Feline Redheads: What Makes Ginger Cats So Unique?

By December 16, 2022 January 13th, 2023 Pet Behaviour, Pet Health, Pet Parenting
Ginger-cat-relaxing-at-home

Introduction: Gimme Some Ginger Cat Love!

Ginger cats are hard to miss. Also called red, orange, orange tabby, marmalade, tiger-cat and cinnamon, this distinctive feline can certainly strike a charismatic pose.

From 9Lives Morris to Garfield to Puss in Boots, ginger cats are some of the most celebrated felines in television and film. However, there’s more to them that meets the eye. Gingers possess personalities that are as strong-willed and sincere as their stunning coat coloring.

As pop culture phenoms, we’ve taken this opportunity to discover as much as possible about them, leading us to two important – and, dare we say – provocative questions.

What makes ginger cats so special? Are ginger cats the best cats?

What Breed of Feline are Ginger Cats?

Ginger cats are not a specific breed, but rather refers to the colour of their fur. In fact, all ginger cats are tabbies. But not all tabbies are gingers. Tabbies are also not a specific breed, but a coat type. Confused yet?

Just like tabbies, ginger cats can be found in various distinct breeds, from Bengals, Savannahs, Maine Coon and Persians, all the way to your standard Domestic Shorthair (aka. mutts of the cat world).

All ginger cats – and tabbies – have the ‘agouti’ gene, meaning that this gene determines the coloration, length, pattern and texture of a cat’s fur, typically resulting in stripes, swirls or tiger-like markings. Another distinguishing feature in tabby/ginger cats is a unique ‘M’ pattern on their forehead.

What Makes Ginger Cats So Unique? | 6 Fun Facts

1. PERSONALITY PLUS: GINGER CAT STEREOTYPES AND TEMPERAMENT

Do ginger cats have a ‘fiery’ disposition? Many believe that because of their red/orange coats, they tend to have a spirited, feisty nature. Fortunately, this stereotype isn’t true – vibrant coat colours tell us little, if anything, about a cat’s temperament. As mentioned earlier, Felines are more likely to take their behavioural traits from their breed, parents and/or life experiences, rather than the colour of their fur.

“Velcro” cats?

Gingers are generally known for their super-chill and loving purr-sonalities – yep, you read that right – and are often described as ‘velcro’ cats. You know, because they like to closely attach themselves to humans…the Bengal and Siamese breeds are good examples. This could be a good thing, but if they’re being too clingy, there could be an underlying condition that needs to be addressed. Gingers can be quite demonstrative, nudging their body against their favourite human and making their belly available for a solid scratch session.

2. VOCAL CALISTHENICS: GINGER CATS LOVE TO CHAT

From pet parent surveys to veterinarians, the results are in: ginger cats – by a large margin – are the most prolific communicators in the domestic feline world. Although we don’t always know what they want, anyone who has spent any significant time with gingers describe them as very chatty.

While other cats may express themselves only when they need to be fed, are annoyed or want to go outside, ginger cats appear to use their voice for their own pleasure! This makes for a great companion. Their expressive – and frequent – vocal stylings include an assortment of sounds like chirping, meowing, trilling and purring.

3. FELINE FRECKLES: GINGER CAT BEAUTY MARKS

Cats develop freckles, just like their human counterparts but for a different reason. In ginger cats, black freckles are a feature, not a bug. Around two years of age, orange cats develop their trademark freckles on their noses and mouths.

Freckles are usually caused by lentigo, a generally non-threatening genetic condition that increases the number of pigment-producing cells containing melanin in a cat’s body. This increase in melanin produces the darker shade of the freckles. Since lentigo is associated with the gene that makes hair red, freckles are most commonly seen in ginger cats, calicos, and tortoiseshells with orange colour patterns.

4. FUR PATTERNS: ‘M’ MARKS THE SPOT + UNIQUE COAT DESIGNS

If you look closely enough, you’ll see that ginger cats display a very distinguishing feature – a large ‘M’ on their forehead.

How that ‘M’ came to be has become the of stuff of myth and legend, with assertions that its origin was attributed to the Virgin Mary in early Christianity, the ancient Egyptian tradition of “Mau” and to the creator of Islam, the Prophet Mohammad.

However, there is a much simpler, scientific reason that ginger cats express this feature: it’s part of their DNA. The ‘M’ marking is embedded in the same ‘agouti’ gene that gives them their tabby pattern. All ginger cats show the tabby pattern, and the tabby pattern itself is the result of three types of genes that can be found in all felines, including domestic cats, tigers and leopards.

The goal? To help camouflage them from prey when hunting.

As for their coat colour, a ‘ginger’ gene is responsible for producing a red pigment, called pheomelanin. This is the same pigment that also causes red hair in humans.

There are 5 different variations of tabby cat markings in ginger cats:

  • Classic: Covered in a swirling pattern of varying shades of red/orange/brown, the classic tabby is one of the most recognizable ginger cats. These gingers have a pattern that looks like a bullseye on the sides of their bodies, much like a marble cake.
  • Mackerel: this is the most common coat pattern – it produces stripes, not unlike you would find in their larger tiger brethren. These stripes branch out from a band of red color that runs along the cats back, giving it the appearance of a fish skeleton – hence the name ‘mackerel’.
  • Spotted: While most ginger colourations are comprised of stripes, the spotted tabby is covered in spots of varying size, colour and shape on their coat. Bengal cat breeds typically exhibit this coat pattern.
  • Ticked: From a distance, these cats can appear to have a single, uniform colour – ginger. Ticked orange tabbies are unique in that they don’t normally show discernible stripes or spots on their bodies, with the exception of faint markings on the tail and legs. Instead, their underlying fur is comprised of agouti hairs which can exhibit bands of pigmentation.
  • Patched: The patched tabby is also known as the bi-color tabby. These colour ‘patches’ can be dark or grayish brown with variations of red or orange within the tabby pattern. They are often referred to as Tortoiseshell tabbies because the brown and orange spots mimic those seen on the shell of a tortoise.

5. MICE BEWARE: GINGER CATS MAY HAVE A HIGHER PREY DRIVE

Are certain physical characteristics of cats – such as coat colour – associated with specific behaviors? A 2016 study came up with some interesting findings.

Although they determined that most behaviours seemed to follow breed standards rather than coat types, they did see some associations separate from breeds. Their results suggested that cats with the ‘agouti’ gene display increased aggression and interest in prey.

What does this mean? Your orange feline friend may feel the urge to stalk and hunt more than other breeds. Good news for those who need to keep the mice at bay!

6. SEX DISPARITY: WHY MOST GINGER CATS ARE MALE

Nearly 80% of ginger cats are male.

That’s a big difference. Why?

We won’t get too deep into the intricacies of feline genetics, however the ‘ginger’ gene which produces the red/orange colouring is on the X chromosome. A female cat has two X chromosomes and needs to inherit two copies of this gene from each parent to become a ginger. Since females inherit two X chromosomes, it is possible for them to inherit more than one dominant color gene, forming the coat patterns known as calico and tortoiseshell. Interestingly, more than 99% of tortoiseshell cats are female.

A male feline only requires a single copy of the X chromosome from the mother. This is why there are approximately three to four times more male ginger cats than female gingers.

Famous Ginger Cats Portrayed in TV, Movies and Comic Strips

There have been many high-profile and iconic ginger cat characters portrayed in television, film and print over the years. This has probably helped shape the deep attachment and love many have towards ginger cats, complementing their super chill nature.

7 FAMOUS GINGER CAT CHARACTERS:

1. Garfield: First appearing in 1978, Garfield is a lasagna-loving, comic strip character created by Jim Davis. This famous ginger – belonging to fictional pet parent Jon Arbuckle – spends his days terrorizing the family dog, Odie. This cartoon is the most widely syndicated comic strip in history and spawned two movies, with a 3rd in the works.

2.  Jones (aka. Jonesy): This ginger tomcat was a resident aboard the interstellar cruiser USCSS Nostromo in the classic 1979 sci-fi/horror film, “Alien”. SPOILER ALERT: Jonesy was the only survivor with Ripley in the original Alien movie.

3. Puss in Boots: Seen first in the movie “Shrek 2”, Puss in Boots quickly became a central character in the Shrek franchise, even spawning his own movie.

Weird Trivia: When Puss in Boots first meets Shrek (1:00), he gets into Shrek’s clothes and bursts through his shirt, perhaps referencing the iconic, chest-bursting scene in the sci-fi/horror film Alien.

4. Crookshanks from ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”: Hermione adopted this ginger Himalayan from the Magical Menagerie. Half-Kneazle and highly independent, Crookshanks had the mystical ability to identify untrustworthy people.

5. Orangey Minerva (‘Cat’) from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: Film-goers and Audrey Hepburn fans were none too pleased when Hepburn’s character, Holly Golightly failed to give her ginger cat – “poor slob without a name” – a proper title, as well as deserting him in an alley (1:47) ! Don’t worry, it has a heart-warming ending. (5:03)

Tissue Alert!

6. Bob the Cat: The film – A Street Cat Named Bob – is a biographical true story of a ginger cat (0:41) who helped former heroin addict James Bowen survive on the streets as he attempts to attain a better life. It was named the Best British film of 2017.

Another tissue, please…sniff

7. Morris: The spokes-cat for the 9 Lives cat food brand went from being a shelter cat to a cultural icon in the 70s and 80s. “I’d walk the plank for 9 Lives”!

Conclusion

Are ginger cats the best cats? Those who agree are passionate about their orange tabbies and, if necessary, will fight you. They offer many desirable traits that can even turn non-cat people into cat lovers.

We won’t wander into this debate. Suffice it to say, all cat breeds hold a special place in our hearts and your current kitty companion will always be your favourite.

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