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Calico Is Not A Breed

Cynthia B. Whitney
Reprinted With Permission

One of the extraordinary staff members
Of Absolutely Cats

Recently, I was thumbing through a mail-order gift catalog, when I noticed a group of T-shirts. The ad read "All Cotton shirts in 4 favorite cat breeds: Persian, Siamese, Manx and Calico." Ugh! I thought, "Here we go again!"

Guess this is a pet peeve of mine, and I'd like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. A calico cat, my feline friends, is a color pattern found on numerous breeds of cats; it is not a breed by itself.

Basically, a calico cat is a tri-colored cat of black, red(orange), and white. It can also be of a diluted version in blue (gray), cream, and white. Cats with these same colors, but without the white spotting gene, are called tortoiseshells, or torties, and blue-creams, respectively. The white can be in varying degrees. Cats with mostly color, and low amounts of white are sometimes referred to as "tortie and white" instead of calico. Calico cats with mostly a white background and patches of red and black are called "high white" calico cats. If the cat is all white, with only color patches on the head and tail, and no more than one patch on the body, it is a "van" calico cat.

According to the world's largest cat registry, The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), there are actually 16 breeds that come in calico patterns. Amongst these breeds, you can have a large Maine Coon calico, or a Persian with its long flowing coat in calico cat colors, or a Scottish Fold, with it's turned down ears, can be a calico or tortie or blue-cream, in either long or short coats.

And are all calico cats females? Well, the majority of them are. For very complicated genetic reasons, it takes two X chromosomes for a cat to be a tortoiseshell or calico cat. A male would have to possess two X and one Y chromosomes to be a calico cat. This can happen, but very rarely. According to a study at the College of Veterinary Medicine in Missouri, one out of 3,000 calico colored cats is male. This oddity occurs in humans, too. The males, in both cases, are usually sterile.

So, the next time you visit a friend and see their tri-colored cat, show off your new cat knowledge. You might say, " Oh, you have a calico colored cat. What breed is it?" Bet you get a very strange stare...

More information about Calico kittens and cats.

Calico--The State Cat of Maryland

Effective October 1, 2001, the calico cat became the official cat of Maryland (Chapter 194, Acts of 2001; Code State Government Article, sec. 13-317). Its colors of orange, black, and white are shared with the Baltimore oriole (State bird) and the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly (State insect).

Calico is not a breed of cat, but an unusual coloring occurring across many breeds, including Domestic Short-hair, Persian, and Manx. Virtually all calico cats are female; a male calico is a genetic anomaly and usually sterile. Producing calico kittens through selective breeding also is nearly impossible due to unpredictable actions of genes and chromosomes when cells multiply in a feline fetus.

A calico cat must be a tri-color, with its three colors in distinct patches, not mixed as in a tortoiseshell cat. Some breed standards specify what percentage of the body must be white; others allow tabby striping in the color patches. To be a true tri-color, a calico cat's colors must be: white; red or cream; and black, blue, chocolate, lilac, cinnamon, or fawn. The variations in color from red and black are caused by a gene which dilutes, or lightens up the basic color, and produces a dilute calico cat, most commonly with a coat of white, cream, and blue.