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Cats are unique and come in all shapes and colors. The most important characteristic of cats, however, is their coat pattern. Some of the most popular patterns include the tabby pattern and a tortoiseshell pattern.
So what is the difference between tabby cats vs. tortoiseshell cats? The difference between a tabby cat and a tortoiseshell cat lies in the coat pattern. Tortoiseshell cats have a coat pattern that resembles the shell of a turtle. Tabby cats feature a pattern that includes stripes, spots, swirls, and agouti hairs. Tortoiseshell cats mixed with the tabby coat pattern are called Torbie.
At first glance, these may seem like ordinary house cats, but there is a lot of interesting information about tortoiseshell and tabby cats. We’ll share some of these interesting discoveries and more about tabby cats!
Tortoiseshell and Tabby Cats Aren’t Really Cat Breeds
Tortoiseshell cats and tabby cats are not actually individual cat breeds. This is a common misconception. The reality is that these terms simply refer to your cat’s coat pattern. Almost any breed of cat can be a tabby cat. It is one of the most common coat pattern genes in all domestic cats.
Tortoiseshell cats, on the other hand, are fairly common but cater to some breeds more than others. Some of these breeds include the British Shorthair, Maine, Persian, Cornish Rex and many others. In fact, tabby and tortoiseshell coat patterns can combine through genetics and form a truly unique design. You could basically end up with a tortoiseshell cat that has stripes and swirls in its coat. These are now called Torbie cats instead of Tortie cats.
Tabby cats feature 5 unique coat patterns
One of the biggest differences between tabby cats and tortoiseshell cats is the variety of patterns each cat has. Tortoiseshell cats, for the most part, feature orange and black colors that are connected to each other in a mottled pattern. the pattern ends up closely resembling real tortoiseshell. Sometimes they can also show white under the belly and even split face with orange and black on each side.
Tabby cats are a bit different because the patterns are much more varied. There are 5 distinct patterns seen in tabby cats below.
- Checked (agoti)
The classic tabby pattern matches the typical spots found on most cats. They can appear as dark swirls of random shapes and sizes all around the coat. Usually this pattern stops just at the feet and also covers the tail. The mackerel pattern is probably the most common tabby cat pattern you will see. This is where the cat has fine to medium stripes all over its body.
The stripes run vertically backwards, which almost resembles a mackerel fishbone structure, hence the name. Next is the spotted tabby cat which resembles the classic model. The cat will show small, medium and large spots on its body. These spots will appear randomly and take on a variety of shapes ranging from round circles to ovals.
Checked patterns are mostly seen in Siamese cats. This is when individual hair follicles are scratched horizontally rather than the entire follicle. Patched is similar to what you’ll see a tortoiseshell cat represent. The spots will be in specific places rather than all over the body.
What is truly unique is when the tabby pattern and the tortoiseshell pattern blend together and form a torbie. It will mostly be a tortoiseshell cat with stripes down the side of the body, tail and towards the head. The other tabby patterns may also be present. It is not uncommon to find the Classic and Spotted patterns on tortoiseshell cats.
Color patches will always remain, so sometimes they are called patched tabby cats. It’s very easy to mix these cats up, as the addition of the tabby stripes makes some orange colors harder to see.
Although it’s hard to tell the difference between Tortoiseshell and Torbie cats, you can still look at the forehead. If it contains the tabby gene, you will most likely see the iconic M pattern on the cat’s forehead. Also look for orange (red) areas on the cat’s feet to help determine if it is a tortoiseshell mix.
Male tortoiseshell cats are rare
Owning a male cat may be a preference for some. However, if you come across a male tortoiseshell cat, you are in rare company. Usually, only 1 in 3000 tortoiseshell cats will be male. Because male tortoiseshell cats are so rare, it means female tortoiseshell cats are the dominant type.
The reason why female tortoiseshell cats are the norm has to do with the genetics of the cat. Female tortoiseshell cats have two X chromosomes which are the determining factor in the coloring of the cat’s coat. Having two X chromosomes allows female cats to carry both the orange and black colors needed to form a tortoiseshell.
Males, on the other hand, have an X and Y chromosome, so the likelihood of them carrying both color genes is extremely rare. They only have one color gene, so male cats will only be orange or black, not a combination of the two. If you happen to find a male tortoiseshell, there is cause for concern.
Most male tortoiseshell cats are actually sterile, and it has a lot to do with their genetics. This means that the probability of reproduction is very low. Male tortoiseshell cats usually end up with two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome. These two X chromosomes allow the coat to develop those orange and black colors. However, the combination of the extra chromosome can cause serious health issues that affect the cat’s life expectancy.
Although extremely rare, there are fertile male tortoiseshell cats. Much of this has to do with certain genes cutting off certain colors so that the pattern can be formed.
Tabby cats have an M on their forehead
One of the big indicators that a cat is a tabby cat is the famous M on its forehead. Nobody really knows why the M exists except that it is definitely linked to cat genetics. Tortoiseshell cats won’t have that M on their forehead unless they have the tabby gene in them.
Tortoiseshell cats are more expensive
While a typical house cat costs between $0 and $200, tortoiseshell cats cost much more than that. A typical tortoiseshell cat costs between $1,000 and $3,000. This is partly because this coat pattern is less common than some others. The cost of a tortoiseshell cat is highly dependent on the age of the cat, where it is purchased if there have been any special breeding practices and more. For the most part, purebred tortoiseshell cats will always be the most expensive on the spectrum.
Tabby cats, on the other hand, are much cheaper, but again it depends on the breed. Since most pets are American Shorthairs, the costs will be relatively low. However, some tabby breeds can cost more. Some tabby patterns can also be more expensive. Factors such as rare coat colors like chocolate and silver and whether the cat is bicolor also play a role.
Since cat breed plays such a large role in the cost of tortoiseshell and tabby cats, it helps to have a list of them from most expensive to least expensive. Remember that each of these cat breeds can feature the tortoiseshell or tabby pattern.
- American Wire
- rag doll
- american curl
- Scottish fold
- British Shorthair
- Russian blue
If you really want to have a tortoiseshell or tabby cat while saving on costs, adoption is definitely an option. Keep in mind that when raising a cat there are tons of other costs associated with it. This includes veterinary care, food, bedding, grooming supplies, and everything else.
Tortoiseshell cats can be many colors
Did you know that tortoiseshell cats can come in different colors? This includes common colors like black, white, and gray as well as rare colors. You can find tortoiseshell cats in cream, red, chocolate, blue, gold, and many other coat colors. Some of the more unique colors like blue and fawn are caused by the dilution of other colors. This gives the cat a much lighter coat color.
Sometimes the cat may feel a two-color pattern on the face. In this case, half of the face will be orange while the other is black. It will be split down the middle.
For the most part, tortoiseshell coats will contain shades of orange (red) and black. Sometimes the white can be mixed with the coat under the belly. This is because most tortoiseshell cats are tri-colored. What makes their coat design so unique is not necessarily the colors, but the way they are woven together. This leaves you with a cat with large patches of color all over its coat.
Tabby and Tortoiseshell Coat Color and Behavior
Many studies have been conducted on cats regarding cat coat color and behavior. Although there is plenty of evidence to support cat breeds and temperaments, it’s important to remember that every cat is an individual. Tortoiseshell cats, however, have developed a reputation for their sassy attitude.
Tortoiseshell cats have been described as aggressive, wild, and energetic, and so much more. The phrase was coined as “tortitude”, however, there is no distinct evidence that tortoiseshell cats are more reactive than other cats. Similar studies have been done on tabby cats when it comes to linking coat pattern to behavior.
The Cornish Rex breed is more likely to be a tortoiseshell
While all breeds can sport the tortoiseshell coat pattern, it is most commonly seen in the Cornish Rex. In addition to the Cornish Rex, the tortoiseshell pattern is also seen in the Japanese Bobtail and the Burmese. Here is a list of other breeds that are also likely to have this coat pattern.
- american shorthair
- long haired oriental
- British Shorthair
Luck and other myths
Each type of cat breed and pattern seems to have a unique story behind it. For example, tabby cats have a history dating back to the Egyptian period. There are also stories that attempt to explain the unique M pattern seen on the foreheads of tabby cats. Many tabby cat myths and legends refer to biblical texts and regions.
Tortoiseshell cats also have unique myths. Most notably, tortoiseshell cats are considered a symbol of good luck. These stories date back to the Celtic period. There are also links to luck in Japanese culture as well as in Irish and Scottish homes. Tortoiseshell cats are believed to protect against ghosts, cure ailments, and even bring good fortune to those who possess them.