Tortoiseshell Cats

"Money" Cats Are Good Luck for Some

Tortoiseshell cat

Do you have a cat with "tortitude"?

Tortoiseshell cats are sometimes credited with having a strong-willed and hot-tempered personality. Cat aficionados believe these feisty personality traits are linked to the unique pattern of the cat's fur coat.

Folklore also attributes the "torties" with bringing their owners luck. As a result, these these brindled and patched cats are commonly referred to as "money cats."

Whether you believe the theories about the tortoiseshell cat's personality or ability to bestow good luck, one thing is for sure: Torty owners are huge fans of their feline companions.

Tortoiseshell History

A tortoiseshell cat is not a cat breed onto itself. "Tortoiseshell" refers to the pattern in a cat’s fur coat, a result of a combination of genetic and developmental factors. Tortoiseshell cats are usually female; however, some male cats (approximately 1 in 3,000) can be born with a torty coat.

In a nutshell, it boils down to science—chromosomes, specifically. There is a primary gene for the cat's main coat color and a co-dominant gene for the tortoiseshell pattern. These genes modify to a recessive, diluted gene which in turn softens the coat colors (black becomes gray, orange becomes cream, etc.).

In a bi-colored tortoiseshell cat, the two genes intermingle and produce the characteristic two-colored brindled effect (commonly orange and black), represented by diffused softer spots of the those same colors.

Male tortoiseshell cats are sterile due to the imbalance of chromosomes (they have an extra X chromosome) which have in turn created his torty markings.

Tortoiseshell Patterns

Tortoiseshell kittens

While the term "tortoiseshell" refers to cats born with an asymmetrical, brindled coat and very little white markings, some cats are born with a tortoiseshell pattern that is “pointed” or extended to the tips of the cat’s fur.

Cats with the tortoiseshell pattern have a mottled coat (blotches of a different color or shade) with patches of colors ranging from orange or cream, cinnamon, brown or chocolate, and black or blue. These colors can become diluted, lightening the fur to softer shades of cream, gray, blue, lilac or fawn.

Many different breeds of cats (and non-breed domestic cats) can be born with tortoiseshell markings.

Tortoiseshell Personality

Some tortoiseshell cat owners believe there’s a correlation between their cats’ striking fur coat and distinct personality.

“I’ve owned two torties and several domestic cats over the years,” says Delilah Armstrong, a Greensboro, N.C., native who also fosters cats in her spare time. “There is a noticeable difference in the behavior of my tortoiseshell cats—they’re louder, more dominant and go back and forth from wanting all my attention to not wanting to be bothered at all.”

Lisa Holmes agrees. “My cat, Needles, is fiercely independent and head-strong,” says the kindergarten teacher from Whittier, Calif. “If she doesn’t get her way, she lets you know loud and clear. When our German shepherd hears Needles start talking, he usually runs the other way. She’s definitely our alpha pet!”

While there is no proven scientific study of a tortoiseshell cat’s personality, there seems to be a common trait that reveals an assured sense of self. This, of course, includes the affectionate side of a torty, one who loves demands head rubs and some extra TLC whenever possible.


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