Conscious Cat

August 17, 2009 13,728 Comments

“Tortitude” – The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats

Posted by Ingrid

tortitude tortoiseshell cat personality

Tortoiseshell cats are named for their distinctive coloring – a combination of patches of black, brown, amber, red, cinnamon and chocolate.  The size of the patches varies from a fine speckled pattern to large areas of color.  The term “tortoiseshell” is used for cats with brindled coats that have few or no white markings.  Cats of this coloring with larger areas of white fur are called calicos. Sometimes, these colors present in lighter versions such as lilac or cream.  Torties with this lighter coloring are called dilute torties.  Occasionally, the typical tortoiseshell colors are also seen in a tabby (striped) pattern, and these cats are sometimes referred to as “torbies.”

Tortoiseshell cats are almost exclusively female.  Tortoiseshell and calico coats are the result of the interaction between genetic and developmental factors.  The occasional and very rare male tortoiseshell cat is the result of a genetic mutation.

In addition to their distinctive coloring, torties also have a reputation for unique personalities, sometimes referred to as “tortitude.”  They tend to be strong-willed, a bit hot-tempered, and they can be very possessive of their human.  Other words used to describe torties are fiercely independent, feisty and unpredictable.  They’re usually very talkative and make their presence and needs known with anything from a hiss to a meow to a strong purr.  These traits are stronger in tortoiseshell cats than in calicos – it seems as though these traits are somewhat diluted with the addition of more white to the color scheme.

As of the writing of this post, I share my life with Amber*, and those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while have gotten to know her in her Amber’s Mewsings posts.  You will soon be able to read all about Buckley in Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master TeacherThe photo above shows Buckley in the front, Amber behind her.

Prior to Amber and Buckley, there was another tortie in my life.  Virginia was the first office cat at the animal hospital I managed.  She was my introduction to torties, and my love affair with this particular type of cat began with her.  She, too, had the “tortitude” I so love about these particular cats.

Do you have a tortie or calico in your life?  Does she have “tortitude?”

*Sadly, Amber passed away on May 13, 2010, after a sudden, brief illness.  I now share my life with Allegra and Ruby, two tortoiseshell cats who have their own columns here on The Conscious Cat, titled Allegra’s World and Ruby’s Reflections.

Photo ©Ingrid King, all rights reserved

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13,728 Responses to ““Tortitude” – The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats”

  1. Melissa Robitille says:

    We are fortunate enough to be loved by a male tortiseshell cat, who definitely has ‘tortitude’. He has taken it upon himself to be the guardian of the household, and nanny of my little boy – no stricter bedtime monitor in the world! While my fiance doesn’t seem to mind letting our feisty tortie wrestle with him (apparently not minding the shredded hands), I have informed our beloved kitty that “Mom” doesn’t play rough – and I still wouldn’t want his personality any other way.

  2. Jay says:

    Welcome Melissa, I am also the caretaker of a Male Tortie. His name is Diver and he has NO Tortitude. There are getting to be quite a few male torties on Ingrid’s blog and I am interested in knowing how they differ than their female sisters. Are they big, gentle or aggressive, playful etc. My Diver loves everyone – even my Tortie Stirfry who hates all cats. He has huge paws and is going to be a big boy. Please tell us more about your guy. What is his name ?

  3. Jay says:

    Melissa, read Ingrid’s article on play aggression and under it is an article she posted written by our friend on here Harry Shubin – Petting Aggression. The cat shown is Stirfry. I think she gets a bad rap – but that is only by every cat who has met her. But she is my little girl and I love her – and she loves me.

    • Ingrid says:

      Actually, what Melissa is describing sounds like play aggression, Jay, that’s why I provided the link to that article. While some of the remedies are the same, it’s a different cause.

      • Jay says:

        Ingrid, I knew that – You/Harry/Bernadette all have told us to play with items and not hands. I did not do that with Stir, but then – it probably would not have mattered. But then – I did not have experts to explain what a Tortie was when I 1st took her in. All I knew was I had a very aggressive Anti-Social cat that a Vet explained was a Tortie. Then I found you and this wonderful blog. :)

  4. Bernie says:

    Melissa, your male Tortie sounds great. Jay and Ingrid are giving very good advice. Now if for some reason you would part with your male Tortie, Jay would walk over fire stones to get him. LOL

    • Jay says:

      Always have room for another cat and Torties are extra special. And Diver would love another male to play with. Female can be hard to get along with. Stir and Styx especially.

  5. Jay says:

    Kim, way to go on rescuing that little kitten. You will find out Torties are special and live life to the fullest. Play hard and love hard. Torri sound like a wonderful cat and maybe she will be one of those few Torties that have Tortitude to the MAX.
    Bernie’s Steeler, Glen’s Kasey, Harry’s Brooke and my Stirfry are examples of that. TOP CAT in the house and don’t let you forget it.

  6. Jackie says:

    We have a 4 month female calico kitten. She definitely does have tortitude. She is very feisty! We all adore her and she is so much a part of the family already.

    • Ingrid says:

      There’s some debate as to whether calicos might have even more tortitude than torties, Jackie. Some say the addition of white enhances the tortitude effect! :-)

  7. Jay says:

    At 1:19 on 8/27/14 Tabatha became an Angel. She went to play with Punky and Liberty and become a mommy for little T-me.

  8. Jay says:

    Ingrid, Tabatha had been sleeping in the basement for the last 2 days. I would see her there in the morning. Nothing unusual as she would come to the downstairs door to go out and eat grass. I had not let her out in the last couple days as I was busy and did not want to forget about her and accidently leave her out as I did a month ago. Well, I did not see her last night as I emptied the kitty litter but did look for her to maake sure she was not in the 2 rooms with doors. Well today at 11 am I saw her in the kitchen at the water bowl. I picked her up to give her kisses and noticed she had lost weight. She had a smell about her that was the same as when my Bishon – Samatha did before she crossed the Bridge. I took her back to the bedroom and put her on the bed. Kissed her and told her she was loved. She was purring. About 30 min later I took her outside on the deck and laid down with her. She cried when I moved her but settled down and purred for me. Bernie called and I told her Tabby was going. Bernie said goodbye to her and I spent the next 45 min with her. She got up one but settled down. After a while she struggled and cried out. A painfull cry and her legs straightened out and kicked. I held her and kissed and and told her she would see her Pumpkin and Liberty playing together and little T-me who needed a Mom. Tabby purred and slowly settled down. Her eyes were a bright green. After a couple minutes she relaxed and I saw her cat eyes had gone. Kissed her and brought her inside. Called the Vet and they said to bring her her in to be cremated. I did. She is now happy and playing with jewelery – she had expensive taste in diamonds and gold. I will miss my gentle Tortie w white.

    • Glen says:

      Jay, I am very sorry to hear about this.

      She was a special cat and I know she will be greatly missed.

    • Bernie says:

      Jay’a Tabatha was a beautiful, gentle, loving tortie with white. She loved to take my watch and diamond bracelet and play with and then lay on them. I would let her have them until I would need them. Jay told me she was a momma to Pumpkin after Stirfry gave up motherhood and she raised Punky in her image. Gentle, loving and beautiful soul. She was always on the table and first to be petted. I loved her and she showered me with her kitty love. I will miss her too. The one thing is and Tabby Cat will have forever is she was looking into Jay loving eyes as she crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, so it is Jay’s loving eyes she will forever see. Rest well, baby, you are loved and will always be missed. Pumpkin, Liberty are there to be with you and a little baby T-Me is there for you to be his momma there. Steeler let me know she is watching over you all with her thunderstorms today. So farewell beautiful baby. We will look for you in the brightest angels star in the skies.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m glad you were with her at the end, Jay. It’s hard when they pass so suddenly, and without knowing what was wrong.

  9. Ann says:

    My tortie is Dani. She is 4.5 years old, we rescued each other. I, her from certain…and she has rescued me from loneliness. We have been together a week now, however our bond seems much longer. She is the sweetest, obedient, most beautiful cat ever. Until reading this site, I did not know of a tortie’s rep. Unless she cuts loose, she is the most serene cat I have been around. I thank God for guiding me to the Humane Society.

    • Ingrid says:

      Dani sounds like a wonderful girl, Ann. I think it’s true for many of us that our cats have rescued us, and not the other way around.

    • Jay says:

      Ann, you will learn how special Torties are. They love with their whole heart and will claim their human as their own. You have been blessed with Dani and her with you. Rescuing is such a wonderful thing. It works both ways :)

  10. Glen says:

    I had some entertainment a couple of days ago.

    A moth got into the house and was fluttering around, getting Gigi’s attention.

    The sight of a large, 16 pound long haired torti, with short, solid legs ponderously, but energetically, trying to catch a moth was quite amusing.

    • Jay says:

      It is so much fun to watch them stalk and jump after a moth. Diver watches tries also. Same with Arian. And I dread Frankie trying to jump as my floor might give way.

  11. jodie says:

    I have a female she got so beautiful old gold eyes she loves attention in cuddles and loves play fighting she different!! She got a cheeky personality, ,, when I talk to her she looks in listens to me she 26 week she so unique she sneeks up every morning for lots of cuddles in when I stare at her she makes a cutie nosie n runs to me she loves getting picked up to she so adorable I love her to bits so spoilt to

    • Jay says:

      Welcome Jodie, enjoy you little girl for a long time. Spoil her and tell her every day how much you love her.

      • jodie says:

        I sEnt you some pictures she so intelligent and understands me iv never had a cat b4 always dogs im so attached to her n love her .. she crys all night till I let her in the bedroom so she can lie with me. She gets alott of attention and spoilt rotten fed well n has her milk in the morning in little snacks . I really want another one just took me few months to beg my bf for a cat he adores her to I wud love another one she only 28 weeks old maybe when she bit older..

        • jodie says:

          What do you mean as soul cat.

          • Ingrid says:

            A soul cat is the feline version of a soul mate.

          • Jay says:

            Jodie, I have had 6 indoor cats and who knows how many Ferals I feed. Stir was the 1st feral I took in. She at 1st did not trust me and hated the other cat (Tabatha ) and my Bichon Samantha. But she learned to trust me and love me. She knew I would protect her and over the many years we had a special connection. Others on here had that 1 “Special” cat that connected with them. Not that my others aren’t loved and spoiled. For me it was Stirfry.

  12. Jay says:

    I have devastating news to report.
    My soul cat has crossed the Bridge.
    I could not find Stirfry when I came home tonight.
    I looked under the couch where she had been the last week.
    Went down stairs and found her next to the wall near the basement door. She was cold but not stiff. Must have passed away in the last hour.
    I am heartbroken.
    There will be storms tonight and our 3 wild Torties will be together now as never would have been in life.
    Goodbye Stirfry. I loved you so much.

    • Glen says:


      I am very sad to read this, I know what is is like to loose a soul cat.

      They sure are unique, a special companion; it is hard to describe the bond one has with them.

      It may not help much right now but I know you gave her the best of homes that she might have otherwise never had.

    • Bernadette says:

      Jay, not Stirfry! That’s too much, not only two cats in one week but Stirfry herself! I am so sorry.

    • Bernhie says:

      Jay, my heart is broken even more. Your beautiful Stirfry has become your guardian angel. She is not gone forever from you, she is your guardian angel for the rest of you life. I too, loved her and I too know the pain you are feeling. So hold her close and tell her to make this skies rumble and the lightning strike.

      Beautiful baby. You went to be with Punky and Tabatha. I guess they needed you. I will forever hold you in my heart. Fly little angel. We will look for in the stars You will be the brightess star in the heavens.

    • Ingrid says:

      Oh Jay. My heart is breaking for you. Losing a cat so suddenly is always devastating, but when it’s a soul cat like Stirfry – there just aren’t words. I will always be glad that she brought you to this site, and this community. She will never be forgotten.

    • Harry says:

      I said this on Jay’s Facebook page, but it bears repeating – Stir took a little piece of all of us when she left.

      And then, there was one. RIP, Buckley, Amber, Steeler, Kasey and Stirfry.

      • Bernadette says:

        And Cookie and Kelly.

        I still have my Stirfry sign.

        • Harry says:

          I would say, “nice torties excluded” but… the truth is I just forgot :(

        • Jay says:

          Thank you Bernadette and Harry.
          Stir was in a very select class. We have typical Torties (my Styx, Glen’s Gigi, Bernie’s DJ and Justice. We have our oh so gentle Torties – Cookie & Kelly, My Diver, Piper and so many others. And then the very rare type – Torties with 100% Tortitude. Stirfry brought me to this wonderful group. I learned she was not alone – Steeler, Kasey and Brooke. Love hard and play hard. Don’t back down. She will be my forever cat.

          • I’m so sorry Jay. RIP Stirfry.

          • Bernie says:


            Stirfry, Steeler, Kasey and Brooke are making a lot of rumbling around here. They are marching together. Tell them Bernie’s says to cool it on the strong lightning. OK. Thunder and Fierce Lightning Strikes here now.‏

            Bernadette the rainbows followed. But those storms were a real waker upper this afternoon.

          • Bernie says:

            Tortieshell kittens. This post is to tell you about 4 torties, who were the
            epitome of Tortitude in their lifetimes. So Jay and I are sharing this with you.
            Steeler was my Tortie, she passed on April 30, 2012. That evening there were horrible lightning and thunder storms. I always said from then on when it is a thunder storm it is Steeler causing a rumble.

            Now there are my Steeler, Jay Davenport’s Stirfry, Glen’s Kasey and the Shubin’s Brooke all the terroristic and warrior Torties in the heavens. So Stirfry joined this elite group of Torties yesterday. Today, we had horrible thunder and lighting storms. Those 4 got together and let us know Stir had arrived. There are also some very gentle loving Torties there Bernadette E. Kazmarski’s Torties, Cookie and Kelly. They are the ones that brought the rainbow after the storm.
            We hear you all and your rainbow was there for you Stir. We will all meet at that rainbow bridge one day.

          • Bernie says:

            I cannot just post this without adding the two very gentle Torties who are also at the Rainbow Bridge. Ingrid King’s Amber and Buckley brought the sunshine after the storms for Stirfry

            It was through Ingrid King’s losses of Amber and Buckley that brought Jay, Bernadette, Harry, Glen, and myself to know each other from this site.

            We have all came here and here we became a family and today we remain family, a family in mourning for the loss of Jay’s soul cat Stirfry.

            Ingrid our family is hurting again and to often. But thank you for giving us this place to come to be together.

          • Ingrid says:

            There has been too much loss lately, Bernie. My heart goes out to everyone. I’m glad that this site has provided a place to offer support, and hopefully, eventually, healing.

          • Bernie says:

            Hey everyone on the posts I have posted I made a unforgivable mistake. Harry Shubin’s Brooke is not at the rainbow bridge. She is very much at home with Harry and his family. I truly regret this. Harry and family I am so sorry for my stupid mistake.

    • Gail N says:

      Jay, I’m so sorry to hear this. This has been a bad year for kitties, it seems. Several months ago, Nicky became suddenly ill and left for the bridge, and just a little over a week ago, my little Max left as well.

  13. Erin says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss Jay . There are no words for devastating situations like this. May you find some comfort knowing you have an extra guardian angel watching over you now. RIP Stirfry :(

    • Jay says:

      Thank you Erin, Stirfry will always be my Guardian Angel.

      Stir was known all over the world and she will be missed.
      Her attitude was saved by pictures and video’s. I will always treasure them.

      And Bernadette painted a wonderful painting of me with her and my other critters. Me holding Stirfry and me holding Steeler. I thank her for that and thank Bernie for having it done.

      • Bernie says:

        Jay that painting was to show you what a wonderful man you really are. Surrounded by all your little ones at that time will be forever there for you to enjoy. Bernadette captured the love of your little ones in your eyes. I was only the messenger.

  14. Jay says:

    Today at work we had some rain and at 7 pm I was told there was a rainbow outside. I was just able to see the last of it. Right away I thought of Bernadette and what she said. Cookie & Kelly, T-me, Liberty, Pumpkin, Tabatha, Amber, Buckley and all or gentle cats greeted Stirfry. Before that there was heavy rain with Thunder and Lightning at Bernie’s. That was Steeler and Kasey saying hello the way Warrior Torties greet an equal.

    My neighbor above me posted the rainbow on his FB page. I shared it.

    Stirfry never did anything halfway. She went all out.

  15. Jay says:

    I was talking to my Mom, she asked about Stirfry. I told her that her and Tabatha would be sent out today (Thursday) to be cremated. She asked if they would be in the same urn. Can you imagine that… Stirfry did NOT get along with any cat and Tabatha would have said HELL NO !!!!!!!.

  16. Jay says:

    Happy Birthday Harry.
    Have a wonderful day. Can’t wait to see what your cats got you.

  17. Jay says:

    I took Styx to the vet today. She has fleas (as do all my cats) and flea meds did not seem to be working. They said she was dehydrated (eyes sunken in) and had lost weight ( from 9 lbs. 4 oz. down to 8 lbs. 6 oz. ) They gave me Vectra for all my cats as they said Frontline has not been working recently. Gave her a shot to boost her appetite. She was good at the vets and came out of her carrier, sat on the scale then on my lap till they came in to check on her.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry to hear Styx is not doing well. That’s a lot of weight loss. As for the fleas, there are alternatives to the chemical products. They may require a bit more effort, but they’re much safer. I would be especially hesitant using the topical products in a cat with a compromised immune system. Here’s more information on controlling fleas without chemicals:

      • Jay says:

        I am also using Diatomaceous earth that Bernie gave me. Took a while to find a duster to spray it. Found at Ace Hardware for $16. My Dad had those but we never kept them.

        • Bernadette says:

          Jay, I hope Styx is okay, did the vet tell you what might be the cause? She’s not that old, and dehydration doesn’t happen without a reason.

          I’m also not sure what you mean by spraying the diatomaceous earth. You don’t spray it in the air, that won’t do anything at all and it can actually be irritating to breathe. It’s not like flea spray. You sprinkle it on the floor where the fleas live, then vacuum it back up, just like I’d described to you and Bernie and it describes on the bag. Get a measuring cup and sprinkle it on the floor, if anything use a flour sifter or put it in an empty parmesan cheese or baby powder container so you can sprinkle it.

          Also, you need to vacuum every day, especially if you have carpets, to sweep up the live fleas and especially the flea eggs. Throw away the sweeper bag.

          Let us know how Styx is doing.

          • Jay says:

            They are going to do a stool sample for parasites and worms. She has an appitite and does drink. Bernie wanted them to do a blood sample check for Hyperthyroidism. Maybe it’s just fleas ?
            But after losing 2 cats I don’t want to risk Styx.
            As for the diatomaceous earth Bernadette – I use a sprayer to get it on the rug/couch/behind things. Not spraying in the air but close to the ground. Vacuum with a Dyson and clean the filter after. Spraying bug killer on what’s dumped out.

            Gail – I bought a flea trap like what you mentioned. A light above it (clear – a night light bulb) with the sticky paper under it. Yes – it does work. Lots of fleas on it

            Might try the table salt. How much should I use and will it affect the cats paws? If it was sugar I have plenty of that.

          • Gail N says:

            Jay, I just take the large container of salt and sprinkle it liberally on the carpet and leave it for a day or two, then vacuum it up. The cats don’t seem to have any problem with it.

      • Gail N says:

        I’ve tried diatomaceous earth previously, which worked to some extent, but what I’ve found that seems to be even better (and cheaper) is regular table salt. The salt dries out and kills both adult fleas and the eggs.

        I’ve also picked up flea traps (Happy Jack Flea Beacon is one type) that has a plastic trap with a yellow sticky paper and a nightlight bulb. The fleas are attracted to the bright color, the heat and the light, and it works very well.

        Prior to finding the flea traps, I would use yellow or white salad plates with water and dish soap and set them up in out of the way areas with a small light over them. They worked as well, but tended to be messy and you have to check them often to make sure that the water hasn’t evaporated.

  18. meril-jean price says:

    I found marvella flea infested, skin and bones, looked like a pencil with a tennis ball hanging off her spine. off to the vet, cleaned her up, got her on some good food, love and a velvet pillow. a week later came bisquit, bob, uncle inky and so on. one of her best tricks was staring at a spot on the floor with such intensity and for such a long time that the other cats would come to see what was up. once she had a good interested audience staring at the spot, she’d flip her tail up and leave–i swear with a smile and a jaunty little walk–gotcha! she seemed to be saying.
    One other thing she did, just once in 22 years, was this: I brought a new friend home. Marvy came out of a deep couch sleep, jumped to the floor, started advancing slow and low like a big predator. got to about three feet from the woman and puffed up her fur huge and started to hiss, snarl and howl. the lady got scared and needless to say, i took my cat’s advice and never saw her again.
    i had breast surgery once and she spent the whole healing time curled around my feet. years later i broke a toe and she spent my whole healing time snuggled between my neck and shoulder. what a cat!

  19. Cass says:

    I’d alwyas wanted a torti as I’m a fan of the Black cat as well as the pumpkin variety. WEll boy oh boy did I walk into trouble with my Temperynce…. Shes a fiesty, hard headed little girl who is loving and sweet when she demands it…lol Its a whole new experience inthe cat world with her…but I wouldnt rrade her for the world!!! we have amorning routine with my twin boys and her ( they get the morning energie out before school playing) and her and I have our time when I go to bed…. She loves the twins but really favors the youngest I’m excited to she her blossominto afiesty little lady watch her grow…just not too fast!!!!

  20. Scott says:

    We have a stray torti that has decided that our yard is its new I have been reading that the female does not have any white markings… Is this true?

    • Ingrid says:

      Most tortoiseshell and tricolor cats are female, Scott. According to a study by the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri, only 1 in 3000 tortoiseshell cats is male. The addition of white does not have anything to do with gender.

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