“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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1,230 Comments on “Tortitude” – The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats: Fact or Fiction?

  1. Tortoiseshell Cats
    November 11, 2018 at 12:40 pm (1 week ago)

    I just want to say that i liked when you said “regardless of coat color, is an individual” You are absolutely right, so we need to treat our cats the same way.

    Reply
  2. Juana
    October 31, 2018 at 5:55 pm (3 weeks ago)

    Can Torties change color? My little princess found us about 2 months ago, when we first met she was true definition of a tortie, black, amber and yellow mixture everywhere except some white spot in her nose, her front paws and specks in her belly. But over the last month more white fur has come in, she looks ashen, her beautifl colors are still noticible but look a little muted. Wondering if you know of this happening to other kittens?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 1, 2018 at 5:28 am (3 weeks ago)

      It sounds like she’s a dilute tortie. Some breeds change color as the kitten grows up. Typically this happens in Siamese and Persian cats. Maybe she has some of that lineage in her background? Color changes can be an indicator of a health issue if they’re accompanied by other symptoms.

      Reply
  3. Nancy
    October 18, 2018 at 12:57 pm (1 month ago)

    Tortitude is definitely a real thing. We have a Tortoiseshell cat, Amber and who is 2. Her personality is unlike that of any other cat I’ve had perviously. She is had strong for sure and doesn’t seem to like my husband much, which is terrible because she is supposed to be his cat, but is attached to me which drives my 17 year old Tabby crazy. She is playful with me and our other cat, but doesn’t care for others. We love her and her unique personality.

    Reply
  4. Sarah
    October 13, 2018 at 12:36 am (1 month ago)

    Hmm, I don’t know if our tortie has any Tortitude! She’s 4 now. Her tabby sister is 8 and ginger brother is 17ish. And they are WAY more dominant. But our tortie girl is special. We adopted her when she was 2.5 pounds because she both growled, hissed and purred like an insane little thing when we were introduced. She CAN be very skittish. Doesn’t like loud noises. Growls at the mailman like a dog while running to hide. She doesn’t come out for any short term visitors though overnight guests sometimes catch a glimpse of her spying.

    The truth is, she’s not exactly smart….at all. She learned the basic rules easy enough. Pee, eat, sleep here and respond to her name, but she’s just not quick thinking. She has two modes of passing her day. Loving everything and scared to death but still loving everything. She is the sweetest and the most loving and the one that doesn’t bear a grudge. Within two days of meeting our fluffy orange ginger guy (who was NOT pleased at a new kitten) she started staring at him in wonder. SO FLOOFY. Then she followed. Then she got closer…and closer. Sometimes, they even snuggle if he doesn’t care enough. He is her golden God and she loves nothing more than to throw herself at his feet and wriggle and purr. And if she’s lucky, he’ll lick her head before biting it and smacking her away. It makes her feel so special.

    So Tortitude? I don’t know if she has it. Though I definitely believe in differences between cat coat colors. Our ginger is SUCH a ginger and we hold him like a baby. Our tabby is headstrong, judgey, calm and calculating to get her way. But maybe our tortie ended up a little touched in the head, though I wouldn’t change her at all!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 13, 2018 at 5:35 am (1 month ago)

      Your tortie girl sounds very sweet!

      Reply
  5. Leslie
    October 12, 2018 at 4:33 pm (1 month ago)

    Thank you so much for this article it describes my little girl so much! My torties name is Juniper but goes by Juni. I got her as a 6 month old kitten as a gift from a friend. The moment we met each other it was love at first sight. As soon as our eyes met she yelled her greeting demanding attention. She follows me everywhere and we talk to each other for hours. She is my little princess she likes most everyone but despises my mom. Everytime my mom picks her up she screams and tries to push her away to be let down. She doesn’t do that with anyone else just her. She loves to chase my other two cats around and catch bugs midair, she is such a beautiful little blessing I couldn’t imagine my life now not having a tortie they are so purrrfect.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 13, 2018 at 5:37 am (1 month ago)

      She sounds wonderful, Leslie!

      Reply
  6. Kneegloc
    September 16, 2018 at 10:46 am (2 months ago)

    Hi! I found your research very interesting. A few months ago, I took in a tortie kitten, maybe almost a year old, who was a stray that a friend took in, but couldn’t keep… It’s been a wild ride every since! She was affectionate from the start, rubbing her face on my short beard, licking me, jumping on my back, but now she kicked it up a notch, and is always where I am… She sits on my lap every chance she gets, when she’s not running around chasing who-knows-what… lol She’s very vocal, meowing at me all the time, except when she’s calm in my arms, or sleeping next to me in my bed… She follows me to the bathroom and drinks water from the sink when I’m there… She also appears at the edge of the tub when I’m taking a shower, meowing at me, as if I’m taking too much time in there… lol I’ve never seen her hiss! And, when I run the vacuum, instead of running away and hiding, she takes a stance a few feet away and just watches me… She’s such a golden-eyed treasure… Just thought I’d share… Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 16, 2018 at 5:01 pm (2 months ago)

      Sounds like she’s got tortitude and then some!

      Reply
  7. Janet
    September 13, 2018 at 11:27 pm (2 months ago)

    My 15 year old male fdr died and I was heartbroken I also have a 14 year old 20 pounder teddy. My granddaughters and I went to a cat cafe and they fell in love with a little chocolate tortie. I succumbed and she exudes tortitude. She is smart learned her name in 2 weeks loves everyone,especially me. It is impossible to clip her nails so I have to burrito her. The 20 pounder lets her have her way and stopped hissing at her in 4 days. The vet said she never saw one so active and my cat sitter who has ten cats said she is something else. Tortitude lives at my house

    Reply
  8. Linda Rettstatt
    September 2, 2018 at 8:47 pm (3 months ago)

    I just adopted an 8 year old Tortie. I’ve had for just a little over 24 hours. So far, she’s let me brush her a few times. And now she’s under the bed going on 5 hours. I guess I’ll learn her personality gradually, once she decides to come out again. For now, I’m giving her food, water, and plenty of space.

    Reply
    • Sarah
      October 13, 2018 at 12:27 am (1 month ago)

      You have a scared kitty out of her comfort zone.We have a now 17 year old ginger cat with diabetes. When we first got him at 11, after a happy first home with a family who started having children to which he just never adjusted to, he found himself with us (a happily childless couple who loves cats) and a 2 year old cat that decided she suddenly wanted to be the only child. He was heartbroken about his family and antagonized by our cat and hit under the bed for so long we later realized he peed himself under there. And all we could do was sneak him treats and say his name while rubbing his nose. The more comfortable he got, the more his personality came out. Holy crap, he has SO much personality! It took about 2 months for him to really start coming out. Today, he’s a 17 year old super cute nightmare of assertiveness and personality that still plays daily, demands chest cuddles and regularly wakes up my husband two hours early for work by smacking him on the head over…and over…and over. So don’t worry for a second….there’s a personality in there just WAITING TO BURST OUT to annoy you one second and make you melt with cuteness the next!

      Reply
  9. Cindy
    August 31, 2018 at 9:02 am (3 months ago)

    I have a tortie cat. Her name is Abby and she is a beautiful cat. I adopted her from a cat rescue group. She was found outdoors hiding under a porch. Whoever owned her beore had her declawed(all four paws). When I saw her picture on the website and read her story, I had to meet her. She was shy during that meeting. I felt that I could give her the understanding love and attention that a Tortie cat needs so I adopted her. She is a very moody 2year old girl but when she is in her loving mood it makes up for all the warning meows, growls and hisses. She does not like being picked up at all, and doesn’t like her belly touched. If you try she will swat you. I have had her for 8 months now and I think she finally realizes she is home! She recently started resting her front paws on my shoulder and rubbing her face against mine and then waits for a kiss on the head. I love my Abby and I am very happy that I adopted her. She is my baby attitude and all!

    Reply
    • Bob
      August 31, 2018 at 6:19 pm (3 months ago)

      Hi Cindy I enjoyed your story as it is a lot like mine. I adopted my Hanukkah from a shelter a few months after she was found half Frozen on a doorstep. The girls at the shelter worked hard to save her and named her after the day she was found on Hanukkah. I was looking for a senior cat. She was 9 estimated at the time.Also had been declawed but front only. You are probably in for a true long time friend as mine is now 17 yrs old!. I have had about 15 cats mostly short term seniors I adopt and spoil until the end. Hanukkah is in my top 3 of all for sure. She has that little kitten but adult quality about her. I never planned on a tortie but definitely agree they are different from other breeds in their personality. I best describe it as the way many people from India or Newfoundland have their own defined sense of humour. It is like a more intense and exaggerated personality. I enjoy every minute with her and she spends hours happily right next to or on top of me. Since I’ve been through so many cats I realize I’ll only have her a little while longer-a few years I hope. So my message is I hope you get the most you can out of your time with Abby like I am with mine. Life is so much better with a good cat!

      Reply
  10. Deborah
    August 15, 2018 at 5:55 pm (3 months ago)

    Our beautiful Mercedes was a birthday gift from one of my good friends. That May our other cat got taken by foxes we believe and I had a hole in my heart. My friend couldn’t stand seeing me hurt, saw an ad for free cats and thought she’d surprise me. The woman we got her from was having surgery and could not take care of her 9 cats after so she wanted to find loving homes for them. She took excellent care of them. All spade, neutered, shots up to date. That December I brought home two cats!!! My friend didn’t think one was enough and she picked them out. Well, once we got home, Mercedes tortitude was on full display!!!! As soon as we let them both out of the kennels, Mercedes promptly chased Jill downstairs and would not let her come up!! Mercy! The poor kitty! We put a litter box, food and water bowl downstairs, but then I caught Mercedes laying at the top of the stairs waiting for Jill to come out for one of them just to chase her back into the corner. We would try to get to Jill to pet her and finally succeeded, but in the end had to get rid of her. We gave her to the gal who got her for me as a gift. My husband wanted to get rid of Mercedes because she used to make him so mad, she wasn’t a lap cat and she had been so mean to Jill. But the lady had a dog smaller than Mercedes and we knew she’d probably kill it as she had dented the metal strip on our screen an inch trying to get out to fight a cat in our yard! I’m glad we kept my boo boo kitty!! She will get sassy if you pet her in the wrong places at the wrong times. When she’s frappy and lays on her back, it’s not an invitation to pet her belly. It’s a claw trap! In the mornings when she does it, she loves a belly rub!! She absolutely hates my singing (I’m hearing impaired). If I’m sitting, she’ll sit on my lap hoping that will shut me up. When that doesn’t do it, she puts her paw over my mouth. When that doesn’t work, she puts her mouth up to mine and meow, meow, meow, meow. And if I’m still singing she’ll bite my cheek (nicely). If I’m standing or walking, she’ll chase me around biting my ankles!!!! She’s quite a trip. When we would go out of town, we would mostly ask this one friend to come over and feed her. Well, Mercedes would hiss at her every time. My friend finally nicknamed her Princess Hissy Whiskers! Ha! Fits her tortitude to a T! Yes, your highness! She hisses at the nicest people. If you’re a little ornery, then she may not hiss at you. My friend who has four cats came over. Mercedes hissed at her. Mary said, “Oh no you don’t!”, hissed back at her and chased her into our bedroom. Three minutes later Mercedes emerges and rubs all over Mary like her best friend!!!! Hahaha!! It was hilarious! Mary was able to pick her up and lay her on her lap, rub her belly for a long time at night!!! These were things I was lucky if I could do them and my husband couldn’t do them at all!!! All kidding aside. My baby kitty means so much to me!! She has been here for me during the last year and a half to confi comfort me when I would cry she would come sniff me and put her paw on me. It’s been a tough period getting used too a condition that keeps me home and indoors most of the time. She entertains me, comforts me, keeps me busy, sits right I the middle of what I need to do . She’s my baby girl!! Never a dull moment with her!! A couple of years ago we had to have all but 8 of her teeth pulled. She had a feline disease where her immune system attacks the bacteria in her gums and rots her teeth. The procedure was very expensive, but when my husband mentioned putting her down, I couldn’t take it. I broke down in the vets office crying for an hour and a half. I didn’t want to part with my baby girl (even though she was already 10)! I know someday I will, but I’m so blessed to have her now. God knew I’d need a companion for this time in my life, an angel and He sent one with fur and tortitude!!! I know this is long and this is just a snippet of my baby’s tude!

    Reply
    • Rae
      August 17, 2018 at 12:38 am (3 months ago)

      Deborah,
      I was so happy to hear that someone else could love a cat with so much tortitude! I have a tortie named Skittles with much the same tortitude as your Mercedes. She is the love of my life, next to my husband of course! LOL. My husband absolutely hates her. She will surprise attack his feet, scratching and biting. She hisses, growls, bites and scratches him if he tries to pet her. She even attacks my grandson. She is a holy terror, except to me. She doesn’t attack me and she will roll over and let me scratch her tummy. She follows me everywhere talking to me and insisting that I scratch under her chin. I am disabled also, and confined to the house most of the time. I am blessed to have her as a companion.

      Reply
    • Betty
      September 19, 2018 at 10:25 pm (2 months ago)

      Deborah, I hope your cat lives a long, long time. She is blessed to have you as her Mommy. The pure and unconditional love we get from our furry friends is one of the best things life has to offer. God bless you.

      Reply
  11. Mary
    August 12, 2018 at 7:50 pm (3 months ago)

    Our torti Cassie is 18 years old. She prefers our 2 big dogs to the other 4 cats.since she is thin I Offer food 5 z or more a day she eats trial and error whatever she wants. She is a cat that hOlds her own in any situation . She loves to cuddle at night on her terms of course ! A dear girl 18 years I would do anything to make her senior years pleasant. When we adopted her she was from the Humane Society she developed upper respiratory
    Disease and we hand fed her and medicated her on the hour the vet gave her a 50 50 she made it with flying colors the dear we are happy she is still part of our animal family.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 13, 2018 at 5:46 am (3 months ago)

      “She is a cat that holds her own in any situation” – now that’s a perfect description of tortitude!

      Reply
  12. mmgriffiths@cogeco.ca
    July 28, 2018 at 2:36 pm (4 months ago)

    My torty cat, TESSA, has been with us (my old guy diabetic cat) for 8 months now… the first two months she was in complete hiding between a bedspread and the closet. She didn’t know how to play and was terrified by any toy I offered to her. I think there’s been a breakthrough as I was sitting on my sofa this morning and decided to run the light play device in front of her and she pounced on it! That’s an absolute first. She look like a joyful young cat should look. I suspect it’s all upward and onward from here. I’m glad that I was able to offer her a relatively quiet home because I think she is extremely sensitive as many say their torty’s are. She often moves in a very skittish fashion and I’ve taken to calling her Twinkle Toes. The end of her tail has a white tip she will flick it with distain and dance out of the room.

    Reply
    • Sherry burton
      August 11, 2018 at 7:25 am (3 months ago)

      I’ve had cats all my life but I had never met a “tortie” until one arrived at my patio door in 5 degree weather hungry and cold. She has a beautiful white tipped tail and classic markings. A few weeks later we found she was pregnant but the vet said this was her first litter because she was young. we decided to let her stay with us and have loved every minute of her unique personality. During her pregnancy she scoped out places and would use a unique voice and behavior to get me to follow her around.i thought she was looking for a safe place to have her kittens so I looked around with her. She kept going to a hallway closet but she would go in and come back out “talking” to me again in a different voice. I removed all the clutter in the bottom of the closet and placed soft blankets inside. She stopped looking after this and eventually had her 2 kittens in the closet we cleaned out. The funny thing is that she was aloof most of the time until she wanted food, attention or a nice comfy place to lay. She used her meowing noises to let me know what she wanted. One of her kittens was another tortoise shell which we kept in our home. She was loving, had the loudest purr, and possessive over me and only lays in my lap. 12 years later they are in great health and we still have both of them but their personalities have changed some over time. The original cat, Gabby, has taken over my lap and will not let her daughter come near me. When she is not on my lap, Hannah, uses it but leaves when her mom comes back. We know they will not be with us forever, so I don’t know what I will do without them.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        August 11, 2018 at 9:46 am (3 months ago)

        Thank you for sharing your tortie love story, Sherry!

        Reply
  13. DDWA
    July 16, 2018 at 10:33 pm (4 months ago)

    Wow! Had no idea. I adopted my girl, Lavender, from the local shelter, where she had been surrendered for euthanasia…well, I just could NOT let that be. I
    was told there had been a 2-yr old in her previous home, and Lavender had
    nearly no fur, plus scabs on her back half when surrendered, likely due to stress. She is still quick to run & hide, but is better here, her fur is coming back, she is nothing but LOVED, although she does strike if touched in a wrong spot, or when she isn’t ready. She’s here just about 6 weeks now, I will not EVER abandon her, and I have hopes she’ll settle, except for some Tortitude.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 17, 2018 at 5:50 am (4 months ago)

      Thank you for giving this girl another chance at happiness!

      Reply

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