The orange tabby is one of the best-known and best-loved feline fur patterns. Warm, bright and immediately engaging, an orange cat’s coat is often the one that people picture when they imagine a domestic cat. Orange cats are everywhere in fiction, film and TV, from Tiger in An American Tale to Jim Davidson’s food-loving Garfield. From their stripey tails to their freckled noses, orange tabbies are handsome, lovable cats. Also known as red tabbies, marmalade cats or ginger cats, orange tabbies have a reputation for being more affectionate and cuddlesome than the average cat.
Why are orange tabby cats so affectionate? It’s not clear that there is any real link between a tabby fur pattern or orange colouration and greater levels of affection. Factors such as breed, socialisation and early de-sexing all contribute to a cat’s personality. Orange cats may seem more affectionate when compared to tortoiseshell or calico cats.
You’ve found this page because you have questions about orange tabbies. Maybe you have a particularly friendly orange cat and are wondering whether fur colour has anything to do with that winning personality. Perhaps you’re planning to adopt a new cat and you want to choose one with a friendly, affectionate character. Maybe you’ve just heard the rumour that orange cats are more affectionate and are curious to know more.
- Why are orange tabbies orange?
- Does fur colour really reflect temperament?
- How can you choose an affectionate, friendly pet?
Keep reading to find out more.
Why are orange tabby cats so affectionate?
The cat-loving world is fond of attributing personality types not just to breeds but to fur colours and patterns. Calicos are assumed to be playful and headstrong, tortoiseshell girls are regarded as temperamental, while orange tabbies are deemed to be cuddly and loving. Many owners will swear that their beloved Ginger or Marmalade is the most loving of all their cats.
A more useful question might be “why do people believe that orange tabbies are more affectionate than other cats?” Although popular and widely believed, these don’t really have a lot of empirical support. One study does show a higher level of aggression in calicos and torties. If a ginger cat and a tortie live in the same household, the other cat’s “tortitude” could theoretically throw an orange cat’s nature into relief. It may simply be that contact with torties makes gingers seem more friendly by contrast.
Socialisation is also a very important factor in the development of a cat’s personality. The more young kittens are played with and the more positive interactions they have, the more affectionate they are likely to be when they get bigger. It may be, therefore, that the orange cat’s reputation becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. On seeing a cute little orange kitten, people are drawn to play with and show affection to that particular individual. This leads to the kitten naturally becoming more trusting of humans and more fond of their company.
Another factor may be the gender imbalance in ginger cats. The gene for orange colouration is carried on the X chromosome. If a female cat only has the gene on one of her X chromosomes, the non-orange genes on the other X chromosome will prevent the orange colour from being expressed in her fur. Male cats with their XY chromosomes only need one copy of the gene. This means that there are more male cats with orange fur than female, with a ratio of about three to one. Popular cat-lore holds that female cats are more aloof and standoffish than males; as there are fewer female than male orange cats, people may subconsciously be reading their orange cat’s male-ness as friendliness.
In reality, there seems to be no real evidence to show that ginger cats are more affectionate than cats with other fur colours, although they may be less aggressive than tortoiseshells. The biggest factors in a cat’s personality are largely external. Kittens should be properly socialised and not be removed from their mothers too early. They should also be spayed or neutered as soon as possible (usually about eight weeks). Another factor is the cat’s living situation. Cats who feels safe and confident, who enjoy a range of activities in rich, cat-friendly environment, will be better-disposed to the people around them than cats who feel insecure, stressed or bored. Proper care will do far more to ensure a friendly personality than choosing a particular fur colour.
Is “orange tabby” a breed?
Orange tabby is a fur colouration and pattern. It is not a breed. Many different breeds can exhibit orange tabby fur. The only breeds who can’t are those where part of the breed specification is a particular fur colour which excludes ginger or a pattern other than tabby. You can find ginger cats in both short and long-haired breeds, with lots of variation between their colours and patterns. The most familiar type of orange tabby for most people is a finger domestic shorthair but I have met orange tabby Persians, orange tabby British Shorthairs, orange tabby Maine Coons and plenty of other breeds.
The most familiar type of orange colouring has dark orange stripes on a lighter orange ground. There are other variants, however. Light orange tabbies have apricot stripes on a cream-coloured ground. Cinnamon tabbies have dark reddish-orange or reddish-brown stripes on an orange or cream ground.
There are also various kinds of tabby pattern. Breed standards often specify a particular configuration of markings but there is a lot of variance in the way a tabby’s stripes can appear. Classic tabbies have marbled swirls of contrasting colour all over their bodies, often with a round bulls-eye mark on either flank. Mackerel tabbies have striking tiger-stripes of colour, with stripes running the length of their backs and down their flanks and legs. Spotted tabbies have striped facial markings and leopard-like spots all over their bodies. Many tabbies have a distinctive M-shaped mark on their foreheads and freckled nose leather.
Eye colour in orange tabbies varies. It can be green, blue, or shades of amber. Sometimes ginger cats have golden amber eyes that are nearly the same colour as the stripes on their fur, which can create an arresting effect.
How do I choose a friendly cat?
It’s not easy to to be certain of a cat’s disposition before you take her home and live with her for a while. One thing you can do is to choose an adult cat rather than a young kitten. When buying or adopting a kitten, it can be difficult to know exactly how that animal’s individual personality will develop. A reputable breeder will do everything possible to ensure that their kittens get a good start (neutering at an early age, ensuring that kittens aren’t taken from their mother until the age of at least 12 weeks, providing positive human contact and so on) but won’t be able to guarantee a particular type of character in the cat. If you pick up a kitten from a pet store or a backyard breeder, things are even less certain as you have no idea how the kitten was treated before you met her. Kitten mills, sadly, tend to produce troubled pets.
If you take on a mature cat, however, you’ll have a much better idea of the cat’s personality. Nothing is set in stone — I’ve seen shy or skittish cats relax over time once they’re placed in a loving home — but a mature cat is unlikely to develop aggressive or antisocial traits down the line. You can find cats in need of rehoming at your local shelter, where you should be able to meet adoptees beforehand to find out if you’ll get along with them. As well as letting you bring a known rather than unknown quantity into your home, adopting an adult cat also provides a loving, caring home for an animal who might otherwise not find one.
How can I get my cat to be more friendly?
You can help your cat to express more affection by ensuring that she feels safe and confident — both with her home and with you. Be aware that no matter what you do, some cats are simply more friendly than others.
It’s important to approach your cat the right way when initiating an interaction. If your cat is shy and nervous, make sure you speak in a low, calm tone around her and don’t get into her personal space without warning. If your cat is comfortable with physical contact, start by petting her head and neck before you begin stroking her whole body. Be careful when lifting a cat to cuddle her; not all cats enjoy being picked up. Try gently placing your hands under her chest and seeing how she responds. If she’s not keen, leave her where she is.
Don’t insist upon scooping your cat up and holding her on your lap. Many cat owners try this because they believe their pet will “get used” to being a lap cat this way; in fact, the opposite is often true. The cat will learn to associate physical contact with confinement and fear, making her more reluctant to be held in future.
If you do find your cat is less physically affectionate and cuddly than you’d like, pay attention to the ways that she does show you love. Cats may express affection in other ways than jumping into your lap or begging for pets. A cat may show that she loves you by following you from room to room, sitting nearby you when you’re at home, and waiting by the door to greet you when you get in. A sure sign of feline affection is when cats close their eyes while looking in your direction, indicating love and trust. Learn to value your cat for her individual character rather than insisting on dimsplays of affection that may not be in her nature.