Calico Cat Vs. Tortoiseshell – What’s The Difference

Do you plan on buying a cat with a black, orange, and cream/white coat color but don't know which one to choose that suits you? Well, you're probably looking for either a calico or tortoiseshell cat. But what's the difference between the two? We've done some research to help you distinguish them.

Coat colors and pattern is the main difference between a calico and a tortoiseshell cat. Calicos exhibit a tri-color coat that comprises the colors orange/red, black, and white. While tortoiseshells typically have bi-color brindled patches, usually black and orange, and don't have the color white at all.

Continue reading to fully distinguish between a calico and a tortoiseshell cat and learn their possible similarities. As we go on, we'll also tackle questions related to the topic such as their health problems, lifespan, and market price.

A cute Calico Cat and a tortoiseshell cat sitting on his cat tree collaged photo, Calico Cat Vs. Tortoiseshell - What's The Difference

Calico Vs. Tortoiseshell

Calico and tortoiseshell are oftentimes misconceived as a cat breed, however, they're the name for a cat's coat color and pattern.

Calico cats are known for their tri-color coat that is usually a mixture of black/brown, red/orange, and white that is always present. Their pattern is usually less brindled and has considerably larger patches of white or orange compared to those of a tortoiseshell.

There are also calico cats that are diluted, meaning their black/brown and red/orange are quite subtle and less bright. So the black/brown sometimes appears bluish-gray and the red/orange becomes light yellow.

On the other hand, tortoiseshell cats, or torties for short, have brindled and mottled coats. They only have two-colored coats, which include red/orange and black/brown, and don't have any presence of white patch in them.

Similarities of Calico and Tortoiseshell

Since you already know the difference between a calico and a tortoiseshell cat, it's high time that we also tackle their similarities.


Both calico and tortoiseshell cats have the same kind of cat breeds, such as Japanese Bobtail, Persian, American Shorthair, and Maine coons to name a few.


Both calico and tortoiseshell cats have independent personalities. They are known to be temperamental cats with a "tortitude" or "catitude" that are more likely to bite, hiss, chase, or scratch humans. But most cat owners disagree with this.

According to some research, calicos and tortoiseshell are known to be unpredictable and feisty due to their orange coat color. Based on data analysis, although there are no concrete studies to back up this theory yet, aggression in cats is acquired due to the same gene that dictates their coat color.

However, since calico and tortoiseshell cats are comprised of different breeds that's why they vary in personality. Hence, some calicos and tortoiseshell cats are sweet, loyal, and warm-hearted, others are a bit quirky.


Calico and tortoiseshell cats, according to myths and folklores, bring good luck and good fortune to their owners. Different countries like the USA, Ireland, Japan, and the Netherlands have considered calico and tortoiseshell lucky cats, especially when a male one enters their house.


The coat pattern of calico and tortoiseshell cats comes from their chromosomal makeup that consists of two X chromosomes. These two X chromosomes are the ones responsible for their distinctive color.

Since two X chromosomes are the chromosomal composition of females, that explains why almost all calico and tortoiseshell cats are female. However, in very rare instances, XXY chromosome would form which is the chromosomal composition of a male calico or tortoiseshell cat.

Calico and Tortoiseshell Fun Facts and Myths

  • Since male calicos are very rare, they're also known to be sterile.
  • Since most calico cats are female and the males are sterile, they can't be bred.
  • Calico cat became an official state cat of Maryland on October 1, 2001.
  • Tortoiseshell cats are said to chase off ghosts in the far east.
  • Darker colored tortoiseshell cats are believed to bring in gold, while the lighter ones bring in silver.
  • It is said that if you dream of tortoisshell cat, you'll find a lover soon.

You may check the video below for your reference:

Taking Care of Your Calico and Tortoiseshell Cats

As a fur parent, you should always make sure that your calico and tortoiseshell cat's overall health is your utmost priority. The list below are the ways on how to properly take care of your pet cat:

  • Provide your cat the right amount of high-quality cat food and fresh clean water to ensure her overall health
  • Brush your cat's hair regularly
  • A regular visit to the vet is a must. Annual shots and examinations could help protect your cat from possible health problems
  • Have your cats neutered or spayed
  • Make sure that your cat has a clean and safe space to sleep
  • Provide litter boxes and regualrly clean them
  • Protect your cat by availing of pet insurance
  • Provide toys or other stimulating equipments to make her active and be less bored
  • To make sure your cat won't get lost, provide any identification like ID tag, safety collar, or even a microchip

Can male cats have three colors?

Yes, it's possible that male cats can have three colors—although very rare. The probability of having a male calico or tortoiseshell cat is only 1 in 3,000 (0.033%).

How long do tortie cats live?

A tortoiseshell cat lying on the grass

Indoor tortie cats live for between 10 and 15 years. While outdoor tortie cats, because of their living condition and several environmental factors, would only live for approximately two to five years.

You may also check this post to know a calico cat's lifespan: "How Long Do Calico Cats Live?"

Do tortoiseshell cats have health problems?

Again, since a tortoiseshell is a term used to describe a cat's color and coat pattern, the health problem of a tortie cat would greatly depend on its breed.

However, since a male tortoiseshell cat has a unique chromosomal makeup which is XXY, they often suffer from Klinefelter’s Syndrome. This condition would greatly affect their overall health and as a result, would shorten their lifespan.

Klinefelter's Syndrome poses several health problems, including a higher risk of broken bones, behavioral problems, joint pain, diabetes, and heart disease.

However, your male tortie cats may still enjoy a long and happy life as long as you give them the special care that they need.

You may want to check this post to know what health problems do calico cats have: "Do Calico Cats Have More Health Problems?"

How much is a female tortoiseshell cat worth?

A female tortoiseshell cat usually costs $1,000-$2,000 depending on different factors like the breed, breeder, sex, quality of the cat's coat, age, place of purchase, and if it is purebred.

How much is a calico cat?

A cute Calico cat standing near the front door

A calico cat's price would range from $400-$2,000 depending on the breed, sex, breeder's reputation, age, and if it is purebred.

In Summary

A calico and tortoiseshell cat's main difference is their coat color and pattern. Calico cats have brindled white patches in their coats, while tortoiseshell cats have brindled and mottled coats and don't exhibit any white patches.

Before you go, you may want to check these posts below to know more about calico cats:

Do Calico Cats Like To Cuddle And Be Held?

Do Calico Cats Change Color As They Age?

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