8 Questions About Calico Cats — Answered

Questions about calico cats run the gamut from: “Do male calico cats exist?” to “What’s up with the calico cat personality?” We're here to answer a few.

A calico cat.
A calico cat. Photography ©cgbaldauf | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Ah, calico cats! Those multi-colored coats that can be arranged into never-ending combinations of patterns make for tons of questions. Do male calico cats exist? Are the rumors about calico cat personalities true? What in the world is a calibby? We’re here with answers to a few commonly asked questions about those mysterious calico cats.

A calico cat curled up and asleep.
Calicos are not a breed of cat. Photography ©krblokhin | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

1. Is a calico a type of breed?

Nope. Calico refers to a color or pattern of a cat’s fur, not a cat breed.

A shy calico cat hiding under a table.
Calico cats get their names from printed fabric. Photography by ©krblokhin | Thinkstock.

2. Where does the name calico come from?

Actually, the term “calico cat” is a description you’ll mostly hear in the U.S. Why? Calico is actually a type of fabric, but when it came to the United States in the 1780s, Americans used the term calico to refer to printed design.

Calico cats are also called brindle, tricolor, tobi mi-ke (Japanese for ‘triple fur’) and lapjeskat (Dutch for ‘patches cat’). Diluted calico cats with lighter coloration are sometimes called calimanco or clouded tiger. Calicos may also be referred to as piebald, which can mean any animal with a white base and pigmented spots.

A dilute calico.
A dilute calico has colors that are a bit more muted than a standard calico. Photography ©adogslifephoto | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

3. What about a calibby? Are there different types of calico cats?

  1. A standard calico usually has a white coat with large spots of orange and black.
  2. A dilute calico, as mentioned above, has lighter colorations that result in white coats with large spots of smoky gray and an almost strawberry-blonde color.
  3. A calibby is a mix of a calico and a tabby cat, where the calico patches of orange and black have the tabby striped or spotted markings.
A tortoiseshell cat sleeping and relaxing.
Compare a tortie’s coloring with some of the calico photos. See the differences? Photography ©piranka | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

4. What is the difference between a tortoiseshell cat and a calico cat?

Tortoiseshells (or torties) have similar coloring to calicos in that they are also contain black and orange in their coat, but the major difference is instead of a mainly white base, tortoiseshells have a black-based coat,” Dr. Gibbons of Just Cats Veterinary Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut, explains. “In addition, instead of distinct spots of orange and white, tortoiseshells are more of an even blend of the black and orange with sometimes white mixed in.”

Two Calico cats who look alike, possibly a mama cat and kitten.
Do male calicos exist? They’re rare, and they’re probably sterile! Photography by Mahlebashieva/Thinkstock.

5. Are all calico cats female?

Most calico cats are females — but not all. Male calicos are rare. “The traditional characteristics for a calico cat are carried on the chromosomes that make cats female, so the majority of calico cats are female,” Dr. Gibbons says. “The possibility of a male calico exists, but they are incredibly rare, and I have yet to see one in 15 years in the veterinary field.”

Approximately one in 3,000 calico cats is male. Also, if you have a male calico, odds are that he’s sterile. Only one in 10,000 of male calico cats is fertile.

A munchkin calico cat.
A munchkin calico cat. Photography by Linn Currie / Shutterstock.

6. What cat breeds can be calicos?

According to Dr. Gibbons the following breeds may have calico colorations:

  1. Domestic Shorthair
  2. Domestic Longhair
  3. American Shorthair
  4. Maine Coon
  5. Persian
  6. Exotic Shorthair
  7. British Shorthair
  8. American Curl
  9. Japanese Bobtail
  10. Norwegian Forest Cat
  11. Turkish Van
  12. Turkish Angora
  13. Munchkin
A Maneki Neko, aka a Lucky Cat or Fortune Cat.
Maneki Neko, aka Lucky Cats or Fortune Cats, are often calico cats. Photography by Danny Smythe / Shutterstock.

7. Are calico cats good luck?

Yes! The aforementioned male calicos are considered especially lucky since they’re so rare.

The Japanese lucky cat, maneki neko, is often calico. Japanese sailors used to travel with calico cats on their oceanic expeditions. Calicos were said to protect the sailors from storms and any angry spirits on board!

Calico cats are also the official state cat of Maryland, due to a similarity in coloring with the state’s bird, the Baltimore oriole, and the state’s insect, the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.

And, according to Irish folklore, calico cats will cure your warts. Simply rub a calico cat’s tail on your warts in the month of May!

Merritt does not love when we pay attention to other living souls or objects other than her. She prefers to be the center of attention — always.
Merritt does not love when we pay attention to other living souls or objects other than her. She prefers to be the center of attention — always. This is her as a tiny kitten, so she’s always been this way! Photography by Cait Rohan Kelly.

8. Why do calico cats get a bad rap for their attitudes?

As the proud mama to a calico cat, Merritt, I am very familiar with the calico attitude that these cats are said to possess in spades (there’s a reason her nickname is Mimi —the same nickname for known diva Mariah Carey). Like the infamous “I don’t know her” feud between Ms. Carey and a certain Jennifer Lopez, my Mimi would prefer not to acknowledge her competitors (in a cat’s case, other cats). This isn’t usually a problem since my other cat Gabby is large, lazy and likes attention selectively. But when we’re petting, kissing or snuggling with Gabby? How dare we! Mimi will meow away, wedge herself into the cuddle or come up and play-smack Gabby.

She also does not appreciate when we pack and leave her alone.
Merritt also likes to make packing impossible. And check out the tabby markings on her head — I think she’s a calibby! Photography by Cait Rohan Kelly.

Yes, my calico loves to be kissed, cuddled, held, paid attention to and — when the mood suits her — even carried around the house like some sort of ancient queen even though she is not a kitten anymore. Mimi is also very talkative and loves to trill away, another attention-grabbing behavior. She is a total diva.

But is this behavior backed by scientific fact? “Calico cats have a reputation for being fiercely independent, and sometimes feisty,” Dr. Gibbons says. “This is not always the case but many live up to their reputation. A recent study by the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science says that many owners report more aggression toward owners, when being handled and at veterinary visits in calicos, torbies and tortoiseshells. However, according to the author, analysis ‘of aggression due to handling, as well as aggression displayed during veterinarian visits, showed little difference among coat colors in these settings.’”

So … the answer is still sort of. But I’ve never met a calico who wasn’t sassy. (Let us know in the comments if you have!)

Tell us about your calico cats!

Do you have calico cats? And do your calico cats have a real cattitude? Has anyone ever come across a male calico cat?

Thumbnail: Photography ©cgbaldauf | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

This piece was originally published in 2018. 

Read more about cat colors on Catster.com:

185 thoughts on “8 Questions About Calico Cats — Answered”

  1. We just brought home a beautiful 5-month-old calico cat that we adopted from the shelter. This little girl is so laid back it’s unbelievable. We haven’t heard her meow…not once…and when we pick her up she goes limp like a rag doll. She doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body! She lets me trim her nails and loves belly rubs. She doesn’t scratch or bite; all she wants is affection and I hope that never changes. She is quite shy though and I hope she grows out of that as she gets more comfortable with her new surroundings. After reading all these comments, I’m guessing her behaviour is unusual. I’m glad I didn’t know about the “Calico Behaviour” before we adopted her. We may not have picked her (or should I say, let her pick us) but I’m so so happy we did! She is an absolute gem!

  2. I had my calico kitten from 7 weeks old, and in between the odd times of attacking me, claws out, teeth in, she is th most loving cat I have ever had. She crawls up to my face and snuggles in purring, lots of kisses. She loves visitors, and literally jumps in their arms, too much pettin from them though and out comes the claws and in with a fight, never a dull moment. Love her.

  3. We had a calico for 18 years. She was fine when we got her but after a few months she started having rage attacks. She was attacking us and our children (we've had many cats and know how to raise them), shredding our arms and legs and leaping at our faces for just looking at her. We talked it over with our vet and he told us that sometimes happens with calicos. Getting rid of her wasn't an option in any way. So we decided to shower her with kindness and love. We discovered that a toy cat our daughter had looked just like her mother. When she was in full on freaked out frenzy, we'd give her Mama Cat and she'd calm down. The real change came when we got a second cat when she was 18 mo old. For the first year we couldn't leave them alone together for fear she'd harm the kitten. When he was fully grown and could defend himself they could be left together. We saw her watching him get affection and attention. Gradually she became less aggressive and more affectionate. The last half of her 18 years she turned into a great cat although we always had to be careful around her.

  4. 9nly acquainted with feral Calico I feed. Gamit ranged from one who ran the roost, so to speak, always fed first & everyone stood back & waited, she never backed down from anything. She also was relatively trusting of me & threw off at least a couple of friendly, tameable kittens each year. The other girl is heartbreakingly timid.

  5. Jere H. Madison

    I have a Tortie and a tri color. Both were feral born and showed up as kittens. Both are stand offish until they want to be loved on. Or fed. Neither are very vocal, but they are more vocal than the rest of the clan. The Tortie "sings" when she talks and purrs. She's also a bully. She runs the roost, and everyone just accepts it…except my Tricolor will fight back. And she is always bringing me birds, lizards and mice. My tricolor is also a tri-pet. She got a back leg crushed. Hasn't slowed her down a bit. She runs, climbs trees and fences, hunts and is the youngest of the 'enforcer squad' that keeps other animals off the property. Both are super snuggly and sweet when they want to be!!

  6. I have a year and a half calico named Cookie. She’s the most vocal cat I’ve ever been around. Talks all time even when she’s not paying me attention. Also she’s one the most sweetest and patient kitties, loves belly rubs, cuddles, and making biscuits.

  7. Marg Johannesson

    I have a dilute Calico, exotic shorthair
    Lucy, is very laid back and likes attention . She is 10 yrs old and has always been very gentle and adjusts to all situations very well. Never been in contact with another cat. A total diva!

  8. I have a diluted calico cat her name is Zoii. She isn't very friendly to others. She sometimes lets my son pet her. She's pretty much okay with me though sometimes she does not want me to hold her. And when she does let me hold her it's only for a short time! But no matter what I absolutely love her!

  9. Brenda Stout-powell

    I have had two callico princesses, both rescues. Talk about attitudes and crazy as a goose! Calli, RIP, took 2.75-3 yrs to convince her she was save and loved. The first 15 minutes arriving at my house was screaming, looked like she was ghost fighting, having one royal temper tandrum! Charging with all teeth revealed, hissing, growling continued for the first year & refusing to come out. I was afraid of her attacking me in my sleep so i shut the master bath door! Then at the beginning of the third year, I was awakened one night to find she had jumped up on my bed and layed on top of my feet. From that time on, she became a Momma's baby and began snuggling with me every night purring loudly and during the day camping out at my feet.
    The other callico was deserted at my house by an ex-neighbor who left her with me while she was moving and never returned to pick her back up! Now she, Ms Pumkin, was of course stand offish but she is a BITER!! She will bite you in your sleep and even when you are loving on her a her purring loudly THEN BAM! She is drawing blood! One thing I have found to be similar is when they get mad, both of them wil stand right in front of me and pee on the floor. Now, if that doesn't test your patience!!!!! I haven't rehomed her because it would be cruel for the new owner.
    I think Callico cats become extremely temperamental as they get older. I have other cats and none of them act this way.

    1. I have a 2 year old calico who likes to bite, she is a rescue and has a mind of her own, I am a pet sitter and am gone a lot and she doesn’t like it, I came home yesterday from a 3 week back and forth, she came and slept with me and I was surprised, but she wants to bite and scratch. She will cuddle on her terms only, do not pick her up.

  10. I was never a cat person. We had dogs all thru my childhood and twenties. Then in my 30s, my husband and I couldn't have animals because we had to rent rooms, and studios and had to follow the landlord's rules and not have pets.
    Only now, we had to move to a different, more affordable county in So Cal two years ago. To make a long story short, we have a 1year old Turkish Van male (Titus) and a 6 month old Calico female (Cali). Titus is my stroke support cat. I had to relearn how to do some basic things and it was just the routine of feeding, cleaning litter boxes, etc that helped me recover as quickly as I did. Cali, our Calico was dropped off with her two brothers on our doorstep. They were barely old enough to open their eyes. We brought them in and dropped fed them Colostrum. Cali stayed with us and is the biggest Divacat ever! The one thing that I love about her is that as vocal as she is, it is making Titus wanna talk more too! Oh, no one ever told me that cats are voyeurs, so that's been an interesting ever evolving story. I'm so happy and lucky to have our furbabies, I wouldn't trade them for anything!

  11. I have 2 Divas, Gia is 5yrs old and Nani is 2yrs old. Gia needs attention constantly while Nani it's at her discretion, as long as she is fed on time she's fine. I always buy them the same gift just in different colors and wouldn't you know they both want the same one, ALWAYS!
    PS why don't you let us show pictures

  12. I feel so happy to be able to comment on my beautiful Calico, Chloe. She’s such a sweetheart of a cat. I was fortunate enough to adopt her from a local pet store in my area. I have a couple other cats so I was hesitant at first. Every time I went in the store for a period of about three weeks, she was still there. Always crying for my attention from the very beginning. Her two litter mates were adopted and she was left. My heart caved in and I relented and took her in. After a quick trip to the vet to check if everything was all okay, I brought her home. She’s got that ‘Calitude’ going on and my other cats absolutely adore her. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a cat quite like her and she’s very loved.

  13. We have a beautiful calico/tabby her name is Kerra and we have a male tabby named Dylan they were both rescued cats we got them when they were about 4 months old sister and brother and both with different personalities

  14. Denise J Killick

    I've just adopted a female calico cat. Her name is Noodle and she's about 9 years old. She's absolutely lovely, with a super sweet personality. Her nose can get out of joint but it's quite rare. I usually talk to her and give her some love and then it's all good. I've had çats since I was three years old. They've all displayed different personalities but they've all been loved and cared for in the best way possible.

  15. I had a diluted Calico that had a striped tabby area but in Orange. She lived to be 13 years old snd resembled a Turkish Van breed in her attitude. She was very affectionate, loving, & sweet. She was a tiny, petite girl. She would sit in my lap, loved tummy rubs as well as pets & would also sleep curled up in my left arm & against my side. She acted like a Princess! When she sat down, she sat up straight, with her head up and her tail curled around the front of her body just so. She was the cutest & sweetest cat I had ever had & I’ve had cats for 61 years, since I was 5 and brought a feral kitten home with me from church unbeknownst to my mother!! She was a talker but not overly & her cries were so sweet it wasn’t annoying at all. Her name was Princess Twixie, named by my then 10 year old daughter who loved Twix bars! Her sibling a very large male cat was named Oreo Buddykins by my daughter. Oreos & Twix candy bars were her favorite at the time! Oreo was pure white with 3 large grey spots on him. He lived to be 14 years old.

  16. Because of their diva attitudes they usually have from my experience, some are alpha cats, meaning they don’t like intruders and they want all of your attention. They don’t like when you give attention to other cats. I’ve had several Calicos. & also grew up with 3 of them. Each one has their own personality. How does the feral cat treat the Calico when you’re not around? Do you know? Can you have a camera on them? Might be helpful if they are left alone together during the day…

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