dilute calico cat grooming

The Calico Tabby Cat – Caliby, Torbie Or What???

Have you heard the phrase calico tabby, caliby, or torbie and wondered what people are referring to? Well, calico tabby cats are a specific type of cat with specific characteristics.

Let’s have a look at these cats here and identify what they are, what characteristics they have, whether they are unusual or common, whether they are pure breeds or not, and what they might cost.

Read on to learn more.

What Is A Calico Cat

a stray calico japanese bobtail cat outdoors
Japanese Bobtail Calico Cat

Calico cats are one of the most distinctive cats out there. Some people think they are a breed of cat but in reality, they are cats that have a calico pattern coat. They can be of any breed or can be a mixed breed – so long as the coat has the distinctive pattern they are called calico cats.

So what is this pattern? These cats have a coat that is between 25% and 75% white with orange and black making up the remaining colors in the coat. They are tricolor cats – white, orange, and black. The orange and black parts of the coat can be distinct patches or blends. 

In some instances, the orange and black areas of the coat can be faded to creams and greys or shades in between, and in these instances, the cats are described as being dilute calico cats.

Both calico and dilute calico cats are rather unusual in that they are usually (99%) female. This is because coat color on cats is defined by the genes carried on their sex chromosomes. Females have an XX pair of chromosomes with each chromosome able to carry a different color, black and red,  whereas males have an XY pair of chromosomes so they inherit one color on the X chromosomes, the Y chromosome carries no color. Calico’s have red and black colors so need to be female to exhibit both colors simultaneously in the coat.

Wait, what about the white areas? The white areas are due to a masking or piebald gene. Basically, the white areas are not white in color but are colorless hair. The dilution that causes grey and cream coloration is also caused by a specific gene – a dilution gene.

What Is A Tabby Cat

a mackerel tabby cat sleeping on a radiator
Tabby Cat

OK, so what about tabby cats? Are they a breed? Again, like calico cats, tabby cats are cats that have a coat with particular markings. They are not a breed in their own right but some breeds do produce cats with tabby markings.

Tabby cats are the most common domestic cat on the planet, with as many as 70% of the 400 million cats on the planet being tabby cats. 

What makes a tabby cat a tabby? Again, it is down to genetics. Tabby cats carry a gene called the agouti gene. This gene, when turned on, produces agouti hairs on the cat in question. These hairs are not a solid color. They are hairs that are ringed in several colors. 

Cats that exhibit this gene will have a coat with dark, solid color hairs that form pattern markings and then the agouti hairs produce the lighter markings and lighter hair.  Basically, the agouti hairs have bands of color that appear lighter and make the solid color hair stand out as markings.

If you want to identify a tabby cat then the very first thing to do is identify the “M” pattern on its forehead. This is the biggest clue. Tabby cats can come in a variety of coat markings, they can be spotted, ticked, classic, or mackerel tabby cats – but they all have the forehead “M”, striped rings around the tail, and the legs!

What About A Tortoiseshell?

domestic shorthair tortie cat in sphinx pose on deck outdoors

So what about tortoiseshell cats? Where do they come into all of this? Well, torties are incredibly similar to calico cats – they are not a breed, they are a cat with a certain pattern coat, they are the same as calico cats except they either have no white or less than 25% of their coat is white.

So, a tortie is also a female cat that has inherited red and black genes from its parents, but it does not have the pie balding or masking gene exhibiting at all or as strongly as in a calico cat! 

Is There Such A Thing As A Calico Tabby Cat?

norwegian forest cat dilute calico cat. Caliby cat - calico tabby mix
Norweigan Forest Cat – Caliby

So, can you get a calico tabby cat? Is it an either-or situation where a cat is either calico or tabby but can’t be both?

Well, thanks to the complicated world of genetics it is possible to have a calico tabby mix. They are called “Caliby” cats as in “Cali” from calico and “by” from tabby – merged to create “caliby”. 

Remember that tabby cats have an agouti gene? This is not a color gene but a gene that alters the way individual hairs are colored. 

Calico cats have two color genes which allow them to be both red and black at the same time. In addition, they have a masking gene that produces white or areas hidden or masked of color. 

Well, if your calico cat inherits an agouti gene guess what happens? The color patch areas may be made up of some agouti hairs! This means they will be tabby calico cats.

In practice what does this mean? It means that such a cat will be largely white but the red and black color patches will display one of the tabby patterns – and they will have the “M” on the forehead!

Are Caliby Cats All The Same?

Pair Of Calico Cats Grooming Each Other
A Pair But Different

So do all caliby or calico tabby mix cats look the same? The short answer is no. 

No two calico cats have the same markings. The layout and positioning of their orange and black patches will be unique to each cat. 

This means that a caliby cat will also have unique markings in so much as the tabby patches will be located at different body positions on each caliby cat.

The second factor that gives each calico tabby cat a unique look is that tabby cats have up to four different patterns. Tabby cats are either spotted, ticked, striped, or classic whorl patterns. 

A calico tabby cat might have inherited a striped pattern, classic pattern, or one of the other two patterns.

These factors of tabby pattern and positioning of calico markings make every tabby calico cat unique!

Are Tabby Calico Cats Always Female?

japanese bobtail calico cat
Japanese Bobtail Caliby Cat

We briefly mentioned that 99% of calico cats are female and that this is because, genetically speaking, only female cats can carry two color genes at the same time because each color gene is carried by a different X chromosome. From this, it follows that tabby calico cats are always female.

But…….there is 1% of calico cats that are male! Clearly, these cats are really rare. They are so rare that in some cultures, such as the Japanese culture, they are deemed to be immensely lucky. So how do you get a male tabby calico cat?

The 1% of calico cats that are male have a genetic mutation that gives them three chromosomes instead of the usual two. They suffer from Klinefelter syndrome which is a condition that gives males an extra chromosome. Male calico cats that suffer from Klinefelter’s have two X and one Y chromosome (XXY) instead of one X and Y. This means that as coat color is carried on the X chromosome and they have two, they can have two coat colors at the same time!

So in theory, it is possible to get a male tabby calico cat but highly unlikely!

Are Tortoiseshell Tabby Cats The Same?

adult tortico cat crossing a living room floor
Tortoiseshell Cat

What about tortoiseshell cats? As they are calico in every way except for the amount of white on their bodies, what happens to them when they inherit an agouti gene? Are they also caliby?

When a tortoiseshell cat inherits and expresses an agouti gene they also develop tabby characteristics in their red and black hairs and become “torbies”. Torbies are “Tor” for tortoiseshell and “bies” from tabbies. 

The genetics in torbies are exactly the same as in the calico tabby mix cats – they just don’t carry a masking gene that produces the same amount of colorless hair as in a calico cat. Like a calico or caliby cat, torbies are usually female.

Are Calico Tabby Cats Rare?

calico cat drinking water from a glass
Calico Tabby Mix with “M”

Calico tabby cats are unusual rather than rare – unless you have a male calico tabby cat, in which case they are extremely rare!

As we touched on, most cats walking this earth are tabby cats. It is believed they amount to about 70% of all cats. 

This only leaves a small proportion of cats that can be calico, tortoiseshell, bi-color, solid color, or pointed pattern cats

Add in the fact that genetically calico cats have to be female to achieve two colors simultaneously on the coat and suddenly, at best, only half the remaining 30% are likely to be female and potentially calico. 

Now, add in that a female calico cat needs to inherit and display the agouti gene and it is easy to comprehend that these cats are uncommon and unusual!

Are There Long-Haired Caliby Cats?

long hair dilute calico cat. Calico tabby mix
Long Hair Dilute Caliby Cat

What about long-haired versions of tabby calico mix cats are these possible? Well, yes it is possible to get a long-haired calico cat or a long-haired tabby cat, and therefore a long hair caliby cat should not be an impossibility.

But, why bother looking for one? Let’s face it, a long hair tabby cat does not really show its body markings that well! A long haired caliby is not actually going to be that easy to differentiate from a long haired calico. 

Additionally, setting your heart on acquiring such a cat would be ill-advised. Only 10% of all domestic cats are long-haired as the genes for long hair are recessive. This means the long-haired cat has to inherit long hair genes from both parents.

So, you need parents with long-haired genes, agouti genes, and dominant red and black genes to get a long haired calico tabby mix – where the tabby patterns on the coat might even be indistinguishable.

What Breeds Produce Calico Tabby Mix Cats?

Basically, any breed that produces a calico or a tabby variant is likely to be able to produce a calico tabby cat. The chances of finding such a cat on a given day are remote but not impossible. 

dilute calico faded persian long hair cat, muted calico , pastel calico
Persian Cat – Dilute Calico Tabby Mix.

Check out some of these breeds of cats known for producing calico’s and tabbies and still meeting breed standards:

American BobtailAmerican CurlAmerican WirehairAmerican Shorthair
American LonghairBritish ShorthairBritish LonghairExotic
LaPermJapanese BobtailPersianMaine Coon
ManxNorwegian Forest CatSiberianScottish Fold
Selkirk RexDomestic Shorthair
close up profile shot of a calico persian cat indoors
Persian Calico Tabby Mix

Tabby Calico Mix Price – How Much Are They?

Although these cats are unusual and in some cases rare, they are not necessarily more expensive than other cats as they are not specifically deemed to be highly desirable cats. However, they are not something you can generally just go and pick up at the drop of a hat!

A domestic shorthair caliby cat might cost as little as $60 out of a shelter or from a local craigslist.

A purebred that happens to be a caliby will usually be significantly more expensive. Depending on the breed history within the cat’s ancestry, certification, and breeder reputation you could end up having to pay $800 to $2000 for a pure-bred tabby calico of any of the specific breeds listed above.

However, some breeds are recognized as having specifically sought-after colors and caliby cats occurring in the breed might not fill the most desirable breed profile so may be cheaper than other kittens within the same litter.

calico tabby mix cat sitting outside restaurant in sunshine.

Calico Tabby Cat – Main Takeaways.

So, these cats are usually female, they can be called caliby cats, they have a calico appearance but feature tabby characteristics like “M” on the forehead and spotting, striping in color patches, they can be pure-bred cats, can be long haired, are relatively inexpensive – but are unusual and quite rare and have a very individual coat, no two calico tabby cats are the same!