“Tortitude” – The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats: Fact or Fiction?

tortoiseshell cats

Five years ago, I wrote a post titled Tortitude: The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats. The post describes some of the unique traits that many of these beautifully colored cats seem to share: 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.

The post gets 200-300 views every single day, and has generated close to 14,000 comments to date. It’s become a place for people to share stories about the torties in their lives.

As someone who has been owned by four torties at this point, not counting my first office cat at the animal hospital I managed, who was also a tortie, I feel that I’m somewhat of an expert on these special cats. And while Virginia, Amber, Buckley, Allegra and Ruby all had or have some degree of tortitude, their personalities were and are also  very different. This appears to be true for the torties whose guardians have commented on the post as well.

torties

What is a tortoiseshell cat?

Contrary to what some people think, tortoiseshell cats are not a breed. They are named for their distinctive coloring – a combination of patches of black, brown, amber, red, cinnamon and chocolate. The size of the patches can range from a speckled pattern to large splotches of color. Tortoiseshell cats have have very few or no white markings, as opposed to calicos, who are tri-colored cats with larger areas of white fur. Sometimes, the colors are more muted. These torties are known as dilute torties. Very dark torties with a lot of black in their fur are often affectionately called “chocolate torties.” Occasionally, the typical tortoiseshell colors are also seen in a tabby (striped) pattern; these cats are referred to as “torbies.” Tortoiseshell markings appear in many different breeds.

The unique genetics of tortoiseshell cats

In addition to their unique personalities, torties also have unique genetics. The vast majority of tortoiseshell cats are female, because two X chromosomes are required to produce black, gold and orange coloring. Male cats only have one X and one Y chromosome, so technically it’s genetically almost impossible for a male to inherit the tortoiseshell coloring. A male tortoiseshell has an extra X chromosome, making it an XXY. According to a study by the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri, only 1 in 3000 tortoiseshell cats is male.

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Are tortoiseshell cats really different from other cats?

Speaking from personal experience, it appears that no two tortoiseshell cats display the exact same amount of tortitude. Virginia had definitely read the book on tortitude. The first time I met her, during my interview for the hospital manager position, she greeted me by walking over to me, looking up at me, and then digging her claws into my legs to use them as a scratching post.  Amber was the “anti-tortie” – she was a gentle, calm, almost shy cat, but she was a bit headstrong. Buckley’s tortitude manifested in her exuberance. She loved everything and everybody. Allegra is highly sensitive to the world around her, and often quick to react to something that she perceives as a threat. Ruby is the most high-spirited cat I’ve ever had. Of all my cats, she is the one with the highest dose of tortitude.

tortoiseshell cat

The experts weigh in on tortitude

I decided to check with some other experts to get their thoughts on tortitude. “I often tell clients that torties are the redheads of the cat world,” says feline veterinarian Dr. Fern Crist, who practices at Just Cats Clinic in Reston, VA. “They are beautiful, but short-tempered and quick to wrath. Of course they are not all like that, any more than every redhead is – but I always approach a tortie with a tad more circumspection than any other coat color.” While Crist takes a cautious approach to her tortie patients, she adds “I’ve always thought that the price you pay in tortitude, you get back tenfold in love.”

“There is no evidence that there is a link between color gene and personality,” says Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, a former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and owner of two cat hospitals, Chico Hospital for Cats in Chico, CA and the Cat Hospital of Portland in Portland, OR. “It is true though, that almost all tortoiseshell cats are females, and some people perceive females as being more headstrong than male cats. However, the real determination of personality is naturally a combination of genetics and environment.”

Jackson Galaxy has worked with his share of tortoiseshell cats in his decades of helping cats with behavioral challenges. “In my experience, tortitude is a very real thing,” says Jackson. “And now that there is a a study correlating coat pattern with behavior, our characterizations have been validated. Of course, anyone who knows me, knows I try not to talk about cats in generalities.” Jackson feels that torties and calicos are more energetically sensitive. “I think that’s part of the reason why their personalities are always on full display,” he says. “I’ve always said that cats are energetic sponges. Torties, however, just seem to soak up more, which is why they’ve got so much to say.”

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Tortoiseshell cats are special

Those of us who love torties embrace their unique personalities. It is important to remember that every cat, regardless of coat color, is an individual. Not every tortie will exhibit the traits attributed to these beautifully colored cats, but the majority seem to live up to their reputation. As far as I’m concerned, tortitude is real. And while torties may, at times, seem like they have split personalities, going from purring away in your lap to suddenly racing around the house like a crazy kitten, those of us who love them wouldn’t want them any other way.

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917 Comments on “Tortitude” – The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats: Fact or Fiction?

  1. Mo D.
    March 18, 2017 at 5:44 pm (6 days ago)

    My tortie came to my attention as a stray, or so I thought. I found her, very thin and meowing, when I was out for a walk one day. Her front paws were very small, unlike her back feet. Later I discovered she belonged to a neighbor several residences away and I asked him about her. He told me he had to put her outside because she attacked his other animals constantly. I asked if he would give over custody to me and he readily agreed.

    Once inside my home I discovered her small front paws were due to declawing. Imagine, the man had put outside a declawed (but spayed) kitty unable to defend herself in an area with many cats roaming around! My vet said she was malnourished but otherwise in good health.

    I’ve had her for about five years now. Her only downside is that she bites. Other than that she is loving and friendly to visitors and family. They just have to be warned that she may give them a tortitude nip on occasion. She’s quite a character.

    Reply
  2. Dan the Tortified
    March 18, 2017 at 11:56 am (6 days ago)

    I am glad to read about tortie personality traits finally. Have had a tortie (Jewel)or or she owns me,and her all black brother (Lucian) for two years now. Her brother is fat, a little skittish but affectionate and happy. However, my little Jewel seems to own the house and all that dwell in its walls. I have three dogs (one is a 200 pound great dane)who for quite awhile gave her a wide berth but are fine now. She wasn’t aggressive, just wanted to play with them. She shied away from most human contact for the first few months but since she seems to attached to me like a lost puppy. She follows me all over the house and when I stop she does, she want s to be picked up but has to be put back down. Its kind of hard not to pick her up when she runs in front of you and rolls over and begs.Or if I am sitting at my desk or (online, paper work)in the bathroom(toilet shower ect, dont matter), she is there. Hell when its time to go bed she follows and half the time she stops on the stairs and asks me to carry her but then she will only stay for attention briefly then stations herself on one of several perches within sight all night except if she thinks I am awake. Then she comes, stairs me in the face then goes back to her perch. All this stuff she does is a little off for any cat but the one thing she does the we just dont understand and that is when your tortitude must come into play, (or she is just bat crap crazy), she for no reason, will come to attention then run at full speed all , and I do me all around the house growling, snarling and talking a mile a minute. When she does this(like every other day) no one or no thing dares go near. It can last twenty seconds or ten minutes and if it wasn’t so damn funny it might be scary. From what I have read today I think most of you know exactly what I am talking about too. TORTITUDE, I guess we have been tortified. I have had lots of cats and loved them all b, but she is just different.

    Reply
  3. Bobj
    March 10, 2017 at 9:06 pm (2 weeks ago)

    You’re full of it! Listen to yourself.

    Reply
    • Brittany
      March 14, 2017 at 3:22 pm (1 week ago)

      My boyfriend brought home a stray gray kitten last September, a coworker found them abandoned in a box on the side of the road, so him and a few others brought them home. Well, this kitten was very different. She ended up not being solid gray, but had lighter patches throughout, and a cream colored spot running from her chin to her tummy, looking like she spilled milk. I had never seen a gray cat with splotches like her so I did some research, she looked like a tortie but I’d never seen one in gray…but sure enough, they do come in gray and cream. So we’ve got a dilute tortie, and she is a handful. She meows for attention, makes chirping and trilling sounds when running full speed through the house, she loves her two big brother ginger tabbies. Her personality is vastly different of my two big boys though, but she’s quite entertaining.

      Reply
  4. carol
    March 8, 2017 at 1:57 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I was given a stray tortie that I bottled fed for weeks, she was maybe 10 days old when I took her in she was so tiny and sweet, now she is about 4-5 months old and is mean she bites scratches and only will let you hold her when she is sleepy she will crawl in my lap and purr and let you love on her.I love her but when anyone comes over or other dogs are around she is vicious biting and scratching everyone even me she gets along with my 2 small dogs they play together, will she out grow this I plan to have her spayed very soon and thinking of declawing her she is destroying the house .

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 8, 2017 at 5:35 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Please do not declaw your cat, Carol. Declawing is an inhumane procedure that is banned in 25 countries around the world. It involves amputating each toe at the first joint, and not only causes tremendous pain after the procedure, but can actually make any existing behavior issues worse. For more information about declawing and why it should never be done, please visit The Paw Project http://www.pawproject.org/

      It sounds like your kitten is just being a kitten, with a lot of energy, and she needs appropriate ways to burn it off. Try structured play sessions, two or three times a day, 10 to 15 minutes each. Use interactive wand toys. Really get her tired out so she can burn off some excess energy. Make sure she has plenty of stimulation even when you can’t play with her: perches to look out the windows, toys, various scratching posts, etc.

      Reply
    • Bobj
      March 10, 2017 at 9:10 pm (2 weeks ago)

      I have adopted several senior declawed cats that were declawed as kittens. I assure you declawing as soon as possible at the kitten stage has absolutely no effect on the cat later in life and makes for a great non damaging cat to furniture walls car seats etc.

      Reply
      • kaia
        March 10, 2017 at 9:25 pm (2 weeks ago)

        How can you say it has no effects on the cat? You are amputating half of each toe! To put it in perspective, that is like you cutting off each finger at the middle joint. Explain to me how that is not a)traumatic and b)barbaric AND c) extremely painful? It’s a multiple amputation. This is a procedure that should not even been allowed to take place. If you love your pet, I would seriously think twice before doing this. You are putting your furniture before the wellbeing of an animal…

        Reply
      • Ingrid
        March 12, 2017 at 7:29 am (2 weeks ago)

        There are very few areas where things are black and white, but declawing is one of them. I applaud you for adopting these senior cats – someone else already put them through the trauma of this horrific surgery, and they needed a home. But to consider putting a cat who is already part of your family through amputation surgery because you’re worried about carpets and furniture – it’s simply inconceivable to me.

        I’m not going to continue to discuss this topic, and I will delete future comments about this topic on this post.

        Reply
    • Ben
      March 13, 2017 at 7:06 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Kittens who don’t have play partners can have ‘aggressive play’ where they never learned how to play properly from their siblings/mother. She doesn’t know she is being naughty because no other cat ever told her.

      If that is her behavior, declaw could make it worse. Then her only tool is her teeth, and the underlying issue isn’t fixed.

      What I would do is enforce good play when interacting with her – if she is naughty and scratches or bites too aggressively, hiss loudly at her and/or snatch her by the scruff immediately (but briefly) .
      Afterward continue continue what you were doing, but be prepared to do the exact same thing again. You have to train your kitty, and taking away her fingers will not fix that.

      Reply
  5. kaia
    March 6, 2017 at 10:11 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I have 2 torties (they have me, really)…the older, and my first, is a lovely long haired forest pixie named Faelen and she is a total character. She is very talkative and has various dialects. She also climbs trees like a monkey.
    My other sweetie is actually Faelen’s niece! Her sister had a litter a year after I took Faelen home and it was the most unique litter I had ever seen! Mom is a short haired tortie and her litter had 1 short haired tortie female, a seal color point siamese female, a flame tabby point siamese male and a tortie point siamese female! I just stood there in awe when I first saw them and started waxing lyrical about how amazing this litter was …. no one else seemed to have a clue what I was talking about, nor did they seem to care (farm cat litter, by the way!) I immediately called dibs on the tortie point female….her name is Sora…she is beautiful.. blue eyes and all…and the sweetest, most affectionate kitty I have ever had in my life. They are both incredibly smart and communicative. Sora loves deer…they visit my cabin in the forest daily and she plays with the fawns. It’s hilarious and very heart warming.

    Reply
    • Liz
      March 12, 2017 at 5:22 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Female cats can be impregnated by more than one male so it’s not too surprising that a roaming farm cat might have kittens with different “daddies”.

      Reply
    • Liz
      March 12, 2017 at 5:43 pm (2 weeks ago)

      I’ve had my first torbie for about 16 months now. I got her form a shelter and they knew nothing about her past. She has a clipped ear so presumably she’s been feral at one time. Anyway she is full of sass and vinegar. Not having had a torbie before I thought all of her behavior and schizophrenic issues had to do with having been abandoned. I may have to rethink what causes her to be so antisocial. The vet I took her to said she was the most aggressive cat she had ever seen and she wouldn’t examine her. I took her to a different vet and the only way she would examine her was to anthetize (?) her first.

      Reply
  6. Bill
    March 3, 2017 at 11:14 pm (3 weeks ago)

    Liddi is my tortie. Got her from a county kennel at five weeks. Now almost a year she is the love of my life. I’d go to war over her. She has all of the attributes of tortitude and then some. When she wants attention she’s loving and rolls over on her back and lets me scratch that beautiful underbelly coat. If I ignore her she lets me know by giving m a tortie bite. Nothing like her.

    Reply
    • Liz Gardner
      March 4, 2017 at 7:28 am (3 weeks ago)

      Oh Bill its so lovely to read about your love affair with Liddi – she sounds gorgeous but then all torties are. I’ve got two torties in my life Fifi and Candy – we are a ‘menage a trois’ so to speak – my others cats look on in amazement 🙂

      Reply
  7. Clara
    March 2, 2017 at 2:24 am (3 weeks ago)

    I lived out in country setting and had strsy cats around. I would feed, catch and fix ones I could. I caught a tortie gave her the name of Scatster because she scat away from me. I managed to get her fixed and returned her to her area. She would visit my back door and knock on it from off the railing. She refused to ever want in house and I had been feeding her for about 3 yrs when I sold my house. I was lucky to have a buyer that liked cats and I told her of Scatster. Scatster still runs the neighborhood my daughter lives across from my old house and she will tell me she say her. Scatster is 6 yrs old most likely Maine Coon she is a large hairy girl. I have her brother a very clingy ginger tabby named Goldey who loves to sleep a top my head and cuddle. I wanted to bring Scatster with but she just refused to leave her area. I also have 4 others that have been rescued and fixed. No breeders for me too many animals that need a home.

    Reply
  8. Amber
    February 25, 2017 at 10:12 pm (4 weeks ago)

    We adopted a tortoiseshell (Callie – 5 yrs old) and a tuxedo (Louisa – 3 yrs old) last March. Oh my goodness! Didn’t know the excitement we were in for with these two! Callie is the best of the tortie personality – except when she’s scratching the walls & door frames. We’ve learned to deal with that while trying to change her behavior. But, really, she’s the sweetest cat – LOVES everyone who walks in our home. My sister-in-law came over a few weeks after we brought the girls home. She sat down in a chair to change her shoes and Callie jumped up in her lap, turned around, and laid down. My SIL just sat there, stunned! Cal just seems to want everyone to be loved.
    The moment we brought the girls in, though, Callie exerted her dominance over Louisa. Lou spent the first few weeks hiding whenever Callie was around (all the time!). She has since learned to stand her ground and will occasionally instigate a fun little chase around the house.
    I could go on and on about my preciouses…

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 26, 2017 at 6:10 am (4 weeks ago)

      They both sound wonderful, Amber!

      Reply
  9. Hilda
    February 25, 2017 at 2:03 pm (4 weeks ago)

    A few weeks ago I was blessed to be able to rescue a tiny, malnourished, on the brink of death Tortie from 2 shepherds here at the ranch where I live. She is exactly as you describe her. Needless to say, my life has been blessed by this, my new loving, beautiful friend and companion

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 25, 2017 at 5:02 pm (4 weeks ago)

      Welcome to the wonderful world of tortitude, Hilda!

      Reply
  10. Daisy Bright
    February 24, 2017 at 1:13 am (4 weeks ago)

    Much as I adore my tortoiseshell, as I have all my cats, the notion that there is such a thing as “tortitude” is an excellent example of confirmation bias.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 24, 2017 at 6:05 am (4 weeks ago)

      Which is why I constantly stress, both on this website and in my book, that while there are commonalities for most torties, each cat is an individual.

      Reply
    • Bobj
      February 27, 2017 at 9:28 am (4 weeks ago)

      As a current first time tortie owner and former of at least 10 other breeds I completely disagree. Even when visiting shelters It’s obvious all torties have that similar unique personality. I believe it’s genetic just like different groups of people tend to have similar basic personalities.

      Reply
  11. Taylor
    February 22, 2017 at 6:31 am (1 month ago)

    I was so blessed to get the sweetest baby Tortise Shell cat after I met these women who had both their queens give birth at the same time. It was overwhelming for them for sure (the one I picked was the only one without a name). She has been a delight since we brought her him. Her name is CleoCatra and she loves my older queen, Chairman Meow (who took time getting used to how rambunctious the kitten was) and will sleep next to my English pointer. She loves everyone and isn’t scared of strangers. In fact, she is so snuggely with people, that we had people begging us to not get her fixed so they could adopt her babies. She comes when you call her, is ridiculously smart (i.e. opened a large velcro closed box that had Christmas ornaments in it, flipped the very large flap, unraveled the tissue paper til she found the ornaments she needed.) The vet said she is due any day now with 3- possibly 4 kittens and I am hoping they are as sweet and original as she is. Plus the Tom is a ragdoll cat so the kittens should look like ewoks. I’ve had a lot of cats growing up and this breed is definitely my favorite. Though I may be Bias

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 22, 2017 at 10:35 am (4 weeks ago)

      I love both of your cats’ names, Taylor!

      Reply
  12. Crystal
    February 18, 2017 at 1:03 am (1 month ago)

    I am the human of a 14 year old torti, Jade. She has a very unique personality for sure! She doesn’t like anyone but me, and will only tolerate certain people. She is very vocal and can be very demanding when she wants to be. But, to me, she is the sweetest little girl and I love her so very much! I have 3 other cats (a gray 6 toed tabby, a tuxedo, & a Maine coon), but Jade will always be my baby girl and the one that sleeps and snuggles with me. She’s my baby!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 18, 2017 at 5:58 am (1 month ago)

      Jade sounds like she’s got tortitude and then some, Crystal!

      Reply

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