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Fickle feline? Calico, tortoiseshell are trouble cats

Cynthia Hubert
The Sacremento Bee

So your calico has “catitude?”

Your tortie is temperamental?

It seems you’re in good company.

Veterinarians from the University of California, Davis, have discovered, in recently published research, that cats with calico or tortoiseshell coat patterns tend to challenge their human companions more often than felines whose fur is less flashy.

The research backs up long-standing observations among veterinarians that such cats often are “difficult,” said Dr. Elizabeth Stelow, a behavioral expert in the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Her study, based on a survey of more than 1,200 cat owners, found that calicoes and torties are more likely to hiss, chase, bite, swat or scratch during interactions with humans.

“They’re fiery,” said Sacremento, California, Front Street animal shelter manager Gina Knepp. “They’ve got a little spirit and zip to them. If you want a cat that will keep you on your toes, a calico or tortie is the way to go.”

The UC Davis data also suggest that cats with gray and white, and black and white coats are slightly more likely to engage in those behaviors, a finding that surprised researchers. Cats sporting other colors, including solid black, gray and white, display aggressive personality characteristics significantly less frequently, according to the study, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

Calicos and torties have reputations for being feisty and unpredictable, characteristics that the study appears to confirm. Calicos are mostly white with patches of orange and black. Tortoiseshells have coats that feature a constellation of black, brown, amber and red patches. Because two X chromosomes are necessary to produce their coloring, the vast majority of both types of cats are female.

In the UC Davis survey, cat caretakers used a scale from 0 to 5 to assess the frequency of behaviors such as hissing and biting. A complex data analysis of answers to the survey found statistically significant differences between the frequency of such behaviors in “orange females” — including torties and calicoes — and most other cats, Stelow said. She said the research suggests that the same genetics that dictate coat color may play a role in aggression, but that more study needs to be done to explore that theory.