Is “Orange Cat Behavior” Real? · The Wildest

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Is “Orange Cat Behavior” Real?

Your TikTok algorithm would like you to think so, but the experts weigh in.

by Charles Manning
Updated January 19, 2024
A cute orange tabby kitten playing with feathers.
Melanie DeFazio / Stocksy

If you’re a cat lover — and you’re here, reading this article, so it feels pretty safe to assume that you are — you may have recently noticed your algorithm going extra hard on a specific type of cat content, i.e. orange cat content. Even more specifically, orange cat behavior.

Although exactly what that is can be hard to pin down, based on the videos racking up millions of views on TikTok these days, orange cat behavior is generally endearing, often derpy, occasionally spicy, and, at times, completely and utterly banal. And, in typical human fashion, everyone posting or engaging with such content seems to have a different definition of exactly what it is and feel very strongly that their definition is the right one. 

Having grown up with an orange cat and recently fostered an orange cat, my definition of “orange cat behavior,” were I to have one, would most likely be distant, stoic, independent, and proud — and maybe a little ferocious. My mother’s cat, Sophie, was a lovely orange tabby, and she and I never got along when I was a kid. I resented her aloofness, and she was not above making me bleed if I cornered her.

As for my foster, Mufasa, well, three days into our association, he ripped a six-inch gash in my wrist when I tried to pick him up. Not his fault, of course; he was my first foster and I got cocky. He also broke a vase, knocked a 40-pound mirror off the wall, scratched the surface of my dining table, and ripped my pants. It was a very eventful 10 seconds. 

But, given that Sophie and Mufasa were both feral before they came into my life, attributing their behavior to their orange-ness feels like a stretch. After all, causation and correlation are not the same thing. While I might prefer the story that their shared hostility toward me was caused by the color of their fur, as opposed to their time on the streets or my own behavior, that doesn’t make it true. 

The facts: Does being orange really influence cat behavior?

The fact is, at least according to science, there is no such thing as orange cat behavior. “To date, no studies have shown any impact of coat color on personality in cats,” veterinary behaviorist Dr. Mikel Delgado tells The Wildest. “There are survey-based studies that demonstrate that humans might think there are differences in cat behavior or personality based on coat color, however, no studies to date have found a relationship between coat color and behavior by actually testing cats.” The one study she is aware of, found no differences in behavior (shyness, activity, friendliness to a new person, etc.) between cats with orange coats and other coat colors.

Of course, there are numerous studies that draw links between cat breeds and certain personality traits. However, analysis of these studies have found their conclusions are often flimsy at best, relying as they do on small data sets or people’s reported observations of their own cats’ behaviors. The problem with this kind of survey-based research is that every human participant will perceive traits like friendliness, aggression, or shyness differently. Those same people are also more likely to note and report the traits that already fit the narrative they have for their cats and disregard or downplay the ones that don’t. 

It’s more about cat parents than the actual cats.

“If anything, [the orange cat behavior phenomenon] is a great example of how good people are at finding patterns where they don’t actually exist,” cat behaviorist Kristiina Wilson tells The Wildest. “They hear or decide that orange cats act a certain way and when they do, the person makes note of it. But all the times they don’t act that way, their brains don’t really file the information away.”

Whether orange cat behavior is real or not, believing in it certainly doesn’t do any harm, though. Or does it? After all, when you accept as fact that orange cats behave a certain way because they are orange, you are using the same flawed logic as people who insist that black cats are somehow mean or aloof because they are black. Stereotypes cut both ways, and believing in one makes it easier to believe in another. 

Cat coat color does relate to the sex of the cat.

It is also worth noting that approximately 80 percent of orange cats are male. “This is because the gene for orange fur is sex-linked and only on the x-chromosome,” Dr. Delgado explains. “Females have two X chromosomes (XX), while males only have one (XY).” This means males only need to inherit the orange fur gene from one parent in order to be fully orange, while females need to inherit it from both; otherwise they will be born calico or tortoiseshell. And while orange cats are overwhelmingly male, calico and tortoiseshell cats are overwhelmingly female, according to research.

This is especially interesting when you look at the difference in the use of the term “tortitude” online, versus “orange cat behavior.” While orange cats, who are usually male, are often characterized as silly and lovable, tortoiseshell cats, who are almost always female, are often framed as being sort of standoffish.

“I think there is a sort of sexism from the jump about the way we perceive these animals,” Wilson says. This is not to say that the people participating in the proliferation of these terms online are being sexist, or that calico parents adore their cats any less than orange cat parents do. But it is always worth examining the ways our understanding of the world around us might be influenced by biases, whether we are conscious of them or not.

All this is to say that the way we perceive our cats (not to mention the rest of the world) often says more about us than it does about them. And the fact is that all cats, under the right circumstances, can be derpy or sly, standoffish or snuggly, no matter their color, sex, or breed. 


Charles Manning

Charles Manning is an actor, writer, and fashion/media consultant living in New York City with his two cats, Pumpkin and Bear. Follow him on Instagram @charlesemanning.

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