Calico Cat Breed

“Calico cat breed” is a kind of oxymoron! What I mean is that “calico cat” and “breed” do not go together because calico cats are not a breed of cat.

Exotic SH kitten calico
Exotic SH kitten calico. This kitten was bred by Victoria Gerasimova, of Tiraspol’, Stînga Nistrului, Moldova
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“Cailco” is an Americanism for a type of cat coat that is called tortoiseshell-and-white in England.

The word “calico” means a plain cotton so it seems to have no connection to the colors and patterns of a tortoiseshell-and-white cat. However, in the 1600s in India a brightly colored cloth was manufactured in a place called “Calicut”. Calico cats are brightly colored. That appears to be the connection.

Calico cats are called “particolor cats” in the cat fancy. They are also called “tricolor” cat coats because the three (tri) colors are white, orange and black. Strictly speaking however, white is not a single color but a mixture of all colors. Black is also not a color as it is the absence of color.

Also, in relation to cat coats black is brown! It gets confusing and sounds odd but black cats are dark brown cats.

Calico Cornish Rex
Calico Cornish Rex. Photo in public domain.

The white coloration of the calico coat is caused by the dominant S allele¹ (piebald white spotting).

The orange (called “red ” as well) is caused by the O gene which is sex linked.

The color black is the presence of eumelanin, a dark brown pigment, in the hair strands. The genes are a (non-agouti), B (black pigment) and D (dense coloration)¹.

Dilute calico cats are beautiful. The cream and blue-cream are dilute versions.

Cat breeds that can have calico coats

So, “calico” refers to a coat type. The breed standard of each cat breed of which there are over 100 but only 40 are recognised by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), dictates the allowable coat types for each breed.

Some cat breeds are heavily restricted as to what coat type is allowed while for others almost anything is acceptable including calico.

The following is a list of cat breeds registered at the CFA that are allowed to have calico coats (taken from the breed standards):

  • American Shorthair
  • American Wirehair
  • American Curl
  • British Shorthair
  • Cornish Rex
  • Devon Rex
  • Exotic Shorthair
  • Persian
  • Japanese Bobtail (the Maneki Neko cats, lucky cats are mi-ke or tricolor cats, the favorite version of the Japanese Bobtail).
  • LaPerm
  • Maine Coon
  • Manx
  • Norwegian Forest Cat
  • Scottish Fold
  • Selkirk Rex
  • Sphynx
  • Turkish Angora
  • Turkish Van

Interestingly the Sphynx is allowed as a calico cat. This is strange because the Sphynx has no coat. Actually it does have some fur and some coloration. And skin patterns mirror coat pattens.

Of all the above breeds the Japanese Bobtail is the cat that is by far the most associated with the calico coat. If you are seeking a “calico cat breed” you might consider the Japanese Bobtail.

See calico cats for more. See also dilute calico cat and calico Christmas ornament.

Calico cat breed — Notes:

1. Robinson’s Genetics pages 157 and 159. ISBN 0-7506-4069-3

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