The Ragdoll is marketed by breeders as having a docile, calm and floppy nature with claims that these characteristics have been passed down from the Persian and Birman breeds. Opinions vary as to whether this trait might be the result of genetic mutation. The extreme docility of some individuals has led to the myth that Ragdolls are pain-resistant. Some breeders in Britain have tried to breed away from the limpness due to concerns that extreme docility "might not be in the best interests of the cat".
Pseudo-scientific marketing by breeders' associations makes some extravagant claims, for example that the Ragdolls behaviour is atypical and unique to their breed, that the aforementioned limpness can lead to situations where ragdolls will sleep on top of each other, (in the manner of any other domestic cat) stacked up like magazines, as well as where they will merely still lie down even when pushed accidentally along the floor (again, in the manner of any other domestic cat). Breed standard marketing and publicity material describe the Ragdoll as affectionate, intelligent, relaxed in temperament, gentle, and an easy to handle lap cat, (not inconsistent with universal domestic cat behaviour).The animals are often known as "puppy cats", "dog-like cats", "cat-dogs" et cetera due to their placid nature and affectionate behavior, with the cats often following owners from room to room as well as seeking physical affection akin to certain dog breeds. Ragdolls can be trained to retrieve toys and enjoy doing so.
The Ragdoll is one of the largest domesticated cat breeds with a sturdy body, large frame, and proportionate legs. A fully-grown female weighs from 8 to 15 pounds (3.6 to 6.8 kg). Males are substantially larger, ranging from 12 to 20 pounds (5.4 to 9.1 kg) or more. The genes for point coloration are also responsible for the blue eyes of the Ragdoll. More intense shades of blue are favored in cat shows. Although the breed has a plush coat, it consists mainly of long guard hairs, while the lack of a dense undercoat results in, according to the Cat Fanciers' Association, "reduced shedding and matting". Mitted Ragdolls, which weren't allowed titling in CFA until the 2008-2009 show season, are often confused with Birmans. The easiest way to tell the difference is by size (the Ragdoll being obviously larger) and chin color (Mitted Ragdolls have white chins, while Birmans have colored chins), although breeders recognize the two by head shape and boning.
Ragdolls come in 6 different colors: red, seal, chocolate and the corresponding "dilutes", including blue, lilac, and cream. This also includes the tortoiseshell pattern in all colors and the three patterns. "Traditional" Ragdoll kittens are born white; they have good color at 8 – 10 weeks and full color and coat at 3 – 4 years. The four different patterns are:
- Pointed – One color darkening at the extremities (nose, ears, tail, and paws).
- Mitted – Same as pointed, but with white paws and abdomen. With or without a blaze (a white line or spot on the face), but must have a "belly stripe" (white stripe that runs from the chin to the genitals) and a white chin.
- High Mitted Bicolor–Same as mitted, with white paws, chest and abdomen. White V mark on the face. The color can be blue, seal, red, chocolate, and cream.
- Bicolor – White legs, white inverted V on the face, white abdomen and sometimes white patches on the back. (Excessive amounts of white, or "high white", on a bicolor is known as the Van pattern, although this doesn't occur nearly as often as the other patterns.)
- Lynx – A variant of the above type having tabby markings.
One study utilizing Swedish insurance data showed that of the common cat breeds, the Ragdoll and Siamese have the lowest survival rate, with 63% living to 10 years or more for the Ragdoll and 68% for the Siamese. This study indicates the Ragdoll may have a significantly higher number of cats that die of urinary problems, mainly from kidney/ureter issues, but also partly from lower urinary issues. Whether this is an issue outside of Finland, Sweden, or Denmark is unclear.
Background inbreeding is severe, around 40%, due to the very limited number of foundation cats. Around 45% of the genes come from only one founder, Ann Baker.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a common heart disease in all cats, and is most commonly genetic in cause. The disease causes thickening of the heart wall, which makes the heart pump less efficiently. It can, in some instances, lead to sudden death. In Ragdolls homozygous positive for the disease (having two copies of the HCM gene), the condition can present early (as young as six months) and tends to be severe, with most cats dying by age 3. Heterozygous (one copy of HCM gene) cats tend to have later onset and slower progression of the disease with less severe impact. A DNA test was developed in 2007 to identify the gene that causes HCM in Ragdolls. Breeding only from Ragdolls that are free from this gene (homozygous negative) will ensure that they will not develop the form of HCM associated with it. The allelic frequencies of the Ragdoll HCM mutation R820W were 0.17 in cats from Italy and 0.23 in cats from the USA in 2013. This reference states that the R820W prevalence is 30% in UK. The HCM prevalence was found to be 2.9% (95% CI 2.7 -8.6% ) in this study.