Are all orange tabby cats male and are all calico cats female?

Hear the science behind uncommon female orange tabby cats and the extremely rare tortoisehsell or calico male cat.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Updated: January 17, 2013, 2 p.m. EST

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Orange Tabby Cats

Q: I have heard that all orange tabby cats are male, and to find one that is female is rare and worth up to $1,000. I also have heard that calico cats and tortoiseshell cats are female and to find a male is just as rare and prized. Is there any truth to this?

A: Your first statement is incorrect. Most, but certainly not all, orange tabby cats are male. Orange tabby cats are about 80/20 male to female. We have many female orange tabby cats in my practice. There is no monetary value, per se, associated with a female orange tabby cat. Calico and tortoiseshell cats, however, are almost always female.

Here’s how it works. To have black and orange in the same cat, the cat needs two X chromosomes. Two X chromosomes mean the cat will be female. Male cats need a Y chromosome and are XY.

Occasionally a mutation will arise during embryonic development and a kitten will be born with an extra chromosome: XXY. The two Xs allow for the cat to be black and orange. The Y makes it a male. This is how you get a tortoiseshell or a calico male cat.

Tortoiseshell and calico male cats are uncommon (one out of 3000 are male), but don’t get your hopes up about breeding these rare cats for money. As a result of this mutation, most tortoiseshell and calico male cats are sterile.

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Reader Comments

Cathy    Buffalo, MO

3/11/2014 7:57:48 PM

Very interesting topic. My orange tabby cat gave birth to 5 kittens, all orange tabby...3 females and 2 males.

Kenneth    Frankfort, KY

12/20/2013 5:18:54 PM

Radar Love My 2 yr old Part Abaysinian has the black & orange around his back side like the back half is calico. But I had him fixed when he was 3 months old.
Maybe I should of waited to see if he was sterial or not.

Michalle    Portland, OR

12/10/2013 3:35:54 PM

I have a female orange tabby cat named Sunny. She was a rescue cat.

Jean    Valrico, FL

12/10/2013 2:14:20 PM

We had a black and orange female cat who had asthma and a prolapsed mitral valve. She lived a good life to the age of four. we currently inherited from our vet a orange male mix bread. He looks mostly like a long hair tabby. We have eight indoor rescued cats living with me and my husband. Our newest addition, is orange and tan with the most beautiful bushy tail we have every seen. So far, it appears he has been born without any birth defects and a wonderful personality. All of our Cats have become one big happy family.

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