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The Tortoiseshell Cat

Tortoiseshell cat portraitPortrait of a Tortoiseshell Cat

Tortoiseshell cats are not a breed but a color pattern that may occur in almost any type of domestic cat. 

The word “tortoiseshell” describes the color pattern of a black or grey cat with orange or red or reddish-brown marbled throughout the coat.

Because color is related to genes and the x chromosome, 2999 out of every 3000 tortoiseshell cats are female.

Females have two x chromosomes, and a special gene called the “o” gene, which turns black pigment red, can only be carried by the x chromosome. Two of these genes are needed to create a tortoiseshell cat, and females, of course, have two x chromosomes.

Male tortoiseshells are usually infertile and often have gene-related health problems. 

Tortoiseshell cats are sometimes called brindle cats, although that term is usually used to describe a dogs coat color. Brindle cats are described in the dictionary as “brownish or tawny with streaks of other colors”, which could definitely describe a tortoiseshell cat, but the term “brindle” is never used in the showring.

Tortoiseshell cats are notorious and remarkable free-spirits, known to be brash, fiery, and even a bit quick-tempered.

So common is the rascally attitude that it is referred to as “tortietude”, and puts animal handling professionals like vets and groomers on the alert. Many will argue that there is no correlation between coat color and disposition, but years of experience tell these pros otherwise.

Tortoiseshell cats can be absolute little terrors when things don’t go their way, but delightful, light-hearted and playful angels when the mood suits them.


Tortoiseshell cat descriptive wordsHow Do You Describe a Tortoiseshell Cat?

Tortoiseshell Cat-Stats

Tortoiseshell on a mountainTortoiseshell on a mountain



If you ask anyone who knows a tortoiseshell cat they will tell you that it’s more than just the beautiful coloring that makes them special. “Tortietude” is what they bubble over with – high energy, talkative – sometimes argumentative, on-the-go, playful and aloof at the same time– it must be experience to be appreciated.

These are happy, exciting kitties that will take you along for the ride on whim alone. Great cats for big families they will develop a different relationship with every member, and may even greet each family member with a special call or routine.

The tortoiseshell pattern can occur among any number of breeds of purebred cats, and of course, among mixed breeds and regular house cats as well.

The tortoiseshell color does appear in some breeds more often than others. So, if you love the color pattern, and want to have some idea of the likely size, temperament, and genetic tendencies your new kitten may have, consider these:

The Manx cat, the Scottish Fold cat, the American short hair, British short hair, Oriental short hair cat, Siberian cat, Exotic short hair cat, and the Persian cat.

Even exotic breeds like the LaPerm cat, Munchkin cat, American curl, the Sphynx cat and the Devon rex and Cornish rex cats have tortoiseshell colored individuals on a regular basis.

So with a little effort, you could find a cat that is not only a perfect fit for you, but also your favorite color!

Siberian tortoiseshell catSiberian tortoiseshell cat
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Tortoiseshell KittenTortoiseshell Kitten!

Tortoiseshell kittens tend to be very active , busy and adventurous.

These kittens may be a little head-strong, and may find themselves in precarious situations until they learn their limitations.

Kitten-proofing is definitely recommended for anyone considering adopting or purchasing any kitten. High furniture should be off limits, caution should be taken when holding these wriggly little youngsters, particularly when carrying them across hard wood or tile floors, and spaces under counters and doors should be blocked off as they have a very strong urge to explore.

Since this is a color and not a breed, allot of variables are answered by what breed or type of cat your tortoiseshell kitten is. But color overides some of those genetics things, and you will most likely have allot of cat on your hands.

Lively, emotional and expressive, tortoiseshell kittens need to know they are wanted and where they belong. A special bed, bowl and litter box should be set up prior to your new kittens arrival, and a schedule should be established quickly.

The tortoiseshell color can be found in any of dozens of pure-bred cats so there are many to choose from, and tabby kittens are regularly available for adoption at local shelters..

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cat tales Tortoiseshell kitten

Just like the calico cat, “tortoiseshell “refers to a color, not a breed. 

The color “tortoiseshell” is a marbelized black and brown (orange/red).  Like the long-haired cat below ….tortoiseshell cat

True tortoiseshell cats have no white markings, and no white in the body color at all, like this fabulous little kitten to the left.

A tortie cat with white “points” or white on the nose, chest and/or feet can be considered a Calico cattortoiseshell and white kitten because it has three colors, but this color pattern is more often called “tortoiseshell and white”. Again, no white in the body color, just on the nose, chest, feet and a little on the tummy like this . …

tortie British shorthair

There is also a pastel version of the tortoiseshell act known as “dilute”.  Similar to brindle, dilute tortoiseshells have a blue or pale grey and buff or pale cinnamon palette like this guy…

And a pointed cat like a Siamese or a Himalayan may have tortoiseshell points known as “tortie-point”, the rules apply here too – nearly all are female.


Persian TortoiseshellPersian Tortoiseshell
  • Only one out of every three thousand tortoiseshell cats is male
  • In dogs this type of coloring is referred to as “brindle”
  • Brindle colored cats are referred to as “tortoiseshell”

tortoiseshell cattortoiseshell cat lounging

Next cat from A to Z is the Turkish Angora  

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