Non-Pedigree Tortoiseshell

Long before the development of today’s pedigrees, tortoiseshell cats were highly-prized for their attractive looks. The coat has black and reddish areas, some of which may verge on cream. The distribution of patterning is highly individual in non-pedigree cats, whereas in purebred tortoiseshells of whatever breed, the mixing of the coat colours is considered to be a very important feature. These cats have a placid, affectionate nature, and a reputation for longevity.

The light and dark red areas in the tortoiseshell’s coat are the result of underlying random tabby markings, with the darker red patches corresponding to the tabby patterns themselves.Tortioshell

  • BREED DEVELOPED: Not recognised
  • COUNTRY: China
  • TYPE: Shorthair
  • BODY SHAPE: Stocky
  • WEIGHS UP TO: 7 .5kg / 16.5lb
  • PLUS POINTS: Unique appearance and friendly nature
  • WATCH POINTS: Check the gender

Nobody knows for sure where the first tortoiseshell cats appeared, but studies suggest that it was in Asia and possibly also in Europe. There are Chinese pictures of tortoiseshell cats dating back to before the 1600s.

A quirk of the tortie pattern is that almost all cats showing these markings are female, so that they are likely to be far less prevalent in the cat population overall than other varieties. Non-pedigree cats of this colour are normally the result of matings between orangetoms and black or tortoiseshell queens. On the rare occasions when males are bred, they are always sterile, and they do not behave like other toms, but rather as masculinised females. Such cats rarely spray urine as a territorial marker, nor will they show much interest in mating with females. This is due to the difference in their genetic constitution; instead of the normal two chromosomes, male tortoiseshells have three chromosomes, combining both male and female characteristics.


A number of myths surrounding male tortoiseshells have grown up over the centuries. In England, for example, it was believed that rubbing a wart with a tortoiseshell male cat’s tail during the month of other forms of tortoiseshell patterning have been developed, which include the blue and cream (or dilute) form and the tortoiseshell and white form, sometimes described as the calico, especially in the USA.

  • It is thought that on average, one male tortoiseshell kitten is born for every 200 females.
  • In Japan, fishermen traditionally prized such cats very highly, because having a male tortoiseshell cat on board was thought to protect the ship from ghosts and danger on a voyage.