Are Orange Cats Actually Dumber? | Orange Cat Behavior

We all like watching cats do dumb things; spend enough time watching cats do dumb things and you might see this narrative that “orange cat behavior” is a thing. There’s even a whole subreddit for it. Or you have a friend with an orange cat that definitely has a few screws loose. Or missing. Maybe they used nails instead. But are orange cats actually dumber?

Are orange cats actually different?

Normally when people are talking about orange cats, they’re talking about tabby cats with an orange coat. Tabbies aren’t really a breed of cat, rather a coat type characterized mostly by their pattern. It’s like  They’re descended from African, European, and Asiatic wildcats. Honestly that summarizes that whole thing where dog owners frequently talk about what kind of dog they have but cat owners will probably tell you their cat is just “cat” if you ask what kind they have pretty well.

Either way, orange cats have pheomelanin instead of eumelanin in their fur. Melanin governs the pigmentation of skin and stuff. Eumelanin is far more common, and pigments skin or hair black or brown; pheomelanin is responsible for a redder or yellow tint. The gene that governs a cat’s orange-ness is in the X chromosome, so the trait is linked to the sex of any given cat. If you remember vaguely from biology class, you’ll remember that male cats have one X and one Y chromosome, while female cats have two X chromosomes. 

The end result here is that the vast majority of orange cats are male. It’s something like 80%. For a female cat to be orange, the orange gene must be passed on from both parents; male cats only need to inherit it from their mothers. The gene is also codominant, so if a cat inherits one orange gene and one non-orange gene, you get a tortoiseshell or calico cat—the ones with some orange in their fur but they aren’t all orange. This is why both tortoiseshell and calico cats are almost exclusively female.

Orange cat perceptions

Despite this, there isn’t much (if any) evidence besides anecdotal stories and memes that the color of a cat has a significant impact on the personality.

The only other kind of science we could find that backs up the “orange cats are dumb” claim is a 1995 examination of the frequency of orange cats among different populations. It turns out orange cats are more common in rural environments—though this is most likely explained by cats having different mating patterns in rural areas than they do urban areas. Male cats are more likely to mate with multiple female cats and female cats are more likely to mate with only one male cat in rural areas compared to urban ones. 

However, the study also found that orange cats are less common in places with a high risk of death. This could suggest, broadly, that orange cats are more likely to engage in risky behavior that gets them killed and may serve as an origin for the stereotype. It could also suggest that, you know, orange stands out in the wild more than brown or black. 

We were a little blithe there, because other studies suggest that we (like humans) project a lot of personality traits onto our pets based on their coats. In a study published in 2015, it was found that there are consistent personality traits associated with cat color. Orange cats were far more likely to be characterized as friendly, while white cats were often seen as shy. While people claim to choose their pets based on personality over coat, a study in 2002 found that black and brown cats were less likely to be adopted—making the darkness of a cat’s coat a good predictor for whether or not the cat will be euthanized. 


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