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

Dot    Forney, TX

7/26/2014 9:03:13 AM

There is a kitten making my yard it's home. I don't know where it came from. It won't let me close enough to touch but it looks like a orange tabby and it has powder blue eyes.
Any thoughts on gender from eye color? ......I think I may be needing to come up with a name :)

Cherie    Ballwin, MO

7/1/2014 9:16:28 PM

I never heard about orange tabby cats being mostly males. When I was a child we found a pregnant cat,she had four kittens. Three were orange tabby and one was black and white. The orange tabby kittens were female and the tuxedo kitten was male. The mother was a calico. They were all beautiful!

Lisa    Helena, MT

7/1/2014 3:32:08 PM

I rescued an orange female tabby who had 5 orange female kittens. Mom was feral and went to live at a sanctuary. I found homes for 2 of the girls, 1 died as a kitten and I have the other two. They are my "ginger snaps". I wish they had been worth $1,000 but now they are priceless.

Claudia    San Mateo, CA

6/25/2014 8:14:11 AM

My cats, Peaches and Shadow (1993 - 2012 and 2013, dearly loved and missed: RIP)came from a litter of 4 cats: 1 male, 3 females, three orange and
one tabby. I brought Peaches, male, orange and Shadow female, multicolor home. The remaining 2 female orange tabbies found homes with co-workers.

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