Hey Pet Parents & Pet Lovers,
It should come as no surprise that we are the proud parents of a gorgeous Calico cat. When we were first adopting Miss Kalista we actually didn’t know too much about Calicos (being that we didn’t realize they commonly have a certain personality type and that a Calico’s sibling may be coloured completely differently then them.) One fact that was brought up was that only female cats can be Calicos, but today I want to address if that’s true or not. There are a lot of myths about cats and it’s important that we get them straight. So let’s get started.
What is a Calico Cat?
Calico Cats are defined as domestic cats who have spotted or particoloured coats. Calicos have coats that are predominantly white with splashes of two other colours, the most common being orange and black. Other colours that Calicos can have include ginger, gray and cream. Sometimes Calicos are called “tortoiseshell and white cats” especially outside of North America. Another name for them is “tri-colour cat”, however, this is also less common than Calico.
Note: Tortoiseshell cats are not considered Calico Cats as tortoiseshells are only black and orange. The main difference is that Calicos have white included in the mix.
So, does this make our other cat Beau a Calico?
No, it does not. Although Beau has multiple colours in his coat and white is the predominant colour, his coat is patterned and not splashed. While we’re still not 100% sure what Beau would classify as, he, unfortunately, is not a Calico.
So How Do the Genetics of My Cats Play A Part in their Fur Colour?
You may want to pull out your high-school science textbooks and flip to the page where they talk about dominant and non-dominant genes. If you didn’t learn about dominant and non-dominant genes in high school, like me, here’s what I’ve learned about them!
Coat colours can be complicated as they are so heavily connected to the gender of the animal (as are many other physical features.) Females have two X chromosomes and males have one X and one Y. Simply put Females = XX and Males = XY. The colours black or orange are found inside of the X chromosome, however, only one is usually expressed. White is expressed from a separate gene. Now, in females, one of the X chromosomes may be deactivated. This is called an X-inactivation. If a cat has an X-inactivation it commonly leads to a random mix of colours that create the splashed colour effect we see in Calico Cats.
Since females have XX chromosomes they are able to express both black and orange creating the beautiful 3-colour blend we see. (Remember, they must also have the extra gene that controls white or they will be a tortoiseshell kitty!)
Due to the fact that males are XY, the majority will only display black or orange. They can still express white because this is expressed from another gene.
So my dreams of adopting a male Calico are unachievable?
Oddly enough, no. Although extremely rare, about 1 in every 3000 male cats who have the chromosomes which can express orange or black are Calicos making them extremely rare. This is due to a “chromosomal aberration” which means that the male has two X chromosomes (XXY). Cats who have XXY chromosomes are often unable to breed due to being sterile. This is also true amongst other mammals who are able to carry XXY chromosomes.
I’m a tad bit confused, is Calico a Breed?
No, Calico is not a breed. Calico is merely a colouring. There are actually 16 different known breeds who can have this colouration. Some include Maine Coons, Scottish Folds, Japanese Bobtails, American Shorthairs. Persians, Domestic Shorthair, Domestic Long Hair, Turkish Van, Turkish Angora, Exotic Shorthair, British Shorthair, Munchkin, and Norwegian Forest Cats.
I have a sterile male Calico, should I still neuter him?
This is 100% your choice. I would recommend neutering him still as he will exhibit behaviours of an unneutered male. Similar to sterile humans, just because they shoot blanks does not mean they do not have a libido. Sterile male cats will continue to spray, show signs of wanting to mate and show signs of aggression.
Although very rare, male cats can express Calico colouring. This being the case most of them are sterile. I’m curious how many of my readers were told that only female cats were Calicos and how many knew the science behind it! It’s quite interesting and I have yet to meet a male Calico in real life!