Is there an association between coat colour and personality in domestic cats (Felis catus)?

01 Jul 2022

By Dr Hazel Rooney

Take home message: The present study found no significant effect of cat coat colour on their personality, suggesting that coat colour is not an accurate predictor of personality in domestic cats. However, age was found to affect playfulness, with kittens being the most playful and geriatric cats the least playful. Further longitudinal studies should be conducted to validate the effect of age on playfulness reported in this study

Domestic cats (Felis catus) are currently one of the most popular companion animals in the developed world. For example, it was recently reported that there are approximately 10.9 and 31.9 million cats in the UK and USA alone, respectively. However, despite their popularity as companion animals, little is known about their cognitive abilities or personality compared to other species such as dogs. In domestic cats, associations have been found between personality and stress, morbidity, and immune function, as well as influencing owner satisfaction with their pet. Limited research is available on the factors affecting differences in personalities of domestic cats, but it has been suggested that coat colour may have an influence, as associations between coat colour and personality have previously been reported in dogs, horses, and mink. Having a greater understanding of the factors affecting personality traits in domestic cats is important for their welfare and may aid animal rescue centres in providing effective matches between their cats and potential adopters. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of coat colour and age on the personality of domestic cats.    

 An online questionnaire was developed in Qualtrics software, consisting of 24 questions, divided into two sections: the first containing questions about the participant and the second containing questions about their cat. In the second section, participants were asked to select the primary colour and secondary colours of their cat, selecting from black, white, orange (ginger) and grey or providing their own answer in a text box. Owners were also asked to rate their cat’s personality on a 5-point Likert scale using the Domestic Cat Personality Inventory (DCPI). Likert scale ratings ranged from 1 (doesn’t describe my cat at all) to 5 (describes my cat extremely well). The DCPI consists of 6 dimensions: playfulness, nervousness, amiability, dominance, demandingness, and gullibility. Questions on age, sex, neutered status, and duration of ownership were also included to allow for comparisons with previous research. Two behavioural tests, the familiar person approach test and the novel object test, were also conduced to provide validation of the questionnaire personality ratings. The behavioural tests were designed to be taken by cats and their owners and participants were asked to film the behaviour tests. A sample of 299 respondents was obtained, including 8 participants who additionally completed the behavioural tests. Respondents provided data on 391 cats.

 Results from the present study showed no association between black, brown, grey, orange, or white coloured cats and any of the following six personality dimensions of the DCPI: amiability, demandingness, dominance, gullibility, nervousness, and playfulness. There was a significant effect of age on personality, however, this effect was only seen with playfulness score. Playfulness scores declined with the age of the cat, whereby kittens had a higher mean playfulness score than adult, mature, senior, and geriatric cats. No correlation was found between personality ratings and behavioural coding’s. These results indicate that coat colour should not be used as a reliable predicator of personality in domestic cats.

This project was carried out by Daisy Scott, while studying for her bachelor’s degree in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Plumpton College. I wish Daisy the very best of luck with her studies at Plumpton College and wish her every success in her future career.  

Dr. Hazel Rooney, Pig Technical Co-Ordinator, Alltech Ireland

Hazel has been a member of the BSAS Early Career Council since 2020. Hazel works to help pig producers, feed mills and vets to improve the health, welfare, and productivity of pigs in the Irish and European marketplaces.