How To Tell The Difference Between Torbie, Tortie, Calico And Tabby Coat Color

I love cats that come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Really, I don’t discriminate, I just love them all despite their markings, fur length or coat color. (Although I must say, there will always be a special place in my heart for ginger tabbies!) Speaking of which, did you know there are different classifications for tabbies? Not all have solid stripes, actually, and some have stripes which are darker/bolder than others. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly makes a torbie, tortie, calico or tabby cat, we’re here to tell you!

Check out our detailed overview on how to tell the difference between torbies, torties, calico and tabby cat coat colors.

Tortoiseshell Cats

By definition, a tortoiseshell cat is a feline with a coat that resembles the mottled or particolored shell of a tortoise. Similar to calicos, tortoiseshell cats are almost exclusively female. And in the rare instances that a tortoiseshell cat is male, it will typically be sterile as a result. Tortoiseshell markings appear in many different breeds, as well as in non-purebred domestic cats.

For those cat owners who share their home with one of these colorful cats, they often report of their cat’s ““tortitude” with others. A tortie cat is known by many for being a cat with attitude and a distinct personality with a voice all of their own. If you’ve got a tortie, then you know exactly what we mean by tortitude!

A collage of examples of tortie cats:

Since torties are not specific to any particular breed of cat, their overall coloring typically appears brindled. Their appearance is a healthy mix of dark black or chocolate, with shades of red, ginger, or orange mixed in.

Fun tortoiseshell cat fact: In many cultures, tortoiseshell cats are synonymous with good luck. Dating back to Celtic times, tortoiseshell cats have been perceived to bring good fortune into their homes. Even today, the Irish and Scottish believe stray tortoiseshell cats bring them luck. In the United States, tortoiseshells are sometimes referred to as money cats.

For some people (myself included!), it can be slightly difficult to determine the difference between torbie and tortie cat coat color. Here’s something to keep in mind when establishing the difference:

Even on a solid color cat, you can often see stripes on reds and creams. The only way to be sure if you have a tortie or torbie is to ignore any stripes showing in the red or cream areas – just look to see if the black color is solid or has stripes. You may see small white spots, but usually, Torties have a predominance of black and red fur color. A tortie can also have a diluted coat that’s not as bold, but still be considered a tortie by definition.

Cole and Marmalades’ housemates, Jugg and Zig Zag, are both torties!

What is a tricolor cat? Calicos, tortoiseshells, and torbies all belong to a category of cat colors called tricolor. 

Torbie Cats

Of the four type of cat coat colors listed, the torbie cat is most rare. The term “torbie” is short for tortoiseshell-tabby, and they were once referred to as reverse torties. When a cat has tabby stripes but also tortoiseshell markings, this results in what is known as a torbie. They are also called “patched tabbies” since they are a tabby with patches of red or cream.

A collage of examples of torbie cats:

Calico Cats

These predominantly female–as well as usually very loving–cats are rather easy to recognize once you know exactly what to look for: orange, black and white. A calico cat can come in a wide array of coat patterns, and no two really ever look identical. Any cats with large piebald type white, orange, and black patches are calico cats.

Add a tabby pattern into the mix with a calico cat and you have a cat called a caliby! There are also cats that are “diluted” calicos, which have gray rather than black on their coat coloring. (See image below for example.)

Fun calico cat fact: A calico is the official state cat of Maryland!

A collage of examples of calico cats:

Curious why calico cats are almost always female? Well, the truth is in the genes! Here’s how it works:

There is a color gene for orange cat coat color that is noted as O. The O gene can only be carried on the X chromosome. Since a male cat has only one X chromosome, if he carries the orange gene, he is either OY (orange) or oY (some other non-orange color). Female cats have two X chromosomes, which means they can be OO (dominant orange), oo (recessive orange, which results in the cat being some other color), or they can be Oo, which is tricolor. Tricolor contains both dominant and recessive orange genes.

Photo: Marmalade in all his ginger glory!

Tabby Cats

By definition, a tabby cat is any domesticated feline that has “a coat featuring distinctive stripes, dots, lines or swirling patterns, always together with a mark resembling an ‘M’ on its forehead. Some tabby kittens are actually born without stripes, and develop them after a few weeks of age. While tabby cats can be male or female, ginger tabbies are almost always male due to their genetic coding.

Cat lovers the world over have had a fondness for these patterned cats for centuries. But what causes these cats to have such a unique coat pattern is quite interesting:

The tabby pattern is a naturally occurring feature that may be related to the coloration of the domestic cat’s direct ancestor, the African wildcat, which—along with the European wildcat and Asiatic wildcat—has a similar coloration. A genetic study found five genetic clusters from tabbies to be ancestral to wildcats of various parts of the world.

A collage of examples of tabby cats:

Tabby cat fact: The English term tabby originates from the translation of the French phrase “striped silk taffeta”, the root of which is tabis, meaning “a rich watered silk.”

Technically speaking there are different variations of tabby cat coat color: mackerel, stripped, spotted, and ticked.

Do you have a tortie, torbie, calico or tabby cat in your life? Share your cats coat colors with us in the comments section!

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32 Comments

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  1. I have one calico, one ginger tabby, three tabbies, one manx with tabby markings, three tuxedo’s, one black and white (moo cow cat), and one all black with gold eyes. One of the tabbies has black sides with silver swirls that look like cinnamon rolls!

  2. We are the lucky room mates of both a calico (Wilma) and a striped tabby (Lizzie). The two are biological sisters from the same litter and we lovingly call them our little monsters. They are both very chatty and we can enjoy long talks, especially with Wilma the calico. They greet us at the door when we come home, they always come and/or talk to us when we call their names and every evening they each have a cuddle time before a we can all go to sleep. 😁😍😻

  3. We currently have 2 grey tabbies, 1 orange tabby, 1 tortie, and 1 calico. The other 3 cats in our group are an orange and white, a black and white, and a seal point Siamese. We do love our kitties!!!

  4. My last kitty was, I’m told, a muted tortoiseshell. As I understand it, all cats have an under layer and a top layer of fur. Torties have a top layer that’s a darker colour than the under layer – and muted torties have a thicker top layer than non-muted ones, so it’s harder to see the under layer in certain lighting. In photos I have of my Nyssa (RIP), her colouring and patterning changes depending on what the light is like, the position she’s in, etc. Sometimes she’s got more of the brown undercoat showing, while in other shots you see more of the dark grey undercoat…

  5. I LOVE them! What about Siamese Tortie Points? They are pointed like a Siamese but Tri-colored as well. Their coat changes color with age as their “colors come in.” They start out as an ugly-duckling and end up as a beautiful Tortie Point. Incredible color changing cats. My Heart cat was a Tortie Siamese.

  6. We have one Tabby and one Torbie. Both of them have distinct attitudes. But that simply makes them unique in their own way and i enjoy having them in our lives.

  7. Because tabbies have wildcat ancestry, does that make it more prone to biting? I have a year old female tabby and she can be loving 1 minute and suddenly bite me the next. How can I stop this?

  8. Hi my name is Miss Vivian Voloris Davis and I have a stripe,dot, circle gray Tabby.I was walking my dog n I heard a noise.I thought it was a bird are something I looked to the sky n it wasn’t anything n then I looked into a bushes n there was a tiny little thing baby kitten by the size of my hand,palm.So when we meet eye to eye it came to my feet I was kinda curious about picking it up but my dog seems to not mind he was quite happy so I picked it up brought it into my home took a bath n it was fleas free.

  9. We have one of each ! ☺️ We have a gray stripped tabby, a calico who has is predominantly black but with white and orange large patches ( but has the whole fortitude thing🤷‍♀️), and we adopted an abandoned young cat last summer who is a torbie.

  10. I have three calicos. The mama is mostly black with orange mixed in and white on her paws and belly. Her two babies are dilute calicos (gray/cream orange/white.) She had another calico baby too, black/orange/white but that one was adopted.

  11. Your comments about the various personalities above are absolutely true. My “tortie girl” has a distinct personality and nothing seems to frighten her. She can be tempermental but when I had my surgeries she was the most loving and loyal of all of my kitty cats. I am fostering kittens and one of them has calico patches. I noticed she does the most purring and although tiny her lovable characteristics are very noticeable. I have 4 tabbies who are great but due to their coloration are extremely difficult to see in the dark. This is something to keep in mind if a person happens to be visually impaired. I’m not but I think the camouflage ability of the tabby cat is something to consider when taking on a new cat. Oh and maybe I should say 5 tabbies because a tortie is technically a tabby too

  12. We share our home with a torbie (my husbands princess 😁), a tuxedo and a pitch black house panther.

  13. We have a lovely polydactl girl we adopted 8 years ago. She was a severely depressed 3 year old who had spent at least 18 months in shelters! Don’t know why, as she is sweet, smart and sassy, and we wouldn’t Trade Della Rella , who is mostly black with one primarily gold/red foot, for love or money! She is our second Tortie, after years of mostly Siamese. Our vet says Torties are the “redheads” of the cat world, and we can vouch for the temperment! She and our Siamese, Qwerty, don’t care much for each other, but we have arranged our household around them to avoid confilct, of course!

  14. We have a tortoise-point Himalayan. Because she is mostly white, it really only shows up on her face, which is gray and orange around her muzzle and gives her a slightly sneering look.

  15. I have 2 tabby males. Minion (grey, black and a little brown, tabby) and Simba (ginger tabby). They are brothers but not biologically. They definitely have different personalities. Minion is my curious one and also chewer And Simba is my scaredy cat. They are my fur babies.

  16. What a clear and concise explanation of coat colors. We have a wonderful, intelligent, friendly, loving, energetic, handsome and did I say smart and witty Orange Tabby, Timmy! The other boring cats are a Bi-Color with a too pushy personality, a big old Blue, a House Panfur, a Pure Breed American Bob-Tail Rumpy and a cute but a bit standoffish Gray Tabby. It is amazing how different our personalities are that is something that makes the Cat such a wonderful house partner

  17. Well… What a clear and concise explanation of coat colors. We have a wonderful, intelligent, friendly, loving, energetic, handsome and did I say smart and witty Orange Tabby, Timmy! The other boring cats are a Bi-Color with a too pushy personality, a big old Blue, a House Panfur, a Pure Breed American Bob-Tail Rumpy and a cute but a bit standoffish Gray Tabby. It is amazing how different our personalities are that is something that makes the Cat such a wonderful house partner

  18. I have a beautiful torby girl (Willow), who has the softest fur ever! Somewhat muted colors. She definitely has “tortitude”! She thinks she’s the queen of the other cats, but is also very loving. One of our males is a gorgeous, and huge, tabby. He’s a complete dork! Also lovey.

  19. I have a Tortico and Tuxeco/Calico.
    Torties with white should be called Tortico. Mine has the patterns of grey, black and brown/orange on her back. Her face has some white but mainly underneath on her belly and her neck area she has white.
    Torticos need to be added into this.
    My calico has a tuxedo head.

    My friend has a Torbieco. She is a mix of Tortie/Calico/Tabby coat.

  20. I have a tortie (F, Mocha), orange tabby (M, Loki), and a calico (F, Callie). I can say that all live up to their descriptions!! Especially my mocha with all her tortitude.

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Written by Modi Ramos

Cat lover since birth. Keeper of Mr. Purple and Tom Brady Kitty. I've never met a cat I didn't like.

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