Comparing Tabby and Tortoiseshell Cats


Cats are special and come in various shapes and colors. However, their coat patterns are the most noticeable characteristic. Two of the most well-liked patterns are the tabby pattern and the tortoiseshell pattern.

So, what’s the distinction between tabby cats and tortoiseshell cats? The distinction lies in the coat pattern. Tortoiseshell cats have a coat pattern that looks like a tortoise shell, while tabby cats have a pattern with stripes, spots, swirls, and agouti hairs. When tortoiseshell cats are mixed with the tabby coat pattern, they are referred to as Torbie.

At first glance, these may appear to be regular house cats, but there is actually a lot of fascinating information about Tortoiseshell and tabby cats. We will reveal some of these intriguing discoveries and also provide more details about tabby cats!

Tortoiseshell And Tabby Cats Are Not Actually Cat Breeds

Tortoiseshell and Tabby cats are not separate cat breeds. Many people mistakenly believe they are. In fact, these terms describe the coat pattern of a cat. Any breed of cat can have a tabby coat pattern, as it is a common gene found in all domestic cats.

Tortoiseshell cats, on the other hand, are quite common but are more prevalent in certain breeds. Some of these breeds include the British Shorthair, Maine, Persian, Cornish Rex, and others. Interestingly, the tabby and tortoiseshell coat patterns can combine genetically to create a truly unique design. It is possible to have a tortoiseshell cat with stripes and swirls in its coat, which are now referred to as Torbie cats instead of Tortie cats. You can find more information about dilute tortie cats here.

Tabby Cats Feature 5 Unique Coat Patterns

The main distinction between tabby cats and tortoiseshell cats lies in the range of patterns they exhibit. Tortoiseshell cats typically display a patchy pattern consisting of orange and black colors that are interconnected, resembling an actual tortoiseshell. In some cases, they may also have white fur on their bellies and a split face with orange and black on opposite sides.

Tabby cats, unlike other cats, have a wider range of patterns. There are 5 different patterns that can be observed in tabby cats.

  • Classic
  • Mackerel
  • Spotted
  • Ticked (Agouti)
  • Patched

The regular tabby design is the usual splotches seen on most cats. They can look like dark swirls in various shapes and sizes all over the fur. Normally, this design stops at the paws and also includes the tail. The mackerel design is likely the most common tabby cat pattern you’ll come across. This is when the cat has thin to medium-sized stripes all along its body.
The stripes on a tabby cat go up and down its back, making it look like a fishbone. This is why it’s called a mackerel tabby. Another type of tabby is the spotted tabby, which has spots of different sizes and shapes all over its body. These spots can be round or oval and are scattered randomly.

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Ticked patterns are commonly observed in Siamese cats. This occurs when the individual hair follicles have horizontal stripes instead of the entire follicle being striped. Patched patterns are similar to what you would find in a tortoiseshell cat. The spots are located in specific areas rather than being spread across the entire body.

It’s really cool when the patterns of tabby and tortoiseshell cats combine to create a torbie. Usually, this results in a tortoiseshell cat with stripes on its body, tail, and head. However, other tabby patterns can also be present. It’s not unusual to find Classic and Spotted patterns on tortoiseshell cats.

The patches of colors will still be present, so they are sometimes referred to as patched tabby cats. However, it can be confusing to distinguish them because the tabby stripes make it harder to see some of the orange colors.

It can be difficult to distinguish between Tortoiseshell and Torbie cats, but one clue is to examine the forehead. If the cat has the tabby gene, you will notice the distinctive M pattern on its forehead. Another indicator is the presence of orange (red) areas on the cat’s feet, which can suggest a tortoiseshell mix.

Male Tortoiseshell Cats Are Rare

Having a male cat may be a choice for some individuals. Nevertheless, encountering a male tortoiseshell cat is quite uncommon. Typically, only one in every 3000 tortoiseshell cats will be male. Due to their rarity, female tortoiseshell cats are the prevailing variety.

The reason why female tortoiseshell cats are more common is because of their genetic makeup. Female tortoiseshell cats have two X chromosomes, which play a crucial role in determining the color of their fur. Having two X chromosomes enables female cats to have both the orange and black colors necessary to create a tortoiseshell pattern.

On the flip side, male cats possess an X and Y chromosome, making it highly unlikely for them to carry both color genes. They only have one color gene, which means male cats can only be orange or black, but not a mix of both. If you do come across a male tortoiseshell cat, it should raise some concerns.

Many male tortoiseshell cats are unable to reproduce due to their genetics, resulting in a low likelihood of reproduction. These cats typically possess two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome, which enables the development of their orange and black coat colors. However, the presence of the extra chromosome can lead to significant health problems that impact the cat’s lifespan.

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While it is very uncommon, there are male tortoiseshell cats that can reproduce. This is because specific genes turn off certain colors in order to create the pattern.

Tabby Cats Have An M On Their Forehead

A key characteristic that distinguishes a tabby cat is the well-known M shape on their forehead. The reason behind this M is still unknown, but it is undoubtedly linked to the cat’s genetic makeup. Tortoiseshell cats, on the other hand, do not possess this M on their forehead unless they carry the tabby gene.

Tortoiseshell Cats Are More Expensive

While a regular house cat typically costs between 0 and $200, Tortoiseshell cats are considerably more expensive. The price range for a typical Tortoiseshell cat is $1000 to $3000. This is partly because this coat pattern is less common compared to others. The cost of a Tortoiseshell cat depends on factors such as the cat’s age, place of purchase, any special breeding practices, and more. In general, purebred Tortoiseshell cats will always be on the pricier side.

Tabby cats, on the other hand, are generally cheaper, although the price can vary depending on the breed. If you have an American Shorthair, which is the most common domestic pet, the costs will be relatively low. However, certain tabby breeds may be more expensive. Additionally, specific tabby patterns, such as chocolate and silver coats or bi-color cats, can also affect the price.

Having a list of cat breeds ranked by cost is useful when considering the price of tortoiseshell and tabby cats. It’s important to note that both patterns can be found in each of these breeds.

  • Bengal
  • Maine
  • Peterbald
  • Persian
  • American Wirehair
  • Ragdoll
  • American Curl
  • Scottish Fold
  • British Shorthair
  • Sphynx
  • Russian Blue
  • Ocicat
  • Siamese

If you’re looking to have a tortoiseshell or tabby cat without spending too much money, adoption is a great choice. Just remember that taking care of any cat comes with many additional expenses, such as vet visits, food, litter, grooming supplies, and more.

Tortoiseshell Cats Can Come In Many Colors

Did you know that tortoiseshell cats can have different colors? They can be black, white, grey, or even rare colors. Tortoiseshell cats can also have cream, red, chocolate, blue, gold, and many other coat colors. Some unique colors like blue and fawn are created by diluting other colors, resulting in a lighter coat color for the cat.

Sometimes, a cat can have a two-color pattern on its face. In this situation, half of the face will be orange and the other half will be black, divided right in the middle.

Tortoiseshell cats usually have a combination of orange and black shades in their coats, with the possibility of white mixed in underneath the belly. The uniqueness of their coat design lies not only in the colors but also in how they are blended together, resulting in large patches of different colors all over the cat’s coat.

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Tabby and Tortoiseshell Coat Color And Behavior

Many studies have been conducted on cats regarding their coat color and behavior. Although there is ample evidence supporting the connection between cat breeds and temperament, it is crucial to acknowledge that each cat is unique. Nonetheless, Tortoiseshell cats have gained a reputation for their feisty demeanor.

Tortoiseshell cats have been labeled as aggressive, untamed, and full of energy, among other things. They are often referred to as having a unique attitude called “tortitude”. However, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that tortoiseshell cats are more reactive than other cats. Similar research has also been conducted on tabby cats to explore the connection between their coat pattern and behavior.

Cornish Rex Breed Is More Likely To Be A Tortoiseshell

Although the tortoiseshell coat pattern can be found in all breeds, it is most commonly observed in the Cornish Rex. Apart from the Cornish Rex, the Japanese Bobtail and Birman breeds also exhibit this pattern. Here is a list of other breeds that are also likely to have this coat pattern.

  • American Shorthair
  • Oriental Longhair
  • British Shorthair
  • Persian

Luck And Other Myths

Each kind of cat breed and pattern appears to have its own special tale. For instance, tabby cats have a long history that goes all the way back to ancient Egypt. There are also various stories that attempt to clarify the distinctive M shape found on the foreheads of tabby cats. Numerous myths and legends about tabby cats make references to biblical texts and specific regions.

Tortoiseshell cats also have their own set of interesting legends. One of the most popular beliefs is that tortoiseshell cats are considered lucky. These tales can be traced back to ancient Celtic times. In addition, there are associations with luck in Japanese culture, as well as in Irish and Scottish homes. It is believed that tortoiseshell cats can ward off ghosts, heal illnesses, and even bring good luck to their owners.

You can also check this YouTube video about this topic:

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[Wikipedia] [Encyclopedia Britannica] [National Geographic] [cdc.gov] [Purina]

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