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

Cindi    Ancaster, ON

2/19/2015 8:53:15 PM

I have had both male and female orange tabbies. The females are usually the sweetest things. Very even tempered. Males, at least both of mine, are little dickens that you can't help but to love. My calico was the sweet witch, depending on her mood that second. My tortie was a witch, a one person witch.
Male calicos usually have some kind of major illness that will end up costing you a lot of money. One that showed up here had a neuro disorder that made it hard for the little thing to walk straight.

Lois    Eugene, OR

12/13/2014 4:38:48 PM

I have had a little female calico, Miss. Great cat, very petite,loved to be on my lap or right next to me. lived to 17. Loved her.
Now I have an orange Male tabby. Rascal, so smart, not a lap cat, but very devoted. we seem to speak the same language.

Pat    Vashon, WA

12/11/2014 1:14:00 PM

I have an orange tabby brother and sister. The male has a pointed face and likes to believe he is dominant. The female is the most beautiful tabby I've ever had as a pet. Even vets remark about her appearance. The mother of these two was a calico with orange patches. We have no idea of the father. The femaie inherited a lung disorder called pulmonary granulomitis and has difficulty breathing. Her brother has occasional asthma attacks. They are now nine years old and I hope they have many more birthdays.

BarbaraAtNutro    Morton Grove, IL

10/21/2014 6:15:54 PM

My orange tabby was male and both of the two calico's that I had many years ago were female. Just last weekend I started talking to a women shopping for her new kitten that is calico and a male. She showed me his photo and he is gorgeous. I was surprised as I always thought that all calico's were female. Interesting article.

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