How rare are male tortoiseshell cats?

You will find various statistics on the rarity of tortoiseshell cats both in books and on the internet including in equally rare studies! The rarity factor varies as widely as 1 in 200 (Dr Desmond Morris in Cat World) to 1 in 400,000 by the Daily Mail! Where did they get that figure from? It seems that there is a difference of opinion.

**Having researched the matter my personal conclusion is a rarity factor of between 1:200 and 1:3000.**

Note: Male tortoiseshell cats are feminized male cats and sterile. They “act like a masculinized female rather than a true male” (Dr Morris). The male tortoiseshell is the result of a “minor genetic error”.

Tortoiseshell cat with amazing mane needs a modelling agent
Tortoiseshell cat with amazing mane needs a modelling agent. She is female!
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Rarity – how rare?

Here are some suggestions as to rarity:

Our dear Sarah Hartwell, Britain’s scientific cat lover, quotes figures of 1 in 1000 to 1 in many thousands with respect to the rareness of the male tortoiseshell cat. She doesn’t have a firm figure and if she doesn’t, there is no firm figure.

However, a Daily Mail reporter in an article about Eddie, a very dark male tortie (see photo), quotes a 1 in 400,000 chance of being born a tortie tom cat. The reporter also states that no more than a couple of these cats are born annually in the UK amongst the 8 million cats in the United Kingdom. Wikipedia quotes a 1 in 3,000 chance.

One reference a study: Leaman, T., Rowland, R., & Long, S. E. (1999). Male tortoiseshell cats in the United Kingdom. Veterinary record, 144(1), 9-12. Link:, concluded from a survey of veterinary practices in the United Kingdom that out of 4,598 male cats only 20 were tortoiseshells. This is 1 in 230. Or a rate of 0.43% of tortoiseshell cats being male.

Dilute tortoiseshell
Dilute tortoiseshell. Photo in public domain. You can see in her facial expression that she is female (nearly all torties are female).

RELATED: Picture of dilute tortoiseshell cat with fierce human expression and broken ears

The well-regarded book on feline genetics: Robinson’s Genetics for Cat Breeders and Veterinarians (fourth edition) states that male tortoiseshell cats occur at a very low frequency; one in every 3,000 male births. That’s probably a pretty reliable figure.

Eddie was adopted by a veterinarian, Karen Horne, who says it is genetically impossible for a cat to be born a male tortie. Clearly genetics go wrong sometimes which allows a mistake to occur. Karen says that she and her colleagues have never seen a cat like Eddie in 30 years of practicing veterinary surgery.

Eddie and Harry male tortoiseshell cats
Eddie and Harry male tortoiseshell cats. Harry: Lothian Cat Rescue. Eddie: Masons via Daily Mail

Harry, a rescue cat, who was at Lothian Cat Rescue, Scotland, recently (I wonder who adopted him) state that 99.9% of tortoiseshell cats are female. Harry was the first male tortoiseshell cat that they had dealt with in their 35-year history.


Sarah Hartwell makes the wise comment that rareness in this instance does not mean valuable. Male torties are almost always sterile and if they aren’t they don’t pass on their coat colour/pattern.

RELATED: How much is a male calico cat worth?

However, there is a point that she overlooks (sorry Sarah). Because of their sheer rarity they are considered in some cultures to bring good luck. The rarity brings them a special kind of value which may translate to monetary value. For example, in Celtic countries tortoiseshell cats were considered a good omen if one lived in the home. And Japanese fishermen would pay HUGE sums of money to have one as a ship’s cat to protect the crew. There you are. Rarity is almost always associated with monetary value. Dr Morris says that the ancient Kymers of south-east Asia the first tortoiseshell cat was ‘created in a magical ritual’ during which ‘the cat sprang from the menstrual blood of a young goddess born of a lotus flower’.

Show cat

Also, they don’t make good show cats. Rarity does not automatically mean a good show cat and they have to be shown in the “any other color” class. Good show cats have an appearance fitting the breed standard. Eddie and Harry are not part of a cat breed.

This brings me to calico cats – tortoiseshell and white. I presume the degree of rarity of male calicos is the same or similar to that of the tortie. I’ll await being corrected on that!

RELATED: Calico Cat Facts For Kids

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

16 thoughts on “How rare are male tortoiseshell cats?”

  1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    In all the years I worked for vets and assisted at neuterings I never saw a male torti. But ginger females weren’t as common then as they are nowadays either.

  2. Every tortie or calico that I’ve ever had the privilege to love has been female. They’re exquisite, often dainty, and dignified. Don’t get me wrong. I love boys too. But, girls are extraordinary.

    It would be nice to come across a male tortie or calico sometime; but, I don’t think that I would have any thoughts of whether they were rare or not. I would be more interested as to how their demure might differ from a female.

      1. And, what do we think a normal male behavior really is?
        Do they prance around being macho?

        My males really do act very differently from my delicate girls.

        But, how can we describe it?

        1. P.S. Every caretaker should experience the glory of having a girl to love. They are supreme in their ability to reciprocate.
          If someone only experiences boys, they only have one point of view about cats; and, they’ll never know but half of what cats are all about.

          1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

            We’ve had both male and female cats over the 40 years of the honour of sharing our lives with them and I think it’s down to the cats purr-sonality more than their sex.
            The only difference here where our cats have their freedom, is that our girls have never gone as far from home as our boyz have, they have been/are a bit more adventurous.
            But I’ve found each and every cat equally as loving.

            1. We should do an article on that. Whether the natural difference in individual cat personality is greater than the personality differences between male and female cats. Also how big an impact is neutering on cat personality?

      1. I have no picture of him right this moment but I can get one tomorrow he’s out at the farm he’s not for sale and again he could be he’s a young cat no older than two and a half years old.

  3. Maybe a Facebook page would suit the type of people wanting to gain fame because they have a rare cat. It could lead to mall openings, mugs and t-shirts. That would lead to YouTube and eventually movies of the week on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network) like Grumpy Cat. The truest cat show on earth is Social Media, right?

    I have no idea on how rare they are, as long as they are healthy and happy. It does excite me a bit to see them. They are wonders of the universe in a way. The off bit that proves the rule sort of thing. I hope they were adopted by decent humans. A warm lap, good food and maybe a treat now and again and a sisfur or brofur. That’s all any cat needs.

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