problems”.


On this search I found no specific correlation between the calico coat and behavioral traits but I did find that behavior and coat color could be linked and that more research is needed.


Original Flickr photo




4. Behavior genetics - Yukari Takeuchi, DVM, PhD, Katherine A Houpt, VMD, PhD

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Calico Cat Behavior

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Feb 21, 2012 reply to Jophine and Fina NEW
by: Anonymous

Reading your comment made me smile with nostalgia. I still miss my Jodie so much. I miss her original personality, her strength n her love. I agree with every word you said, there's 'tortitude' in calicos, and that goes well with my personality :). Enjoy your Fina, x

Feb 21, 2012 Josephine--my "Cack-a-lo" girl NEW
by: PJ

I have had several cats over the years, but adopted my Fiina (Josephine Autumn) about a year and a half ago and have to say that she bears out all I have heard about calico cats and "tortitude." She is independent, feisty, but very sweet and loving, clearly claiming me as "her" human (I have 4 other cats).

There has just been too much about Fiina that has supported all that I've always heard about calicoes to chalk it up to my simply reading things into her personality. Fiina is sweet, but prone to jealousy and will often approach her siblings from behind and slap them for no reason other than to say, " IS all about ME!"

I am a firm believer in the relationship to coloring and personality as I've seen similar associations with my other cats and their colorings. Nobody is suggesting that there are not exceptions and nobody is remotely saying that "type" is so rigid that cats cannot break-type whenever they feel like it. But I do most certainly see "tortitude" in my calico. And the nice surprise is that it has really caused me to take stock of things and respect cats even more.

A calico will define "cat" on her own terms and if you agree to them (and truly, you must), you can have a wonderful relationship with an amazing feline.

Nov 11, 2011 Thank you!
by: Kitsch Kitty

I;ve been referring to my cats for so long as "kinda torishell with a lot of white" so it;s rather nice to know there is a word for their colourings. My two girlies (Loki and Molko) are my first cats and are just under a year old now. They are sisters and the funniest little bundles I have ever seen. They both have very definite personalities and individual preferences and silly games they play. They love to play together and they have definitely turned me into a "mad cat woman" Hurrah for Calico Cats :0)

May 25, 2011 Calico is just colours
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

I think it is important to remember that calico cats do not belong to any special breed. Actually very many breeds have calico versions in black, orange and white (also known as tortoiseshell-and-white. And they are just as other cats of their breeds.

Calico is no more than the colours of the fur and there is absolutely no reason to believe that these cats are any more aggressive than the average cat. Not unless you also believe that red-haired people are hot-tempered and blondes are dumb. They are not, in case you haven't heard. 🙂

So if you choose a calico cat, do so because you like it's attractive appearance. But at the same time make sure that character of the cat in question is what you are looking for. All cats are different personalities - calico or not.

May 24, 2011 Just the article I was looking for!
by: T

Thank you for this article, I have wanted to get a cat for a long time and have my heart set on a calico. I've just read a couple of the articles you refer to and was quite alarmed to read descriptions such as "aggressive". Your article has put my mind at rest 🙂

Apr 12, 2011 In memory of Jodie, the best tortie in town!
by: Anonymous

I adopted Jodie F Junior, my beautiful calico cat, when she was 6 weeks old. She passed away a year ago, lost her to diabetes after 13 years of mutual love and devotion.
Despite of me, I fall madly in love with Jodie's spirited essence! I never met such an independent, yet loyal, feisty, yet loving n cuddly cat.
She was aggressive with strangers (usually she was right about them!!) but always protective over me. Jodie was overtly jealous of other people and even of her new sister, Jeni, a playful ginger cat, and loved food way too much!
I miss her terribly, such a great personality, even long lost friends remember her.
I had her cremated and kept a little patch of her beautiful multicoloured fur, white, ginger and black. I will never forget her. one day, when I'm ready, I will adopt another Calico or two. they are the Best! 🙂

Feb 08, 2011 My sweet Calico 🙂
by: Anonymous

I have a calico cat who is about 9 months old. We rescued her from the streets and recently had her spayed. I was told Calico cats tend to have wild personalities, but i found the complete opposite in Pippin, my calico. She's affectionate and playful, energetic and definitely a lap cat. The only thing is, when we took her to the vet for her first shots, she became a different cat. with strangers and visitors, even foreign environments (I sometimes take her to work) she's fine. The minute the vet touched her, hissing, and growling, biting... This was the first time I'd seen her do any of these behaviors.. Bottom line is, I think when they judge breeds, or cats by their coats the opinion is biased. Pets-not just cats- are totally different when they're scared and in a different environment. Just like people. I love my little purrface 🙂

Feb 02, 2011 response about aurie
by: Anonymous

She is in heat its time to get her spayed.

Jan 31, 2011 Aurie, my calico
by: Anonymous

i luv her she is so smart and fiesty.

Jan 31, 2011 my calico cat
by: Anonymous

i have a calico cat named "Aurie", Ive had her for 5 months now and ive noticed that she's fiesty,independant, not one of those cats that like to be all over u. now she's doin this cryin sound kinda like a cat call and she does it all night. iwonder wut it is so if u do have suggestions i'm all ears! she's an indoor cat and i live in an upstairs apartmen and i let her out to stretch and get some fresh air, thats about it but while she was out there she saw 2 other cats so i wonder if that's why she's making this crying/howling noise.another thing thats crazy is that she's actually letting me pet her a little longer than usual and she rolls over as if she wants to play, but not so fast to attack as she would any other time. she darts through the house as if it were an obstacle course! she loves to walk on the edge of the couch and lay there! she's funny and smart! i fell bad because i don't understand what's wrong and i wanna be able to help her, so again if someone reads this and can help me out it would be very much appreciated. thanks Ana

Jan 24, 2011 Tortitude and more!!
by: Dave

They are unbelievable!
Ambushing visitors as they approach the house.
Going like a "halloween cat" when approached in the garden.(then bolting off like mad)
Going from calm lap cat to psyco in seconds.
Hiding aloft in the garage rafters and attacking me from above (getting swotted in the head etc).
Turning into an impish black eyed monster if petted from the wrong angle (ears back and then full on attack / bleeding arms and hands.
My cat was sadly taken from us this week by a car and I cannot imagine ever replacing her.
If you have never owned a Tortie you don't know what you are missing!!

Jan 20, 2011 Lizzie: My Calico
by: Deborah

I bought Lizzie when she was only 5 weeks old (She's about 6mths now). I would have left her with her mother longer, however, she was up for sale and the living conditions were atrocious! She's a very vocal cat, but the main thing I've noticed is that she seems to have two different personalities. She's nuts one minute, scaling my curtains, doing back-flips off the sofa and running round at the speed of light, (Plus she can jump two metres high if I throw a toy in the air for her.) Then the next moment, she is on my lap, purring, puddening, cleaning me and nuzzling into the crook of my arm to fall asleep. She doesn't mind my children, (even my 2 year old) and she play-fights like most kittens but never uses her claws unless she doesn't realise its an extension of my body. Her colours are fantastic, she had white spots inside her ginger patches and tabby colours too, with a white belly and a little ginger spot right in the middle of her belly. I love my calico cat; Lizzie. <3

Dec 22, 2010 My 'sunshine' cat.
by: Susan

Bonny, my calico cat turned up a year after one of my black cats died of old age 8 years ago, she had been rehomed by a couple down the road but they had small children and she seemed to be scared of them. She became a regular visitor to my garden, just watching me or it seemed watching over me. A year later we moved and she came with us. She got on well with my other black cat Shadow and all was well. She was diagnosed with asthma at 13 and was quite poorly towards the end of her life. Sadly she died last week and dont think I will ever find another like her. She was the most affectionate cat I have ever known, seemed very maternal to Shadow and alerted me when he got hit by a car and had to recieve medical treatment. I miss her dreadfully, she was a faithful devoted pet.

Dec 09, 2010 Mi gato es tricolor.....
by: yulimar gomes

Hola soy de Venezuela y tengo un gato persa tricolor calico.Se llama Zuco ojala no sea esteril porq tiene una compañera pero solo tiene 3 meses de edad, y quisiera tener gatitos de ellos dos...Y a el tampoco le gustan los niños...

Sep 07, 2010 My Calico 'Patches'
by: Scott St. Gelais

We adopted Patches from the local humane society 6 months ago. We had lost (hit and run driver) our B&W cat the month before we got our calico. Patches is the complete opposite. She loves to play with any paper product she can lay her claws/paws on (it was paper towels today). First cat I've had that uses her paws to feed herself (anything soft). And she will follow you room to room.

But what really amazes me about her is the way she interacts with my dogs (a cocker spaniel and a Chihuahua). The Chihuahua loves to play fetch and Patches will chase the toy along with her, but never brings it back. Of course, they are dog toys (rubber bones and ropes). And how these can two wrestle (Patches is the larger of the two). And loves to sleep in the dog beds too.

Aug 20, 2010 2 Calico Cats
by: Emma

Myself and my partner both had calico cats when we first met, and still do. Both are so similar yet so different too!

Neither likes children (does any cat? Would you like someone who constantly wanted to touch you and pull your hair?). They are both really shy around people they don't know, simply dissappearing then coming out the moment the people leave.

But both love us, they have their person! They are very affectionate when they are in the mood but like to play with claws!

T loves to play fetch and cuddle up as close to your face as possible but Phoebe would never chase a toy (how demeaning the look on her face says!)and will only sit on the lap of my partner and not me.

Neither of us would be without them as they are the most affectionate cats, if only they were to each other. After 1 and a half years they still fight, maybe one day this will change!

Aug 10, 2010 Calico
by: Chuck Shultz

I have had 3 calico cats all were beautiful but while you were awake and moving around they woudnt give you the time of day. My current one wont come around you unless you are laying done or in some sort of prone position to where you cant chase after her. If you can get close to her and then try to pet her she puts a hook in you and runs. But when its bed time shes right there by your side and if your sick or hurt she becomes your gaurdian at the foot of your bed keeping other people away from you. I really wish she was nicer because she dosnt like my 3yr old daughter and its becoming a problem. I just had large fat boy orange tabby die from cancer and was the most loveable cat I have ever seen. Every cat i have owned other than calicos have been nice but overall my calicos have been antisoscial. I def think there is a link between the coat and behavior after all it is a genetic issue so it only makes sense.

Aug 05, 2010 Q-Tips
by: Brenda

I thought it so funny that another calico owner said her cat loved Q-tips. Mine too!

She loves to play catch with Q-tips, and catches
9/10 when we play.

What do you think it is about Q-tips that interests these two calico cats anyway?

Jun 12, 2010 this calico is like my child
by: tony

We had a wonderful black and white, kind of long haired cat for 5 years. Just a majestic looking animal. I love her to death. Had a whole album of pictures of her. Then out of no where, her apatite diminished. Took her to several vets who said there was nothing wrong with her. She started getting worse. Didn't want to be bothered, just stayed by herself an wasn't eating much. Too her to a vet who only specializes in cats. He found that she had a tumor in side the size of an egg. When they opened her up, it was too late. Cancer had spread to all her vital organs. We cried like we had lost a child.
At that point we gave the ok to put her down while she was still under anesthesia.

A couple days later we went out to shelter looking for another cat. We were just about to leave when I saw this wonderful little calico about 8 months old.
After the initial transition period and up till now, 8 years, she is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to us outside of out kids.
She has got me through some really bad times with a sick mother, and is so loving. I can read her mind and visa versa. I don't even consider her a cat, but as a child.
She's so happy when I come home. She rolls around, wants me to rub her, etc. She's with me all the time late at night, because I stay up all night, while the others are sleeping.
I just pray to God that I can have her for a long, long time. It will be devastating when she finally goes. I hope I go first.
Thankyou for listening.

Jun 04, 2010 My calico and her sister
by: Anonymous

I adopted a pair of sisters, Paris and Perisa. Paris is a calico and she is so pretty and loving. Perisa is pretty but not as loving as her sister. Paris loves kisses but will bit you at any second and she has a hard time listening and she does not follow directions well. But she is definitely an hunter. Persia does not like you to kiss or even touch her. She appears to be a cat that is prissy and does not care for humans to much (she thinks we all have H1N1) but when she is ready, she will come for the love. She loves to be petted around her mouth and the back of her head but its when ever she wants it. I am so happy to have these two beautiful girls in my life.

May 19, 2010 My Calico - Annabelle
by: Marie

I just adopted Annabelle from the BCSPCA...she is a rescue, about 2 years old. She is actually a "dilute" calico with beautiful markings and gorgeous green eyes. I previously had to put down a 15 year old Himalayan 2 years ago. Well my Himi and Calico have similar dispositions. Very independent, loves to play; can find her little "blue cloth mouse" anywhere and bring it to anyone...her expression says "lets play". She also fetches, just like my himi did...and she is fast....runs and flies like the wind.....I have only had her for two weeks; don't know what I did before her, with thet two years inbetween the last love of my life, Mykos (himi)....I am so happy Annabelle has come into our lives; she is bringing us so much joy and love......and we are giving her all the love and care we can......

May 18, 2010 At A1 Savannahs
by: Michael

This is a short update on this post. Kathrin Stucki a very knowledgeable breeder of Savannah cats has personal experience of coat colour being associated with cat character or personality.

Here is a link to more on this.

Michael Avatar

May 04, 2010 Spot on
by: Michael

Finn, your comment is spot on. The cat fancy likes to differentiate breeds. Most cats have similar characters in the same way humans all over the world have the same fears, aspirations and feelings.

Michael Avatar

May 03, 2010 Cat character
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

I agree that more research is needed, but I find linking coat colour and temperament a bit far-fetched. The fiery temperament of read haired humans is indeed just “beliefs” - except maybe for some self-fulfilling cases, when the fiery reaction has been triggered by teasing or bullying. And if you expect your calico cat to be agressive, quite likely it has a higher risk of becoming just that.

I also think differences in temperament between different breeds are often a bit overexaggerated by clubs and breeders, who of course have an interest in doing just that. Like this breed description picked at random from CFA:
"[These cats] are quiet, clean cats who are playful and loving companions. Despite their shy nature, [they] are devoted and quite affectionate towards their loved ones. They are very intelligent and have been reported to open doors and teach their owners to fetch. Sensitive to the mood of the house, [they] will ‘clown' to quiet a crying baby or sit patting your face to chase away the blues. They get along well with children and other pets."
Don't you recognize a lot of your own cat in that?
I've had cats that were very much like this, but I never had a Russian Blue which actually is the breed described...

My point is that all domestic cats share the same basic qualities, but the individual character is formed by interacting with other cats and humans, as well as by lifetime experiences - good or bad. Not that different from human redheads after all... 😉

May 01, 2010 My Calico
by: Brandi

My Calico also follows me from room to room & also fetches!! She loves to play "fetch" with balls of paper & q-tips!! We have to hide the q-tip box because she will have them all over the floor & wake me up at 2AM on top of me with a q-tip in her mouth! lol 🙂 She also loves to have her belly rubbed. My fiance says she's more of a dog than a cat! haha

Apr 30, 2010 Lets All Compare Our Calicos
by: Joyce Sammons

Lets all tell what's special about our calicos.

My daughter Laura's cat Lola (Furby's cat mama) has 2 unusual traits.

She follows Laura from room to room like a dog. Most cats don't care when you leave a room. They just wait for you. Lola tags along everywhere.

She also fetches. She'll stick her head between the couch cushions looking for her string toy. If Laura throws it behind the couch Lola "retrieves" it. Lola knows to initiate play, all she has to do is bring the string to Laura.

I've had a few calicos who lived outside. They were all good hunters and left "presents." Lets just say I learned a lot of biology from the gifts.

Apr 30, 2010 Post Script
by: Michael

If someon knows of a clear (not anecdotal) connection between calico cat coat and behavior please tell me and us. A reward will await you!

Michael Avatar

25 thoughts on “Calico Cat Behavior”

  1. To me the inclination to attribute specific personality traits to different-looking breeds of cats is akin to believing in Astrology. It’s the exact opposite to the scientific process, considering the idea is they start with the premise and conclusion then set about supporting it, otherwise known as confirmation bias. With science you’re supposed to be wide open to all possibilities and do your best to DISprove a hypothesis. You’re correct Michael from the start, that the personality traits are owned by all cats and the difference here is the action of the observer pairing off certain ones to physical appearance. It also reminds me of phrenology, the idea that “reading” bumps on a person’s head tells you what’s going on inside. In all fairness while I have perceived what appear to be some personality correlations matching other people’s observations, there are other things that could explain it too, like the act of leading the cats to act in certain ways. It’s interesting any way I look at it.

    • “To me the inclination to attribute specific personality traits to different-looking breeds of cats is akin to believing in Astrology.”

      Agreed — except that through selective breeding some breeders select for behavior as well as appearance and so over time the breed can take on a specific personality. However, talking of cat breeds as having specific personality traits is more about marketing than reality.

    • If it is true that your cat is a bitch you’ll have to ask if one of the reasons is you or someone else living with her.

  2. All I can say is that I had never heard anything about calico cats being aggressive until we took our first shelter cat to the vet. We were both covered with scratches and scabs, and our vet noticed. He also noticed that our cat was very aggressive. The good news is that she has gained a great amount of trust in us – we can now pet her backside without being shredded…. but she is still incredibly unpredictable. I simply do not know when she may attack, and how the attack may be. She likes to snuggle close to my face; which I admit makes me nervous. It seems as if she can turn off and on like a light switch.

    • It sounds tricky. Thanks for sharing that. Of course her unpredictable and sensitive behavior may be linked to other things such as (a) a lack of socialisation – she is still a bit wild and badly domesticated and (b) she suffered a trauma before you adopted her leaving her mentally scared.

      To be honest the connection between behavior and coat type is anecdotal and far from certain.

      • I have a calico and she is my first calico after years of having other breeds of cats, and yes I’m that old. She is absolutely different! Fascinatingly so! She actually jumps up and thrusts herself off the side of the walls during a wild house run, in which she also runs up her cat tree, through her tunnel, across the couch, chair an love seat and in and out of each room of the house screeching like a banshee then all of a sudden end up at a stop on her cat stand, look at me, and give, the softest little meow ever, like “what’d think?”. I have never had a cat act like that before. May be take a quick running fit and then stop. Or look up at me and meow. But all that together. And bounce off the wall ?? It was in believable !!

        • Thank you Cdelaney. She sounds like a complete charmer. I wonder though if that behaviour is linked to her coat type or simply generally inherited + life experience. Anyway her behaviour sounds very interesting to say the least.


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