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8 Questions About Calico Cats — Answered


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.

1. Is a calico a type of breed?

Calicos are not a breed of cat. Photography ©krblokhin | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

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

2. Where does the name calico come from?

A shy calico cat hiding under a table.

Calicos get their names from printed fabric. Photography by ©krblokhin | Thinkstock.

Actually, the term “calico cat” is a description you’ll mostly hear in the US. Why? Calico is actually a type of fabric, but when it came to the US 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 calicos with lighter coloration are sometimes called calimanco or clouded tiger. Calicos may also be referred to as piebald, which can refer to any animal with a white base and pigmented spots.

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

A dilute calico.

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

  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.

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

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.

“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.”

5. Are all calico cats female?

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.

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

6. What cat breeds can be calicos?

A munchkin calico cat.

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

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

7. Are calico cats good luck?

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.

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!

Calicos 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!

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

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.

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: Do you have calico cats? Does your calico have a real cattitude? Do you have a male calico cat?

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

Read more about cat colors on Catster.com:



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