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Tortoiseshell Cat

Tortoiseshell Color Pattern, Tortie Cat, Calico Cat

Tortoiseshell Cat, Tortoiseshell Color PatternPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Justin Brough
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A mixed breed.  Anonymous

Tortoiseshell Cats have a beautiful tapestry of wonderful interweaving colors!

The Tortoiseshell Cat is referred to as a Tri-Color cat, though in reality this is not quite true. The defining feature of the classic tortoiseshell coat pattern is its color combination. This combination looks like black, red, and cream colored hairs. Although it appears to be three colors, in reality it consists of black areas and orange tabby areas. Since the orange tabby areas are two-toned, it creates the appearance of a three-toned cat.

Tortoiseshell coat colors can include red, brown, chocolate toned brown, black, cinnamon, or cream. The tortoise shell pattern ranges form patches of color to a fine speckled patterning. The name "Tortoiseshell Cat" generally refers to those with an overall brindle coat, having very few or no white markings. They generally have numerous flecks of color that soften or nearly eliminate any clear boundaries between color sections.

The Tortie Cat is a interesting variation of the Tortoiseshell cat. These tortoiseshell color patterns have a mix of the tortoiseshell colors intertwined with a Tabby Cat patterning throughout. The Calico Cat, another very beautiful cat, is also a tortoiseshell. These are mostly white, but with red and brown patches. They differ from the Tortie Cat in that the colors are solid blocks, but like the Tortie, the coat pattern can also include blocks with tabby markings. Cats with these types of coat markings are called a Calico Cat in the United States and a Tortoiseshell and White Cat in the United Kingdom.

For more information on different types of cats, see:
Types of Cats and Cat Breeds

Tortoiseshell Cat History

The factual history of the tortoiseshell coat pattern is not a glamorous one. The tortoiseshell pattern simply arose due to a combination of genetic traits, which is discussed below. However, there is some folklore the Khmers of Southeast Asia offer one interesting explanation. According to their folklore, the first tortoiseshell arose from the menstrual blood of a young goddess born of a lotus flower during a magical ritual.

There is also other interesting folklore concerning the tortoiseshell include the following:

  • The Celts considered it a good omen if a male tortoiseshell stayed in their home.
  • The English believed that warts could be healed if rubbed by the tail of a male tortoiseshell's tail during May.
  • Japanese fishermen believed that male tortoiseshells protected the vessel from ghosts and storms.
  • Some others believed that having a tortoiseshell in one's dream gives that person luck in love.

Tortoiseshell Cat Genetics

Many people mistakenly believe that all Tortoiseshells are female. While most Tortoiseshells are female, it is possible to find a male with the tortoiseshell pattern.

Gender genetics of tortoiseshell Cats:

  • Female Tortoiseshell Cats
    The reason that most Tortoiseshells are female is because both of the genes that produce this pattern are contained on the same part of the X chromosome. The red gene must be on one X chromosome and the non-red gene on the other. Since typical females have two X chromosomes and typical males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, it is obvious why this pattern is rarely seen in males.
  • Male Tortoiseshell Cats
    Most males can only have the red gene or the non-red gene, but not both. The resulting product is a solid red tabby or a solid black cat, rather than the combination of the two that comprises the tortoiseshell pattern. However, as mentioned earlier, not all Tortoiseshells are female. This occurrence is made possible by the fact that some males have two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome (XXY).

The genetic difference that causes a male is rare, and is caused by a genetic error. It also results in a more feminine male cat. As a result, male Tortoiseshells are often less territorial or interested in females than typical males. They are also sterile. The rarity of the Tortoiseshell male may be the reason that so much folklore deeming them as good-luck charms exists.

Tortoiseshell Cat Markings

Tortoiseshell cat marking can range from color patches to fine color speckles. Coat colors can include red, black, dark and/or chocolate browns, cream and cinnamon. The term Tortoiseshell Cat is most commonly used to reference the tortoiseshell pattern that is an overall brindle coat with very few or no white markings. It has many flecks of color that effectively soften or nearly eliminate any clear boundaries between color patches. There are several basic variations of the tortoiseshell coat pattern that can be described as follows:

Tortoiseshell color pattern - without white markings:

  • Tortie Cat
    The Tortie is a combination of the tortoiseshell and tabby coat patterns. Torties have random patches of red, black, and cream. In this variation, the black sections are replaced by a dark tabby pattern and the patches can be mingled or more distinct. Another name used to describe this tortoiseshell color pattern is Tortie-tabby Cat.
  • Dilute Tortie Cat
    Blue Torties are randomly patched in blue and cream, giving them a more pastel coloration. Other names for this color pattern are Blue-cream Tortie and Blue Tortie.
  • Brown Patched Tabby, also known as the Torbie Cat
    This type of tortoiseshell has the tabby pattern in patches of brown and red.
  • Blue Patched Tabby
    Similar to the Blue Tortie, the Blue Patched Tabby has patches that are blue and cream but with the tabby pattern..

Tortoiseshell pattern - with white markings:

  • Calico Cat
    The Calico Cat is essentially is a tortoiseshell coat pattern with added white sections. They are white, but with red and brown patches. They differ from the Tortie Cat in that the black patches are solid, but like the Tortie, the coat pattern can also include tabby markings in the red patches. These types of cats are called the Tortoiseshell and White Cat in the United Kingdom and Calico Cat in the United States.
  • Dilute Calico Cat
    Like the Calico, the Dilute Calico is mostly white, but with colored patches of blue and cream. The blue patches are solid while the cream patches have the tabby markings.
  • Caliby Cat
    This version has a large amount of white but with larger distinct patches of color. Other names for this color pattern are Patterned Calico Cat, Calico Tabby Cat, Torbie and White Cat, Patched Tabby and White Cat

Tortoiseshell color pattern names:

The tortoiseshell pattern comes in many different color combinations... described by as many different names. These names include:: Blue Tortoiseshell, Chestnut Tortoiseshell, Chinchilla Shaded Tortoiseshell, Chocolate Tortoiseshell, Chocolate Tortoiseshell Point, Chocolate Tortoiseshell Lynx Point, Chocolate Tortoiseshell Shaded, Chocolate Tortoiseshell Smoke, Cinnamon Tortoiseshell, Cinnamon Tortoiseshell Smoke, Dilute Tortoiseshell, Dilute Chinchilla Shaded Tortoiseshell, Dilute Shaded Tortoiseshell, Ebony Tortoiseshell, Lilac Tortoiseshell, Seal Tortoiseshell, Shaded Tortoiseshell, Shell Tortoiseshell, Smoke Tortoiseshell, Tortoiseshell Point, Tortoiseshell Lynx Point, and Tortoiseshell and White (Calico).

Tortoiseshell Color Pattern Cat Breeds

Though the Tortoiseshell Cat is often mistaken as a breed, it is not a breed, but a coat pattern. However, the Tortoiseshell coat markings are accepted in many different breeds.

Domestic cat breeds that can exhibit tortoiseshell coat markings include:

Exotic Cats, those that are wild cat species, are not generally described with a tortoiseshell coat pattern. There is one exception suggested in early piece of literature entitled "A Tortoise-shell Wild Cat" by William H. Ballou, 1897. The Tortoiseshell Wildcat Felis Bracatta was said to inhabit the jungles of southern Brazil, but today there is no living example of this species.


Author: Ruth Bratcher
Lastest Animal Stories on Tortoise Shell Cats

Anonymous - 2014-09-03
A mixed breed.

Dawn - 2013-07-21
My princess is named Maya but she answers to Mooshoo, Meena, Moomoo and any other M baby name I say. She was a year when we found her, scraggly, skinny stray. As I type she's curled under my arm. She's very protective of me. She's very moody and never talks unless I'm not home and squeaks when you pick her up. Everyone says she's the softest cat they've ever felt, and that's cause she's such a little clean freak. She loves me and I her. Couldn't live a day without my princess and her silly antics!

Lindust - 2014-06-11
We had a tortoiseshell cat Cali, she was 14 years old. We loved her sooo much and miss her a lot. I found her inside the grill of a jeep meowing for help on 6/2000 in a business parking lot where I worked. I rescued her and she was 9 weeks old. Cali had a ripped up chin and a virus in one eye which left her blind. We got her med help and she was good as new. We cherished her and she was grateful for her second chance in life. With time slipping by among the other cats we have ,Cali was 14 years old before we knew it. She'll always be my baby girl...she was feisty and independent but got along with our other cats. We enjoyed our tortoiseshell cat..she was a blessing to our life. till recently she had a tumor that couldn't be cured and within 2 months she had to say good bye. It was the hardest thing to have to go through at the vet that day. We are still sad but hope she had crossed the rainbow bridge...we love her so. Enjoy the moments with your kitties...time passes so fast with our pets. We would treasure our Cali and the memories forever. If only their lives were longer.......

  • Anonymous - 2014-07-04
    Losing a pet is just as bad as losing a child. They become a part of your damily too. I hope time can heal your pain. Xoxo amber
Blueyes - 2013-10-26
I also have a wonderful rescue tortie. Her name is Lacey, she is now 3 and so playful. She runs back and forth in the hallways. Plays fetch by herself and will run up the walls in the hallway. I can not imagine my time without her daily 'craziness'. Love this little girl.

Kimberly - 2013-03-10
I have a Tortie from a rescue shelter, maybe 3 years old. She has taken to me quite well and has no desire to explore the apartment. She has claimed a fake fur blanket as 'her space' at the foot of my bed. She tries to be vocal with me as if we have our own private conversations. She used her food dishes and litter box without incident until we added another rescue cat to our family. She refuses to eat out of the same dishes or use the same litter box anymore, she won't even leave her blanket or her bed, growls, hisses and postures towards the happy go lucky kitty (less than a year old). Anyone know if this is the way it's going to be or if time might smooth things out? My Tortie, black and variegated tan, named Peka, seems rather possessive of me and behaves as a no nonsense, 'I Own the left side of the bed and my person'. I know a lot of this is still primary posturing as Peka has been here a month and the silly kitty has been here only a few days...they are both female, Peka is spayed and comes from a violent history, I'm sure trust will take time. Any advice out there?

  • Jasmine Brough Hinesley - 2013-03-10
    I have had so many cats and introduced so many cats of different ages to each other. I would definitely say give it some time. As your one cat is an adult, she may need more time to become 'friends' or at the very least tolerate your new, younger cat. Sometimes they will become best of friends and start hanging out together. I would guess that your worst case scenario would be that they may not be friends, but they will probably learn to live with each other from a distance. I would give them separate food, water and litter boxes so that they feel like they have their own space. And see how things go from there.
  • diane - 2013-06-27
    Hi, I too adopted a tortie from a shelter, 4 yrs old, and she acclimated very quickly. She is very vocal (in a talkative way) so I named her squeaks. I also adopted another kitty, 1 yr tabby, that we picked up a week later because she was getting spayed. Squeaks does not get along with tabby kitty and attacks whenever she sees her. Although we have only had both for 2-3 weeks, I have been finding it difficult to figure out what to do as the tabby will hide for an entire day unless I find her. What I am trying now is keeping Squeaks in my room during the day and let the tabby roam the house to bond and get used to her new home without the fear of attack. I let Squeaks out at 5pm until bed and keep the tabby in the tv room with the door closed. I have not had any luck finding good info inline except the dreaded spray bottle when she attacks. I hope things change too as both kitties are great. Squeaks is such a love and very affectionate so I don't know why she has to attack the other kitty.
  • Shakespeare - 2013-10-03
    Just got a female tortie from rescue at pet smart. Her name is Juliet.. Juls for short..was told they don't get along with other cats which is cool for me because I live in an apt and it's just her and I. She is very affectionate.. Always in my lap.. On my bed.. A real joy I keep her litter clean and use pro plan cat food which she likes... Every once in a while then as a treat I will give her moist cat food.. Mayb once a week like Sunday. Also I love her color.. Very different
  • Stuart - 2014-01-17
    Mine is a question. We have a gray/black striped kitten and we're going to look at a tortie kitten at the shelter. My question is are tortie's difficult around other cats. I love my striped kitten and she needs a buddy and this tortie is female and after reading all of yall's comments I'm rethinking that maybe I should stay away from this type of breed. We're redoing a old Victorian house and I don't need a cat who thinks she owns the place and starts creating havoc everywhere and then doesn't want to be friends with our kitten. Can someone comment if things got better?
  • Meha Valdez - 2014-01-26
    Both of my kittens were freaks before I adopted them. My first one is a pure black that I rescued along with his two brothers that later became adopted. Onyx without his brothers became very needy and lonely and one day at Petsmart I saw Giselle. A beautiful tortie around the same age. I fell in love and brought her home. (They were both 4 months old.) At first she was very afraid always hiding hissing and fighting whenever Onyx tried to play. But Onyx wanted a friend so he never gave up on her and within about 2 weeks they were best friends. Its taken her much longer to get accustomed to humans then our cat. But now after about a month and a half she sleeps on my bed and forces physical attention. So yes there are good endings!!!

  • Meha Valdez - 2014-01-26
    Feral not freak*
  • Anonymous - 2014-07-04
    Not a lot of people want to deal with feral cats so I think it's wonderful you gave them a chance. I used to have a feral cat and loved him just as much as the other one. I wouldn't have my tortie now if I hadn't found her starving and only 6 weeks old. Now I don't know what I would ever do without her.
Beth - 2011-06-17
I have a tortie named Annie. She's 8 years old and has been a whacko ever since we brought her home. She licks our walls and magazine covers; she brings socks and other small soft items downstairs, growling as she comes down the steps. She will not sit still at all (definitely ADHD); but most of all she "likes" to leave us pools of pee and piles of poo, for no obvious reason. It's extremely annoying but she is so darn cute, that we just clean it up and move on. Any suggestions about the peeing and pooping?

  • Charlie Roche - 2011-06-17
    To the best of my knowledge you can't housebreak a tortoise. The only thing I can think of is to place some of the poop and pee on a newspaper and see if the scent will attract her to at least go in the same place on paper. I don't believe you can "train" them. However, yours sounds like a lot of fun so why worry.
  • Meg - 2011-06-19
    A very sick, young torti, Mollie, wondered into our backyard. My old cat had died several months ago and I felt this little thing was sent from him. After much struggling with my husband, I was a mess after the passing of our cat, KC, she came onto the porch. She immediately used the kitty litter and has ever since. We had all her problems taken care of and there were many. She is a healthy, active part of our family. She has made one trip (8 hours) not very pleasant but will make the trip again. So far, "potty" problems have not been an issue. We love her and thank heaven each day.
  • kathy - 2011-06-27
    We have a small tortoiseshell cat who is 1 turning 2 in October. She was a stray kitten born on a farm by a feril cat. We took her in and her brother when their mum left them. All of ours will use the litter box but sometimes if its not cleaned straight away or quick enough they will start going on the floor next to it. Try litter trey, news papper, puppy pee pads or even cat sprey to spray where she goes so she won't do it there again.
  • Tarrah - 2011-07-02
    Pee/Poo issues are often due to location and amount of litter pans. If Annie is an only cat, have two litter pans in quiet and accessible locations. If you have other cats also, then have at least one litter pan per cat plus one extra. Clean litter several times a day. Our pans are in the bathrooms and we clean them whenever we use the BR (we like litter that is flushable). We recently adopted a tortie mom cat and three kittens we found on vacation. They are all doing well, no litter box issues, which suprised me as they were outdoor cats. We love the tortie moms personality. Since Annie is so active be sure to have a tall climbing platform for her - she'll love it and you'll be entertained. We've adopted siamese rescue cats and their website has good info regarding cats in general. Good luck!
  • Marie - 2012-04-27
    Next time you catch her scold her and put her in her carrier for 30 minutes. Do not let her out tell her she did wrong. They are smart cats but we have to be smarter. Do it every time she does it. She will learn that if she dirties the house she is in there.
  • sally - 2012-04-30
    Sounds more like your cat is stressed. I have a torite cat and she is litter trained (though she is going out now so there's no need for it) and does not display the behaviour yours does. I would advise either going to the vets or a cheaper way to help your kittie is to buy a feliway plug and spray it will help calm her down so that you can try and find out what the problem is. tortie cats are known for their strange behaviour ours does bring socks downstairs but she's playfull and not growling when she does it. hope this helps
  • roxie - 2012-05-19
    Start cleaning your litter box more often and keep more depth in your box for a start. It's better than cleaning the boo boos off the floor. I have a 10 yr old tortie and she prefers a clean deep litter box. Just an idea of past experiences. Good Luck! roxie
  • Rebecca - 2012-06-08
    I agree with Roxie. My tortie, Ms. Hekitty (named for the Goddess 'Hecate'), is fastidious about using her litter box. However, she insists that it be cleaned twice a day, or 'notes' about my failure are left on the bath mat. She is also VERY picky about what litter she will sully her pristine paws with, so you might have to change the litter you are using. Hekitty wants very fine grained, scoopable litter with no artificial scents at all. I've found a good natural, corn based one that she adores...possibly because it matches the orange in her coat and looks stylish as she attends to her business. But you are right about one thing, Beth...they are ALL psychotic little furballs. There's a saying among tortie caretakers, 'the tortie stink-eye.' And they are all loaded with tortitude and fursonality!
  • Joy - 2012-11-12
    We adopted a shelter Tortie, and we named her Toostsie (looks like a tootsie roll).  She has claimed each of our shelter mutt's beds, ignores her own, BUT allows Jackpot to sleep WITH her occaisionally. When my grown kids's dogs visit, she is front and center, and has them all trained to leave her alone, just by staring them down. She takes road trips with us, and uses her litter box on the car floor when she needs to go! She is very playful and affectionate, and responds like a dog when we call her. Absolutely love this cat!!!!!!! She likes me alot, but head butts my husband, and kisses him while we watch tv. Needless to say, we hit another 'jackpot'! If you adopt cats, you can see their true personality, and see if they are a good match for you.
  • Stacy - 2013-01-27
    If she has been declawed, her paws maybe sensitive even years later. Litter maybe hurting her. The finer litter is good for cats with sensitive paws. Sometimes just changing the litter type makes a huge difference.
  • CHRIS - 2013-08-22
    Maybe your tortie needs privacy? Our tortie, Mica, likes hers, so we got her a Clevercat Top Entry Litterbox (Look at She seems to like jumping down inside, doing her business, then coming out. No mess on the floor, other than the occasional crystal grains that comes out on her paws. It was not the first bin we had, but it's the best one so far. The first bin, a different brand, leaked like crazy as Mica would pee high onto the wall of the first bin, and it leaked out. Phew! The Clevercat bin solved all of our kitty pee-poop issues. Get the liners and deodorizing powder. We also use the large crystal cat litter that can go down the toilet (in small amounts; we always throw the entire bag away into the garbage). Crystals are extremely clean and last about two weeks before a change is needed.

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