domestic shorthair tortie cat in sphinx pose on deck outdoors

Should You Pick A Tortoiseshell Cat?

Are you considering bringing a cat into your home? Have you considered a tortoiseshell cat, aka a tortie? These beautiful cats have a lot to offer and the potential to make a great pet for the family. Maybe you don’t know much about these cats? 

Read on to learn more about tortie cats and find out whether they would make a good choice for your home…

What Is A Tortoiseshell Cat?

Tortoiseshell cats or “torties” are cats that have coats that are colored with black and red hair. Their coat may, sometimes, have small patches of white but these white patches usually amount to less than 25% of the coat with the remainder being black or red. 

Calico cats are cats that have a black and red coat with white patches that comprise between 25 and 75% of the total coat – so they are distinctly different in appearance to tortie cats.

Why are torties actually called tortoiseshell cats? Are they related to tortoises in some way? No, they are not, but their coat colors are similar to the colors found in highly polished tortoise shells, hence the name!

adult tortico cat crossing a living room floor
Semi Longhair Tortico Cat

I Want A Cat That Looks Unique – Are All Tortoiseshell Cats The Same Color And Pattern?

Luckily for you, it is possible to find a unique tortie! Not all torties are the same color or have the same pattern of markings. 

You can get tortoiseshell cats with small white patches, these are called “tortico’s”, you can get torties with additional tabby markings called “torbie” cats. You can also get cats with point coloration – distinct colors to the fur on paws, tails, and heads whilst the body is a different, full solid color – called tortie points!

And then your standard tortie will have random patches of red and black with no two cats necessarily being the same pattern. Then you also get color shade variations so reds can resolve as orange, yellow, or fawn, and blacks can be chocolate, cinnamon, or grey (blue). 

Additionally, certain genes can mute and dilute colors so you can get dilute torties that have less vivid shades of black and red with fur coming out in lighter shades such as grey and yellow!

If you want something unique then a tortie can fulfill that requirement for you.

dilute tortie cat outdoors
Dilute Tortoiseshell Cat

Is It True That All Tortoiseshell Cats Are Female – I Want A Big Male Cat!

Torties are almost always female. It is said that only about 1 in 3000 cats are tortie male – this is due to genetics

The reason that so many are female is that coat color is determined by the female sex gene. So, a male cat will have an XY pair of genes and a female will have an XX pair of genes. Coat color in cats is determined by the code on the X gene, the female gene. Briefly, this means the female, with two X genes can carry code for two colors allowing for red and black options whereas a male can only carry one color. 

This in turn means that females can create fur and skin cells of either color so you get calicos and torties as females. But, what about white and tabby cats, they have different colors? White and tabby are two separate genes – white being an albino gene rather than a color gene and tabby being the agouti or striped pattern gene rather than a color.

Wait – you said 1 in 3000 are male torties! Correct, because some male cats actually have three genes, XXY, so they can also carry the double color option! But this is an incredibly rare gene mutation and to make matters worse, cats with the mutation tend to be sterile so numbers simply don’t increase in the population over time. 

The chances of getting a male tortie are remote! 

Are Tortoiseshell Cats Rare?

As we just touched on, male tortie cats are really rare, but in general tortie cats are not rare. 

It is true that they are usually female – so are limited to 50% of the total cat population which in a sense makes them less common too, say, a tabby cat. But your average domestic short or longhair cat, aka average everyday mixed domestic cat, can be tortie. So, strictly speaking, you wouldn’t play the rarity card!

However, some purebred, certificate-carrying cats like Persians or Maine coons can come in tortoiseshell color variations so these are naturally much harder to find than standard domestic cats and then the male tortie variants of these purebreds are even harder to come by. 

But, if you are happy with a domestic shorthair cat (DSH) in tortie colors then rest assured these are relatively available!

tortoisehell ragdoll kitten walking down a garden path on a sunny day
Ragdoll Tortie Kitten

Are Tortoiseshell Cats  A Breed?

By now you will have come to the realization that tortie cats are not a specific breed, they are a coat pattern in cats. Everyday domestic cats can have the tortie coat pattern but additionally, some purebred cats ( and therefore less common cats) can display the same coat pattern.

If you are interested in a pure breed cat but want one with a tortoiseshell coat pattern then these cat breeds can cater to your requirements: British shorthair, American shorthair, Ragdoll, Japanese bobtail, Persian, Cornish Rex, Maine Coon, Ragamuffin, British Longhair, Scottish Fold, Burmese and more.

So, torties are not a breed in their own right but if you fancy a purebred cat in tortie colors then they do exist – you just might have to hunt around for some time to get your hands on one!

I Want A Short Hair, No, A Long Hair Variation!

No problem – there are a number of long and short hair breeds that have a tortie variation and then the standard domestic shorthair and domestic longhair also both produce cats with the tortie pattern. 

If you want a long hair tortoiseshell cat with purebred genetics then Persian tortie, ragamuffin, British longhair and even Maine coon could be your go-to breeds. 

tortico kitten sitting looking at camera
Tortico Kitten With Golden Eyes

Do All Tortoiseshell Cats Have Green Eyes – Can I Get One With Blue Eyes?

Cat-eye color is not determined by the same genes that determine coat color so your tortie could have eyes that are any of the standard cat eye colors. 

Most cats have eyes that are either green, yellow, amber, or some mix of those colors. 

This means that those color variations are the most common tortie eye colorings. But, that is not to say that a blue-eyed tortie is not possible, they are but will be hard to find because blue is a relatively rare eye color in cats in general (although some breeds like siamese are known for blue eyes – but are not available in tortie color pattern).

I Have Cat Allergies – Are Tortoiseshell Cats Hypoallergenic?

Unfortunately,  tortoiseshell cats are not known for being hypoallergenic. 

Some breeds have coats that are better for people with allergies like ragdolls because they don’t shed so much hair, but generally speaking, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat.

Are Tortoiseshell Cats Expensive?

No, you can often get a tortie in a rescue if breed and age are irrelevant to you. 

If you want a purebred Persian that is a tortie with certificates – get your wallet out, you’re spending over $1000!

a tortie british longhair cat with green eyes walking across a grass lawn
British Longhair Tortoiseshell Cat – Get Your Wallet Out!

Are Tortoiseshell Cats Friendly?

On the whole, they are as friendly or unfriendly as any other cat! 

On the one hand, some breeds like Persians like to lie around and are easy family pets and British shorthairs like to be around families but are slightly aloof. 

And then some of the known very friendly cat breeds like the different types of Siamese do not come in tortie variations. 

Most torties are standard domestic mixes so they have the same characteristics as most other cats!

Some torties have a reputation for poor attitude – dubbed “tortitude” – but it could be due to their female sex making them feel less physically confident so they show aggressive or uncompromising attitudes in some scenarios where they perceive themselves to be vulnerable.

A Talkative Cat Would Drive Me Up The Wall! Are Tortoiseshell Cats Vocal?

They are not specifically considered to be vocal and the pure breed variations do not comprise breeds that are said to be exceptionally vocal. But, some cats just like to tell you how it is – so your mileage may vary! Expect them to be as vocal as any standard cat.

dilute calico cat eating chicken bones under a tree
Dilute Tortico Cat

Do Tortoiseshell Cats Have Health Problems?

Only those that are from pure breeds that are known for specific issues generally have problems – for instance, Persian torties may have issues associated with the face shape that all Persians have irrespective of their color or pattern. Scottish Folds, which are available in tortie pattern, are known to have issues related to cartilage formation and to develop joint problems from quite a young age in some instances.

Your common, standard torties of mixed breeding will have the same problems that all common domestic cats tend to have – kidney issues in older age!

They are not specifically known as cats that have health issues.

Will A Tortoiseshell Cat Bring Me Good Luck?  

Probably! If you are Scottish, Irish, or American you would think so because these cultures have a rich heritage in believing torties bring good financial fortune or luck in general. And if you were Japanese you would probably agree as they have a heritage that believes torties protect homes from ghosts! That many people can’t be wrong!

a rumpy tortie manx cat outdoors
Rumpy Manx Tortico Cat

What Would Be A Good Name For A Tortoiseshell Cat?

Well being as torties are female any female name could do well! But if you wanted a name to reference their color or sex in general you could go along with any of these : 

Slowmo – as in slow like a tortoise.

Marble – as in children’s glass marbles with their wild color patterns.

Squiggle – another marble term related to random color patterns.

Fireball – as in black and orange flames, fire in general. 

Charm – a reference to the tortie’s luck-bringing powers.

Missy – for a lady with tortitude.

Lucky – If you are Japanese, Scottish, Irish, or American you’ll get it!

Cosmos – because torties are the color of the night sky – black with reds, golds, yellows.

Comet – see cosmos.

Smudge – black and red patches of indeterminate pattern?

Patch – see smudge.

Lady – because you can’t call a tortie butch or Jim or Greg, can you?

Do Tortoiseshell Cats Make Good Pets?

If you have decided to bring a cat into your home and you want something a little more distinctive than say your average tabby cat and you specifically are not looking for a male cat then a tortie is a great choice! 

If you’re looking for a cat that will snuggle up with you or play with your kids, then the coat pattern won’t really help on that front – you need to meet the specific cat and see if you get an energy match between you.