Are Calicos and Tortoiseshell Cats Troublemakers?

Hear about the Tri-Colored 'Tude and see if it rings true for your cats.

By Janiss Garza | Posted: February 18, 2014, 12 p.m. EST

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Years ago, when I was trying to find a home for the cat I wound up accidentally fostering, I asked one cat-loving friend if he was interested. When told she was a calico, he flat-out said no. "No tri-color cats!" he insisted. He thought calicos (white cats with big splotches of red and black) and tortoiseshell cats (mainly black, with red, cream and sometimes white woven in) were temperamental troublemakers. And since I've lived with both calicos cats and a tortoiseshell, I honestly couldn't dispute this, because from my own experience, he was right.
Calico Cat
Binga lived up to her reputation.

The reputation that tortoiseshell cats and calicos have is mainly anecdotal, and there is not enough research to prove it. In fact, most of the research out there, such as the one done at the University of California, Berkley from a couple of years ago, looks at people's attitudes, not cat attitudes. And tortoiseshells in particular have gotten a bad rap. People believe them to be bossy, intolerant, and to have too much attitude. I would love to say this is a myth ... but my tortoiseshell, Binga, would probably whap me.
Calico Cat
Torties have been the best cats Janiss has ever had.

I will say that I know of torties that are quiet and shy, calicos that don't promptly take over the house, tri-colored cats that never get into mischief. I've just never met any personally. Mine (including the foster) have all been strong personalities, with fiery tempers: assertive and a little easy to overstimulate. They have not always been easy cats to live with. But they have also been the best cats I've ever had. And yes, once again, that includes the foster. My fiancé and I had her for maybe a month and we were miserable when we gave her up. But she and Binga could never have co-existed together. It would have been a nonstop battle royal for top billing in the house.

See pictures of calico cats >>

The thing with tri-colored kitties, though, is if you agree that you are not the boss of them and accept them on their terms, they are the most loyal, affectionate and fun cats ever. They're highly intelligent, love you to death, and when they misbehave or cop that infamous "attitude," it is usually because they are not getting enough attention - or they are getting the wrong attention at the wrong time. This is really not that difficult to figure out because they wear their opinions on their furry, multi-colored sleeves. If you don't want your tortie jumping on the counter, show her that she will be rewarded with treats or play if she sits somewhere else. She will learn (usually). If you are petting Callie the calico and she starts flipping her tail, it's a no-brainer to back off. In fact, she will probably give you some clear-cut clues long before her tail goes into action. Just use common sense and stop petting them before it gets to that point, and don't tease them at all. That way you'll get the best of what they have to offer.


Hear why calico cats are always female >>


My tri-colored cats have always been friendly, sociable, and delightfully mischievous. If they were human, they would be the friends I'd go out with when I needed my spirits lifted and wanted an evening full of fun, surprises and lots of female bonding. Living with a tortie or a calico means you can have that right at home, and who wouldn't want that?

Meet Sparkle the Designer Cat >>

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Are Calicos and Tortoiseshell Cats Troublemakers?

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Reader Comments

Paul    San Jose, CA

6/23/2014 3:50:20 PM

I have 15 year old Tortie who is highly vocal, extremely headstrong and temperamental especially when it comes to food. She will generally only eat something for a week or less then howls as if she is being tortured if she doesn't get something else. She belonged to my mom who spoiled her terribly then had to go into a facility for dementia. Is there any way to break her of this behavior? I've tried re-homing her with no results. I just found out that the worlds oldest cat just died at 120 cat years and this one is still in VERY good shape. HELP!!!!

Renay    International

2/24/2014 10:33:52 AM

We adopted a calico who was white with gray and cream patches. She was the sweetest cat and she had 4 kittens of her own. But even after she was spayed she still mothered her grown kittens. She even adopted 2 10 day old kittens that I brought in from the outside. We miss her to this day. She died in March 2009 from severe pneumonia.

Lori    Newton, IL

2/23/2014 12:48:46 PM

We adopted our tortie, Lily, with no preconceived notions, because we had never heard of the reputations of torties. She was a year and a half old, approx., and had had a rough life. At first, we got a huge dose of tortitude from her, and we didnt know if she would ever love us. But now, nine months down the road, she is very loving and sensitive, and we just accept her tortie moods.

Linda    Tacoma, WA

2/22/2014 3:49:37 PM

I have a 14 year old tortoiseshell named Baby. When she is mad at me Baby either walks on the piano or chews on the edges of papers on my desk. She likes to push pens or pencils on the floor so the dog can chew them up. Baby kept going upstairs and would take things off the train table (tools, cars, people, etc.) and bring them downstairs. We finally had to put a door in to keep her out. She lets the dog (Bella) chase her but if Bella is trying to keep her away from me she will bop her. She brought my youngest cat home one night when Kitty Boy was only about 4 weeks old and I think she thought he was her kitten. The vet said he would think she is 6 if he didn't know her real age. Baby is also very loving and likes to sit in my lap. If I don't feel well she will check me out to see what's wrong. when I sing she climbs my leg or gets in my face. Her mother was also tortoiseshell and was a little quieter but very demanding when she wanted my attention.

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