Calico and tortoiseshell cats are best known for their beautiful multicolored coats of black, orange and white - and their “”.
Both “calico” and “tortoiseshell” are terms that refer to the color and pattern of a cat’s coat and do not actually refer to the cat’s breed. So a domestic shorthair cat can be a tortoiseshell just as much as a Japanese Bobtail can be a!
To the untrained eye, these gorgeous mosaic-furred felines can be easily confused for one another.
So, how can you spot the difference between a calico cat and a tortoiseshell cat? Read on!
Tortoiseshell Cats, often called “torties” for short, have a combination of two colors, normally black and orange. Their mottled coats are as a result of what genetics call Lyonization.
These colors can come in various shades of dilution, from soft grey to brown, ginger, cream, amber, red, and cinnamon - called dilute torties. A dilute tortie may have blue and cream fur instead of black and orange.
However, tortoiseshell cats have no white at all.
Calico cats are also referred to as “tricolor” or “tortie-and-white” - and sometimes even "piebald" cats! Why? Because calico cats have the same black and orange color as a tortoiseshell cat - but with white, too! This is the main difference between a calico cat and a tortoiseshell cat. And it all comes down to genetics. Calico cats actually have an additional genetic condition at work called "piebalding" in which white (i.e. unpigmented) skin and fur is expressed. These patches of white may be rather small and interwoven, or relatively large and cover almost the entire body.
Even a cat with mottled tortoiseshell patches will be considered a calico if she has significant amounts of white in her coloring thanks to her genetics!
Like torties, calico cats can also come in dilutes.
You may have heard the term “torbie” being tossed around, too. Torbie is short for “tortoiseshell tabby”, and is a patched tabby, or one with brown tabby patterns instead of black fur.