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The Color of a Cat

Mindy Norton

Our very first cat, Heidi, was a tortoiseshell kitten.  We thought she was beautiful, and so unique!  The first time we saw another tortoiseshell cat in someone's yard, we were surprised to see a feline that looked just like our pet!  The tortoiseshell coloring is so named because their coat resembles, well,  the shell of a tortoise.  Keep in mind that tortoiseshells can be found in a variety of cat breeds, so their size and personality can vary greatly.  Our current pet, pictured here, is a tortoiseshell named Gypsy.  She is a sweetheart!


Can the color of a cat’s coat indicate its personality? Most experts think that color by itself does not really affect a feline’s behavior or attitude, but it may affect ours. For example, many people see a white cat as calm, and a black cat as aggressive - or a gray tabby as average or ordinary, and a tortoiseshell as intelligent. But - I have had a sweet, gentle black cat, and a smart gray tabby cat.

I admit I am partial to Calico cats, and especially to Tortoiseshells. Calicos are usually tri-colored cats, with patches of black, orange and white. Torties are a distinctive brindle mix of black, brown and orange. Most tortoiseshell cats are born of a calico litter. And the great majority of calicos and tortoiseshells are female. It all has to do with chromosomes.

Normally, female mammals have two ‘X’ chromosomes, while males have one ‘X’ and one ‘Y’. To have the tri-color mix, a cat must have two ‘X’ chromosomes, meaning the animal is probably female. There are male calico cats – they have one ‘Y’ chromosome along with two ‘X’ chromosomes. That rare combination makes them sterile and may also shorten their life expectancy.

Whether you’re talking about a traditional one-color cat or a multi-color like tortoiseshell or calico, remember you’re talking only about its coat color and not its breed. The tortoiseshell coat pattern can be found in a number of shorthair cats as well as breeds like the Maine Coon Cat.

Our current cat, Gypsy, is a tortoiseshell. She has a great personality, and loves to play. Some folks think tri-color cats have what’s called Tortitude, an attitude unique to Tortoiseshell cats, but ours is a sweetheart.

June is Adopt A Cat Month, a good time to visit your local animal shelter or rescue group, and find the just right cat for you. Look for one with a personality you like – whatever its color - then adopt your new feline friend, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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