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Are All Tortoiseshell Cats Female? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Written by: Adam Mann

Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Tortoiseshell cat resting on a sofa

Are All Tortoiseshell Cats Female? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Did you know that almost every tortoiseshell cat is female? But almost really is the keyword here, as not every tortoiseshell cat is female. So as a general answer, not all tortoiseshells are females. Male tortoiseshell cats are incredibly rare (only about 1 in every 3,000), and there’s no way to specifically breed them, making it even more unlikely that they’ll become any more prevalent in the future.

But why is almost every tortoiseshell cat female? It’s quite the genetic story, but we’ll answer that and more for you below!

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What Is a Tortoiseshell Cat?

Tortoiseshell cats are not a specific breed. Instead, they’re a unique color pattern that can appear across many different breeds of cats, including mixed breeds.

A tortoiseshell cat has two primary colors, neither of which can be white. In addition to having two separate colors closely mixed throughout their body or in large patches, it’s possible to have a tortoiseshell cat that also has tabby cat markings, and many people lovingly refer to these cats as torbies or torbie cats.

Tortoiseshell cats are not the same as calico cats, which have a unique piebalding coat with white markings throughout. A tortoiseshell coat typically doesn’t have many white markings, but if they do have white markings mixed throughout, people typically refer to them as tricolor cats.

tortoiseshell cat sitting near stairs
Image Credit: Nafia Haseen, Shutterstock

Why Are Tortoiseshell Cats Usually Female?

While tortoiseshell cats aren’t exclusively female, there is only about 1 male tortoiseshell born for every 3,000 females 1. That’s a huge discrepancy, and there’s actually a strong scientific reason behind this.

The gene that determines a cat’s coat color lies on the X chromosome, and to get the unique blend of colors in a calico or tortoiseshell cat, they need to have two X chromosomes. Because males typically have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, it all but rules out the possibility of having a male tortoise.

However, while it’s incredibly rare to have a male tortoiseshell cat, it’s not impossible. This can happen when a male cat has an extra X chromosome. The chromosome makeup looks like an XXY instead of the typical XY of most male cats.

Having this extra chromosome also comes with multiple health complications for them, and they’re almost always sterile, so you couldn’t breed male tortoiseshell cats even if you wanted to.

Finally, if you’re wondering how orange plays into all this because not every tortoiseshell cat has orange, you’re not alone. The truth is that it’s quite a complicated mix of genetics that involves dominant genes, co-dominant genes, alleles, orange pheomelanin, black eumelanin, and so much more.

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Should You Neuter a Male Tortoiseshell Cat?

While a male tortoiseshell cat can’t reproduce, that doesn’t entirely eliminate the rationale for neutering them. There are numerous health and behavioral benefits to neutering a male cat, even if they can’t reproduce already.

Some of these benefits include:
  • Eliminating the risk of testicular cancer
  • Reduced risk of prostate disease
  • Decreases aggressive behavior
  • Less desire to roam
  • Reduces the risk of spraying and marking

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Final Thoughts

If you’re on the hunt for a male tortoiseshell cat, there’s a good chance you’ll never be able to track one down. They’re incredibly rare, so if you do happen to stumble into one, just enjoy them for the wonderful anomaly that they are!

Tortoiseshell cats are stunningly beautiful and can make great pets with bold personalities, making getting to know them a pure joy for everyone involved.

Featured Image Credit: David Boutin, Shutterstock

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