Why are Calico Cats only Female?

Calico Cat on a Table

Calico cats have arguably one of the most beautiful coats in all of catdom.

Many novice cat owners believe that the term Calico is used to describe a breed, but it is actually a coat color that can be found in many different breeds from the Sphynx to the Cornish Rex to the Munchkin.

This coat pattern is entirely unique and you will never find two calicos with the exact same markings.

Calico Cat on Brick Walkway

A common myth among many cat lovers is that all calico cats are female. While the large majority of calicos are female, one in 3,000 are male.

The reason for this is completely genetic. The orange/non-orange coat color is carried on the X chromosome.

Like all mammals each parent contributes one chromosome to the baby. Females have XX and males have XY. This means that the father of the kittens determines the gender.

However, to get a calico coat the kitten must have both an orange and a non-orange X chromosome, which one would assume means that all calicos are female.

In some rare cases, however, faulty cell division can cause an extra X chromosome. This extra X would be reproduced in all the cells, and if one of the Xs has the orange gene and one has the non-orange the resulting kitten could be a male calico.

The XXY gene sequence can cause health conditions such as weak muscles, slow growth, and hormone imbalances and is referred to as Klinefelter’s syndrome.

Calico Cat with Green and Blue Eye

If you are one of the few people who ends up with a male calico there are a few things you should know.

The first is that almost all male calicos are sterile. 

1 in 10,000 male calicos are able to reproduce, but they aren’t good candidates for breeding programs due to their extra chromosomes. For a male calico to be able to reproduce they would have to have two double cells XXYY which as you can imagine is very rare.

Whether your cat is or is not sterile it is a good idea to go ahead and get him neutered anyway. This will prevent things like territorial marking and possible testosterone induced aggression.

Another way that a male cat can be a calico is through two fetuses merging in the mother’s womb. This is referred to a chimera, during the merge one of the DNA strands can determine the coat color, while the other determines the reproductive organs.

This is extremely rare, but it has occurred.

There have been three instances where it has occurred to create male calicos.

Sickly Calico Cat on Potty Sheet

If you are dead set on having your own calico you have a few options.

There are several breeds of cats that offer calico coats, my favorite being the Cornish Rex. However, if you aren’t set on a certain breed there are also lots of beautiful, loving calicos in shelters across the world.

When choosing your new cat be sure to base your choice on more than coat color. Let the adoptions staff know about your home, activity level, and other pets as many staff members will know the cats in their care exceptionally well.

Keep in mind that the shelter is a terrifying place for most animals, and some may act completely shut down or aggressive in the shelter when they are amazingly sweet, affectionate and outgoing in a home. While the staff may not be able to tell you exactly how a cat will act in your home, they may be able to guide you toward a cat they think will be a great fit.

If you don’t currently have a cat, I recommend adopting a bonded pair of adult cats. Bonded pairs have a hard time getting adopted in shelters, but they have twice the amount of love to give. They can keep each other company as well as help each other stay fit and exercised.

Calico Cat

While most calico cats are female, there are male calicos—they are just extremely rare.

Some people would believe male calicos would be worth a ton of money, but they are actually worth no more than any other male cat.

If you are considering adding a calico to your family consider checking a shelter first and if you can adopt a bonded pair.

The only thing better than one calico cat is two.

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