“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.”

tortitude

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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1,095 Comments on “Tortitude” – The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats: Fact or Fiction?

  1. Angela S
    October 9, 2017 at 12:18 am (1 week ago)

    was posting a pic of my maine coon then posted a pic of my babygirl I thought was a calico. A lady pointed out her markings and said she was a tortie…she is very attached to me, her fur feels like chinchilla fur. She’s also very smart, she likes to play on youtube where they have games made for cats…she’s very persistant when she wants something from me, normally to turn her computer on for her lol

    Reply
  2. Dan
    October 8, 2017 at 1:46 pm (1 week ago)

    I have a 3.5 year old named Domino with the perfect amount of tortirude. What joy to find this post and know that I’m not the only one lucky enough to have a cat like this.

    I’m curious, do your torties love bottle caps as much as mine does? They’re her life’s blood. An army left under any closer door or furniture!

    Reply
  3. Mitch
    October 7, 2017 at 1:00 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I have a male tortoise. His name is Adam and he’s a joy to have. I didn’t know they were gender specific like calicos until my vet started getting excited. Haha

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 8, 2017 at 5:08 am (1 week ago)

      How fun that you have one of those rare male torties, Mitch. I’d be curious whether his temperament fits the “tortitude profile,” or whether he’s more mellow than the average tortie.

      Reply
    • Jerry
      October 8, 2017 at 3:28 pm (1 week ago)

      I’m very curious about him, is he sterile? Do you know if he has Klinefelter syndrome (XXY Chromosomes)?
      Does he have Tortitude?
      I’ve always heard male cats are generally better adjusted and mellow. Maybe the tri-color attitude comes mostly from being girls.
      Is there anywhere we can see a picture of him?

      Reply
  4. Laurie
    October 1, 2017 at 1:44 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I’m back. Been a while. My Tortie, Angelina, is one of those with a real attitude. She goes into complete hissy fits for no seeable reason. She even turns on me once in a while. She can go from sweet cuddle poo to evil devil cat in a split second. I even filmed it on my phone for my vet. I have found that sometimes its caused by something that happened quite a while before the fit, such as a cat or other critter outside the window. She knows when shes moody and usually hides out in the rafters in the basement. I’ve come to accept that and she usually emerges her sweet rather demanding self when she’s ready. Her personality is really unique among the many cats I’ve had and I find her fascinating. She’s watching me type this hoping I’ll print something — she loves to watch the printer work. I’d love to hear from other tortie owners with hair trigger personalities……

    Reply
  5. April
    September 27, 2017 at 2:49 am (3 weeks ago)

    I was raised with my beloved tortie and she loved me and was always kind to me, but not to anyone else. Pure tude to others, but the bond I had with her was like no other. My friends tortie was also full of tude, only she was flat out mean to everyone and everything. So when my perfectly sweet gray haired cat gave birth to her one and only tortie kitten, I expected a sassy queen from her. 5 months later and she has grown to be the sweetest, friendliest, and least sassy cat ever. She is practically rag doll in her personality, going limp when you pick her up and purrs for anyone. I believe tortie tude is a thing, but clearly not for all of them. I am so surprised and pleased to have such a wonderfully sweet kitty, even sweeter than her already perfectly sweet mommy.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 27, 2017 at 5:22 am (3 weeks ago)

      Just goes to show that even though torties may share common traits, each cat is ultimately an individual.

      Reply
  6. Stephen
    September 26, 2017 at 10:36 am (3 weeks ago)

    I found one of these critters in early August under a pickup in a parking lot away from anybody. She was about 2-3 weeks old. Abandoned or lost from its litter or got out of someones car. This was at an airport so being a pilot I naed her ace. She definitely fits the descriptions I a reading with a dfinitely Dr Jekyl and mamma hyde personality. She is sweet and and wild, one personality at a time. I can usually tame her back to purring by holding her and giving lots of attention. When that doesn’t work I jusk have to put her by herslf for alittle while till she tames down. I have been a cat care person all y life. But never had one of these. All of my cats have been completely unique annd presios friends. She will also fall into this CATegory as well. y sister has a full grown one. She only shows affection and no wild tendencies. She needs complete attention at all times. She would go home with anyone and be happy. Probably would not even miss you as long as the next person gave her attention.

    Reply
    • Bethlyn
      October 6, 2017 at 7:27 pm (2 weeks ago)

      My tortie is temperamental little girl. I never know what to expect.She will ignore me all day and at night she’s on me or by my side. I love my girl. & wouldn’t change her 1 bit. She’s my 1st tortie & I don’t know what I’d do without her.

      Reply
  7. Pam Carter
    September 24, 2017 at 7:48 am (3 weeks ago)

    Hi I just my first Tortie in August 2017. I had lost 2 cats within 3 months that I had for 13 and 16 years. It took me a few months to look for another cat; but I went to the pet store one day and this little girl caught my eye! She came up to the glass and started meowing and rubbing her face, I knew I had to have her. Unfortunately I was leaving for Seattle to visit my daughter. I was there 2 weeks and I called the store to ask about the cat and they said she was still there, will I figured it was meant to be! With about a week and a half to go on my trip, I called one more time and asked about the cat, they said she went to Foster Care. I was so upset on the phone, the girl on the other end said let me give you the number to Feline Underground, you can probably fill out an application. Well from Seattle to California I did, they accepted me! I got home, three days later I went to pick her up; and it has been like heaven sent an angel down. Callie was really shy at first, but boy did she come out of her shell!! She follows me everywhere, talks to me, loves the laser light and is just so adorable!! The only thing, she is a little shy with my husband!! I guess all in time.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 24, 2017 at 4:10 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Sure sounds like it was meant to be, Pam!

      Reply
    • Anna Rome
      September 25, 2017 at 4:49 am (3 weeks ago)

      How wonderful for you! My cats have all been rescues & the friendliest have been a tortie & a calico, they loved everyone & were very easy going!

      Reply
  8. tim
    September 21, 2017 at 10:47 pm (4 weeks ago)

    Like some of the other posts i found my Tortie in my wheel well of my truck. She jumped right into the cab of the truck and rode home on my lap.

    She was 2 years old when i brought her home. She meet 5 people that day and those are the only 5 people she will allow touch her. She is a one family cat, she will come like a dog when called. She hates other cats but loves dogs regardless of there size.

    My Tortie is a big cat she is over 36″ long (nose to tail) and tall to, she weighs 22 pounds in the winter months.

    She is a great family cat and keeps the springier spaniels on there toes.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 22, 2017 at 5:16 am (4 weeks ago)

      Wow, she is a big girl! And what a great rescue story.

      Reply
  9. Jennifer
    September 21, 2017 at 11:23 am (4 weeks ago)

    Hi, I have a seven year old tortoiseshell cat. I found her about three years ago. Two years ago she finally started coming out from hiding. She likes to stay to herself and doesn’t like other cats or lots of people. She mainly stays on my bed every once in awhile she will come and explore. She likes to purr and knitting on me and sleep on top of my head and on my chest. She doesn’t like to be picked up or loved on for to long. She is declawed in the front only. She is an indoor kitty. In two years I have had to replace two couches, one recliner a couple of rugs. Because when I’m gone or in the shower or asleep or I guess make her mad she’s peed and pooped several times. IDK why she does this please if you have any suggestions please share them. I have googled and asked our veterinarian for help nothing us working to stop her. Besides me putting stuff on my couch so No one can sit on it every night. Sometimes I do forget to put toys or whatever I find to block my couch. When I forget everytime I come back to sit down I sit down in pee.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 21, 2017 at 4:00 pm (4 weeks ago)

      Cats don’t pee because they’re mad, Jennifer. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have about feline behavior. I suspect that what’s happening may have something to do with the fact that she was declawed – sadly, it’s not uncommon for declawed cats to exhibit behavioral problems. I would recommend working with a feline behaviorist to help you get to the root of this problem and to solve it. If you can’t find anyone local to you, I can recommend Mikel Delgado http://www.felineminds.com/ and Daniel Quagliozzi https://gocatgosf.com/ Both offer remote consultations.

      Reply
      • Jennifer
        September 21, 2017 at 8:37 pm (4 weeks ago)

        Thank you so very much for replying back. My family and friends has told me to get rid of her. I tell them I can’t do that.

        Reply
        • Julie
          September 24, 2017 at 10:42 pm (3 weeks ago)

          I have one declawed in front. Got her as a kitten. She wakes me every morning to go outside at 4:30 am she comes back in at 7. Back out at noon or if too hot then 5 then back out til bed. She does NOT use a litter box. If she needs to go she goes to door and lets me know. I keep a box for just in case but never uses it hardly ever. I would let your cat outside if you have a yard. This cat couldn’t be owned by someone who kept her in and she could live outside just fine. Maybe your cat did. My cat hints and lays mice or moles on front step an a present. Please let that cat outside if you can because i think the cat wants out. My cats throughmy whole life NEVER ran away. Plus they can get the natural needs to eat better grass etc. for their upset tummy’s. I have had many cats and they didn’t leave the yard but my tortoise shell loves to explore more than anything and isn’t afraid of anything.

          Reply
          • Ingrid
            September 25, 2017 at 5:25 am (3 weeks ago)

            I can’t in good conscience endorse advice to let a cat outside. I realize it’s a controversial topic, with most people coming down firmly on one side or the other of the debate. I’m a firm believer that all cats should be kept indoors, but I respect the fact that there are not only different points of view, but also cultural differences. In the United States, most cats tend to be kept indoors, whereas cats are allowed outside in most European countries. However, the the fact is that indoor cats live longer and healthier lives, and contrary to what outdoor cat proponents believe, indoor cats can be perfectly happy as long as cat guardians provide a stimulating environment for them.

    • Anna Rome
      September 21, 2017 at 4:18 pm (4 weeks ago)

      It sounds like your kitty is insecure and is trying to mark the area with her scent. Cats do not pee or poop when they are mad at you. Also scratching leaves her scent. You might try more cat beds & trees that can soak up her scent. And maybe Feliway pheromones spray or dispersers that may calm her. Just suggestions. Also play helps confidence.

      Reply
      • Jennifer
        September 21, 2017 at 8:43 pm (4 weeks ago)

        Thank you so very much for the reply. I will trying anything to get her to stop.

        Reply
        • Sue
          September 29, 2017 at 3:18 pm (3 weeks ago)

          Hi Jennifer, just read about your torte, sounds like mine. Definitely try the pheromones for awhile and if you must deny access to the living room were she is peeing. Also for every 1 indoor kitty have 2 litter boxes.

          Reply
  10. Karen Rowe
    September 16, 2017 at 2:05 pm (1 month ago)

    I just got mine yesterday. I do believe she is about 4 weeks old. My co-worker was driving to work and kept hearing a meow, once she got to work she kept hearing it and started looking for it. She climbed under her truck and this little girl was found riding on the spare tire. So of course we named her Hitch. She slept with me all night all curled up on my arm and I have been giving her her kitten milk and food. She is the sweetest thing I have ever seen. We think she got lost during Hurricane Irma here in Florida. But she is a survivor and will be a spoiled rotten mess.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 18, 2017 at 5:48 am (4 weeks ago)

      What a lucky girl that you took her in, Karen!

      Reply
  11. Cindy LaMar
    September 14, 2017 at 4:52 pm (1 month ago)

    I have a little 3 week old Tortie, rescued from a wheel well in Hurricaine Harvey, nearly dead and flooded out. She is now here in Colorado, and is a spit fire! How this kitten lived, is remarkable. She was so sick.

    Now at 1.5 pounds, she is ruling the roost!

    Her Tortie colors are remarkable!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 15, 2017 at 5:16 am (1 month ago)

      Oh my goodness, what an amazing rescue!

      Reply
      • B
        September 15, 2017 at 7:51 am (1 month ago)

        Thank you for giving her a good home and love after everything she went through. Give hugs from all of us.

        Reply
  12. Ivy
    September 8, 2017 at 5:30 pm (1 month ago)

    I have a blue tortoiseshell kitty! I just adopted her in July. She’s barefly three months old and she’s very affectionate. She’s chill and she enjoys playing a lot. She may be nice but she also has tortitude which is one of the best things about her. She’s my first kitty and she’s the absolute best. I love her very much!

    Reply
  13. John
    September 4, 2017 at 8:08 pm (1 month ago)

    My mom brought home a tortoise shell kitten in July of 1997. She lived until June of 2017. She was born in April so she was over twenty years old when she died. When I was at the vet with her, I had people tell me they owned a tortoise shell that lived to be 19 years old. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or if there is something to it genetically.

    She was the best cate we ever had. People who don’t like cats told me she was the “coolest” cat they had ever been around. Whenever I took her for her check ups at the vet, I just carried in her in my arms and she sat in my lap while we waited. None of the other animals bothered her at all no matter how loud they were. She just looked at them with a curious, “What’s your problem? Chill out.”

    She was in good health her entire life. She required daily thyroid medicine the last two years and then her kidneys began failing—which was her ultimate cause of death. The vet said that was common with the thyroid condition. I said to the vet, “Well she has lived longer than a lot of cats.” The vet said, “She has lived longer than 99% of cats.” They called her a “wonder”.

    I think her hearing was worse the last couple of years but her eyes were great, her teeth were great, and her activity level was like a kitten.

    So, from my experience, a tortoise shell is an awesome cat. She brought us twenty years of joy.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 5, 2017 at 5:07 am (1 month ago)

      She sounds like she was an amazing kitty, John. Thank you for sharing her with us.

      Reply

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