Top 3 Tortoiseshell Cat Facts

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

27 June 2018

1. Different cat breeds can identify as tortoiseshell

Many fur-bulous felines are referred to as tortoiseshell cats, but the term actually refers to a specific coat colour combo of red - commonly referred to as orange or ginger - and black, not a distinct kitty cat breed. Tortoiseshell cat coats can occur in some of our fav-fur-ite cat breeds…

Cat coat genetics is a complex and compelling topic. Curious? Get lost in your cat’s hair with our guide to the world of cat coat colours and patterns here.

shorthair tortoiseshell cat with crown

2. Tortoiseshell Queens

The majority of tortoiseshell cats are lovely ladies. Why? It’s all thanks to the female sex (X) chromosome. Huh? Strap yourself in for some Cat Science! The X chromosome carries the coat colour code for either red or black coat colours. The male sex (Y) chromosome does not. Female cats have two X chromosomes, so they can have a combo of red and black hair, the classic tortoiseshell look. However, male puddas have an X and a Y chromosome, so they can only be red or black, not both.  

torbie calico tricolour bicolour cats Clockwise from top left: Calico, torbie*, tricolour and bicolour cat patterns. *flickr/lambj

3. That’s not a tortoiseshell, this is a tortoiseshell

There are certain types of cat coat colours and patterns that are often mistaken for tortoiseshell. So what makes a tortie, a tortie? It’s all in the fur, hooman. A true tortoiseshell cat has two coat colours, red and black. Nothing more, nothing less. But there are some cute and curious kitties that can pass for a tortie after a few catnip wines...

  • A calico cat has tortoiseshell colours with patches of white.
  • A torbie cat is a tortoiseshell cat with tabby cat patterns in in their coat. They are also known as patched tabby cats. 
  • A tricolour cat has any 2 coat colours plus white patches.
  • A bicolour cat has 2 coat colours - usually one solid or patterned colour and white patches.

Do not be mistaken by tortoiseshell cat imposters, no matter how adorable and boopable their noses are.  

Have you fallen in love with a tortoiseshell cat? Puddas of every pattern, colour, cat breed and personality can live their best 9 lives with a secure, spacious and super fun outdoor space to call their own. Have a cheeky peek at our cat enclosure and accessories range here to keep your kitty purrin’ and purr-fectly safe as they explore the great outdoors.


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