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

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.
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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:

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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