What is a “tortoiseshell” cat?

Some cats have an atypical coat that is compared to the scales of turtles. Discover everything you always wanted to know about these special cats.

Perhaps you have already come across a cat “tortoise shell” ? Contrary to popular belief, this expression designates a dress and not a race. Do you know why tortoiseshell cats are always female? Do you know the color variations of the dress?

What is a tortoiseshell cat?

A cat says “tortoiseshell”, or “tortoiseshellin English, has a very particular coat. We are therefore not talking about a breed like the Abyssinian, the Chartreux or the Maine coon, but a dress. And its variations are numerous!

We can first identify different patterns such as speckles (natural spots) more or less wide and visible. Who says tortoiseshell coat also says the presence of small swirls. Regarding the color, black is omnipresent with a mixture of red or chocolate. You can sometimes find white. These colors can be more or less diluted.

The tortoiseshell dress should not be confused with the one called “Calico”. Again, this is not a race. A calico cat has a white coat with red and black spots. Remember that the color of the hair of cats (even if it is atypical) has no effect on their character. Although tortoiseshells often have a reputation for being independent, this is not the case.

Which Breeds Can Show a Tortoiseshell Coat?

The tortoiseshell coat is present in alley cats (who do not belong to any breed) as well as in purebred cats. It can be found in long-haired or short-haired felines. You can therefore see tortoiseshell cats in the Main coon, Angora, European Shorthair, Persian, etc. However, this is still very rare.

In Japan, cats with this coat are known to be lucky charms. These would have the ability to ward off evil spirits. If you want to adopt a tortoiseshell, do not hesitate to go to a shelter.

Why are tortoiseshell cats female?

It is genetics that is at the origin of this famous coat. Like all men, like all mammals, a cat has a pair of sex chromosomes: X and X for females, X and Y for males. The tortoiseshell color is only present in certain X chromosomes. It is therefore cats that can wear this type of dress. An exception ? Cats that have three chromosomes (with an XXY genotype) can sometimes be born with the tortoiseshell coat. Scientifically, this is called the Klinefelter syndrome. Cats resulting from the combination of these three chromosomes are sterile.

In 2015, a very rare thing happened in Quebec. The animal welfare organization took in a “tortoiseshell” cat that was indeed a male. Its chromosomes were therefore X and Y. For the record, the personnel who took care of the animal gave it the name “Genetic”.

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