Every Cat Logo

What does behavior have to do with breed, coat type, or eye color?

Wilhelmy J, Serpell J, Brown D, Siracusa C. Behavioral associations with breed, coat type, and eye color in single-breed cats. J Vet Behav.. May-June, 2016; 13: 80-87.

Is there an association between breed and behavior, as well as between appearance and behavior? This has been studied in dogs and also horses, but what about cats?

What are the perceptions different groups of people have on this question of behavioral differences between breeds. This article describes cat show judges characterizing Siamese as demanding of attention and outgoing with strangers, while saying Russian Blues are shy and withdrawn. Veterinarians describe Siamese to be active and vocal, Persians as less active and destructive, and Oriental Shorthairs to be more excitable and destructive. Feline veterinary practitioners are stated to characterize Bengals as most active, most likely to be aggressive toward human family members, and most likely to urine mark out of 15 common breeds; Persians are felt to be the least active and least likely to use a litter box. Are these perceptions accurate?

In this study, the authors hypothesized that behavioral characteristics were associated with breed, eye color, coat color, and coat pattern. Owners of 574 single-breed, registered cats were surveyed with a standardized behavioral profile questionnaire incorporating 20 factors.

The cats were screened for evidence of fear-related aggression, territorial aggression and inappropriate social skills, fear of noises, redirected aggression, separation anxiety, and inappropriate elimination. The breeds evaluated included Abyssinians, Bengals, Birmans, Burmese, Devon Rexes, Maine Coons, Norwegian Forest cats, Orientals, Persians, Ragdolls, Siamese, and Tonkinese. The coat colors included agouti, black, brown, cinnamon, blue, lilac, fawn, caramel, taupe, red, cream, blue cream, apricot, and white. Other phenotypic variants evaluated were associated with albinism, tabbie and tortoiseshell patterning, inhibition of melanin, production of pheomelanin, and white spotting.

Some of the association results noted between a breed and behavior were:
Abyssinians had higher scores for sociability with people and cat aggression while also having decreased scores for restraint resistance and vocalization along with a likelihood of fear of noises.
Birmans had decreased scores for activity/playfulness, vocalization, trainability, and predatory behavior, yet were more likely to exhibit fear-related aggression toward familiar people and also inappropriate elimination.
Maine Coons had increased scores for owner-directed aggression and prey interest while scores for attention seeking, separation-related behavior and sleeping in elevated/warm/hidden locations were decreased. Separation anxiety and inappropriate elimination were also less likely to occur in Maine Coons.
Tonkinese cats had increased scores for playfulness, sociability with people, vocalization, attention seeking, separation-related behavior, and trainability while decreased scores for owner-directed behavior, restraint resistance, and cat aggression. They were also less likely to manifest fear-related aggression toward familiar cats.

When it comes to associations between appearance and behavior, there were some associations noted. Lilac-coated cats demonstrated decreased scores for pretty interest but increased scores for playfulness, attention seeking and separation-related behavior.  Ah, the red-coated cats were more likely to exhibit fear-related aggression toward unfamiliar people (this was found to be independent of breed) and also had increased scores for prey interest. Piebald appearance was associated with creased vocalization and stranger-directed aggression. Tortoiseshell coat pattern had increased scores for cat aggression and prey interest but decreased aggression to dogs. However, when all the analysis was said and done, nearly all associations between behavior and coat type were attributable to breed.

In the study’s final results, their hypothesis that associations between appearance and behavior would occur independent of breed was overall unsubstantiated.  Most association between behavior and physical appearance could be attributed to breed-based behavior differences.  (VLT)

See also:
Salvin HE, McGreevy, et al. The effect of breed on age-related changes in behavior and disease prevalence in cognitively normal older community dogs, Canis lupus familiarisJ Vet Behav. March-April, 2012; 7(2): 61-69.