11 October, 2018

Cat Genes 101: The Tortoiseshell Cat aka Tortie Cat

mixed tortoiseshell cat sitting on grassThe Tortoiseshell cat is one terrific cat made up of a marvelous combination of multiple colors and patterns. They are not a ‘breed’ in themselves. The Tortoiseshell’s coat is what identifies this type of cat. Both pedigree and mixed breed domestic cats can have tortoiseshell fur or coats. They are also unique in that they are usually always female.

The Stunning Tortoiseshell Cat Appearance, Traits, and Breeds

Tortoiseshell cats are quite simply stunning. The name tortoiseshell comes from the resemblance to the mottled or particolored shell of a tortoise.

Their overall coloring is a usually a brindled mix of the dark black or chocolate shades of a black cat with the red, ginger, and orange of a marmalade cat. Their hair may be short or long.

If you are a fan of any of these tones, you are likely to be smitten with these kittens!

You may see small white spots, but usually, Torties have a predominance of black and red fur color. Tortoiseshell cats with strong or ticked black and brown mackerel tabby markings and black stripes have the very cool name of a Torbie or Torby.

Any cats with large piebald type white, orange, and black patches are Calico cats. Add a tabby pattern into the mix with a calico cat and you have a cat called a Caliby!

People who have had the pleasure of living with a tortoiseshell cat often speak of their “tortitude”. Meaning they believe that generally, the Tortie is a cat with attitude and a distinct personality with a voice all of their own.

A study conducted by the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Hospital agrees with the “attitude” hypothesis. However, most animal experts indicate the personality of tortoiseshell cats, like any cat, is more a result of the individual traits in a cat related to their breed mix and how they are socialized in their environment.

black and orange tortie cat lying on sofa

The Symbolism of Tortoiseshell Cats

If you’re looking for a good luck charm, then a tortoiseshell cat may be it! Many cultures worldwide believe the tortoiseshell cat is a sign of good things to come. People from South East Asia believe the first tortoiseshell cat came from a goddess.

English folklore holds that if you rub a wart on the tail of a tortoiseshell cat the wart will disappear! In Japan, tortoiseshell cats are thought to keep away ghosts and unwanted spiritual entities.

In the United States, tortoiseshells have the moniker of being “money cats”. While in Scottish and Irish Celtic culture, tortoiseshell cats bring good luck to homes.

Dilute Tortie: Still a Cute Kitty

A dilute Tortie looks a little bit like your favorite pair of faded jeans! Dilute tortoiseshell cats have the same patterns and markings as the coat on their tortie cat cousins, but their colors are less intense, so they look a little faded and washed-out.

What is the reason that a dilute tortie has lighter fur? Well, like the predominance of female versus male cats, it’s all in the combination of their genes or sex chromosomes.

Does a Male Tortoiseshell Cat Exist?

Tortoiseshell cats are almost always female. Why? The distinctive colors of a tortie cat result from the genetic mutation within two X chromosomes. Within the X chromosome, certain allele or variants combine to result in the black and red/orange colors.

Typically, male cats have one X and one Y chromosome. Very rarely a male cat may have an extra X chromosome. The XXY combination, known as Klinefelter Syndrome in humans, can occur in and may result in a male tortoiseshell cat.

It is rare though, and this genetic combination only occurs in about one in 3000 cats. In this genotype, the males are usually sterile. So, while male tortoiseshell cats do exist, they are extremely uncommon.

Female cats have two X chromosomes, so the likelihood of a tortie cat in a feminine feline is higher.

dilute tortie cat looking angry

5 Fun Facts About the Tortie Cat

  1. A tortoise-shell cat is usually a female. Males are rare. Their coat and color is the result of genetics.
  2. True tortoise-shell cats have a two-toned color pattern. Their coats are a brindled blend of blacks and reds. Cats with big patches of white in the mix are calico cats. When you add in the striped markings of a domestic mackerel tabby, you get a Torby!
  3. Tortoiseshell cats are not actually a breed of their own. The name refers to the type of coat, which can occur in pedigree cats, as well as both longhaired and shorthaired domestic cats.
  4. Torties bring good luck. Depending on the part of the world you live in, a tortoiseshell may bring in money, scare away ghosts, cure ailments, and bring blessings to your home.
  5. The tortie cat usually has plenty of personality. People who live with Torties call it ‘tortitude’. Whether fact or folklore, these cats are known for their ability to talk, be energetic and know their own mind.

How to Look After Your Tortoiseshell Kitten

Bringing a new fur baby into your life is always going to be a special time! Kittens are little bundles of fun and energy.

They shouldn’t be separated from their mothers until they are least eight weeks old. Many responsible cat breeders won’t release their kittens until they are 10 to 12 weeks of age. Always remember that tiny kittens are cute, but they do need a bit of tender loving care. There are a few things that can help your new kitten settle in.

  • Make space: Kittens need somewhere safe and secure to sleep and rest, and they like room to explore and find places to hide. If you are able to bring a blanket or similar item that they have had in their first home, the familiar smell and texture will help with the transition into your home.
  • Know your kitten’s nutrition: Try to feed your kitten the same type of food they were eating before they came to you, and then slowly transition them to your preferred brand/diet. Kittens do need nutritionally balanced kitten food to ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need during their first few months or years of growth.
  • Keep it positive: Cats, like dogs, respond best to positive reinforcement. Basic kitty training like teaching a cat to respond to their name should be rewarded with love and praise. Socialize a new kitten gradually with other pets or people. Make their new experiences positive ones so they develop confidence in different situations.
  • Have playthings: There’s no doubt about it – kittens love to play! Have toys, and objects like scratch posts for them to climb. This will keep them entertained and give their bodies and brains activities to help them grow. Keep your play sessions relatively short at first – they will need plenty of kitten catnaps!
  • Take care of toileting: Have a cat litter tray accessible at all times. Place it somewhere that is quiet – cats and kittens like a little privacy when they go potty! Keep litter trays clean as cats are more likely to seek out clean litter.

Average Torbie Cat Weight and Size!

The weight and size of a tortoiseshell cat will depend on their breed, or combination of breeds. On average, domestic mixed breed cats weigh around 5.5 to 10 pounds (2.5 to 4.5 kilograms).

The average height of a domestic cat is 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 centimeters). Otherwise, check out information on specific breeds with tortoiseshell colors, such as the American Shorthair, Cornish Rex, Persian, and Ragamuffin.

happy tortoiseshell kitten in carrier

A Look at the Tortoise Cat Lifespan!

In general, most cats reach an average age of around 14 years. You can help keep your cat fit and healthy with a nutritionally balanced diet, regular veterinary checks, and a lot of love and affection!

3 Tips for Owning Tortie Cats!

Mitt brushes are a great way to groom your tortoiseshell cat. These are brushes in camouflage as a glove. Your cat will lap up the extra patting and stroking you give them without even knowing what you’re doing. Meanwhile, you will remove their shedding hair at the same time!

Many Torties have plenty of energy to burn. Keep their minds and bodies active with lots of toys or objects they can play with.

If you have your heart set on a tortoiseshell cat, ask at animal shelters or your local humane society if they have any up for adoption. Oftentimes people who end up with a tortie, speak of their cat choosing them, rather than the other way around!

Love Your Turtle Cat Hard! They’re Wonderful Creatures!

Tortoiseshell cats are a striking looking and terrific cats to have around – and that’s a statement backed by fact and fable! People who have already had the pleasure of sharing a home with a tortoiseshell cat, or two, love their tendency to have both independent and loyal streaks.

Common Questions about Tortoiseshell Cats

Why are tortoiseshell cats usually female?

What is tortitude in a tortie cat?

Is the tortoiseshell a breed?

What cat breeds have tortoiseshell coats?