Why Are Calico Cats Rare?

portrait of a calico kitten with amber eyes

Why are calico cats rare? It is all in their genes. Read on to find out why these cats are so special and unusual compared to other cats.

What Is Special About Calico Cats?

Calico cats are special because of their coat. They have a tri-color coat made of orange and black patches on a white body. They are not a breed of cat – just a coat color. 

Calico cats can be purebred cats such as Persians, Manx, and Japanese bobtails but can also be standard domestic shorthair and longhair cats – cats of indeterminate breeding.

Each calico cat is different from the last – meaning their orange and black patches are never the same, they all have different colored patches in different places in different sizes!

Pair Of Calico Cats Grooming Each Other

Why Are Calico Cats Rare?

They are rare because 99.1% of calico cats are female which means 50% of cats at most can be calico. 

Additionally, the calico genes themselves do not express as regularly as other patterns or colors as the cat also needs to inherit a piebald gene as well as distinct orange and black fur color genes.

To explain, a cat’s coat color is determined by the color genes held on the X chromosome. Female cats have two X chromosomes and male cats have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. 

In a calico cat one x chromosome will be orange and the other black. This creates orange and black patches. The white fur on a calico cat is actually unpigmented fur caused by a piebald gene rather than a color gene. This means a cat to be calico must inherit an orange x chromosome and a black x chromosome and a piebald gene. If they do not inherit the piebald gene they become tortoiseshell. Additionally, if they do not inherit an orange x chromosome they will not be calico, tortie, or orange.

A male cat with one X chromosome can not become a tortie or a calico as they can’t inherit separate colors as they only have one X chromosome with color on. But, they can become a piebald cat like an orange and white or black and white cat. 

So, calico cats are rare because they need two x chromosomes for two colors which means they must be female, then they must inherit orange and black x chromosomes, and then they must also inherit a piebald gene for the white body fur. On top of all that their agouti gene which defines whether the tabby pattern is dominant must be off…

adult calico cat sitting on a fence in sphinx pose

Are Calico Cats Considered Rare?

Clearly, calico kittens don’t come up in every litter of kittens given the fact they must be female with both an orange, a black, and piebald gene with tabby turned off! So yes, they are unusual but not necessarily rare. But, to further complicate matters – we are forgetting the 0.9% calico cats that are male! 

What Is The Rarest Type Of Calico Cat?

1 in 3000 calico cats is male. Now, those are long odds. But it happens. Male calico cats are ridiculously rare. 

Male calico cats come about because of Klinefelter syndrome. This is a condition where the male cat actually receives three chromosomes – XXY instead of the standard XY pair. This means they get two color genes like the female cats. But then they also need the piebald gene and other conditions to go in their favor. That is rare…

calico cat grooming
Dilute Calico

What About Dilute Calico’s

Dilute calicos are calico cats of orange, black and white that have also inherited a dilute gene. When the dilute gene expresses itself (and it is not a given it will) the orange, black and white are washed out to cream, grey and white giving a faded appearance. Calico but faded AKA muted calico.

How Rare Is A Dilute Calico?

It is thought that 1 in 1000 cats are dilute calico cats – so that is fairly rare. 

Can Calico Cats Be Bred Like Other Purebreds?

Usually, in cat breeding, purebred offspring are achieved by breeding a male and female of the same breed that very closely resemble each other. This provides the best odds – but not a certainty, of achieving certain outcomes.

With calicos, this is not possible. As the male calico is so rare – and also usually infertile – you cannot swing the odds of calico offspring in the breeder’s favor. This means calico cats are born by chance which contributes to their uncommon nature.