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Calico cat looking out window

Calico cats are unique and beautiful, each with their own blend or patchwork of colors. But did you know that because of genetics, the vast majority of calicos are female?

Although you may know what calicos look like, it’s important to understand a calico cat’s personality and unique needs before you decide to bring one home. Keep reading to find out what makes calicos so unique — and how to care for one so that your pet lives a long, happy life.

What is a calico cat?

A calico cat is actually not a breed of cat. The name refers to a specific coat pattern found on domestic house cats. Another name for this pattern is piebald.

The calico pattern will vary greatly in each individual cat, but so can the coloring. For example, you can find one calico with bright, vibrant red and black patches, while other calicos can have more subdued white, beige, and cream colors.

The calico cat pattern can show up in different cat breeds. Some examples include:

  • American shorthair
  • Maine coon
  • British shorthair
  • Norwegian forest cat
  • Turkish Van
  • Turkish Angora
  • Devon Rex
  • Cornish Rex
  • Persian
  • Exotic shorthair
  • Japanese bobtail
  • Scottish fold

These are only the most common breeds – many others can also get the calico pattern.

But some breeds can’t have the calico coloring at all, such as Siamese and Himalayan cats.

While several breeds of cats can be calicos, these cats are almost always female. They also shouldn’t be confused with tortoiseshell cats. Both patterns appear mostly in females, but tortoiseshell cats never combine white in their two colors.

On the other hand, calicos have white fur along with their bicolored patches.

Why are calico cats special?

What makes calicos unique is their chromosomes. All of them experience a phenomenon called lyonization.

Each cat is born with two chromosomes, just like most humans. And just like humans, nearly all female cats have two X chromosomes, while nearly all male cats have one X and one Y chromosome.

Because several of the genes that control a cat’s hair color are located in the X chromosomes, only one chromosome gets to influence a male cat’s color.

This means that if a male cat gets an X chromosome with the orange gene, it will become orange. If it gets an X chromosome with a black gene, it will become black. When a female cat develops as an embryo, it goes through lyonization, which means one of its two X chromosomes becomes inactive.

But here’s where it gets tricky — not all cells in the cat’s body will deactivate the same chromosome. Some cells will cancel the black-colored chromosome, while others will cancel the orange-colored chromosome.

And that’s why calico cats (as well as tortoiseshell cats) have a blend of two colors that show up on their bodies.

What about the white fur? This is where piebald coats come in. The white fur is a result of hair with no pigmentation at all.

Calico cat temperament and personality

Not all calico cats will have the same temperament and personality. This will mostly depend on your cat’s breed and their environment and upbringing, not its pattern or color.

However, some breeds produce more calico cats than others! For instance, this pattern is common in Cornish Rex, Exotic Shorthair, and Persian cats.

Let’s look at the personalities of each of these breeds.

Cornish Rex

You’ll easily recognize a calico Cornish Rex by their distinctively short, downy hair. Some Cornish Rex owners compare petting their cat to petting a rabbit.

If you enjoy cuddling cats, a Cornish Rex would be one of the best breeds to look for. Since their hair is so short, they love snuggling on their owner’s lap and finding sunny spots in your home.

Even though the Cornish Rex is cuddly and affectionate, they’re also playful and enthusiastic. They’re ideal for people who wish they could have a kitten forever!

Because of their loving temperament, a Cornish Rex is the ideal family pet, especially for those who have young children.


Calico Persian cats are laid-back, charming pets that love to lounge. When they’re socialized at a young age, they can get along with children and other pets, including dogs!

Although Persians love to play games with their owners, they don’t constantly need stimulation. This makes them ideal for people who enjoy playing with their cats but who don’t have as much time on their hands.

Exotic shorthair

Calico exotic shorthair cats are sweet and affectionate pets that are also easy to care for. They look similar to Persian cats but don’t have the same long coat.

An exotic shorthair cat typically has less energy than many other cat breeds. So while they’re not the best choice for owners that enjoy long play sessions, they’re a perfect pet for mellow families that like to relax indoors.

They also love sunbathing, which makes them great pets for people who have plenty of windows in their homes.

Caring for a calico cat

Have you found yourself with a new calico cat to care for? When properly cared for, a calico can become your new best friend for years to come.

Caring for a cat comes with many responsibilities, so make sure you practice the following routines to keep your calico happy:

  • Enrichment & stimulation — Make sure to play with your cat every day. Not all calico breeds will need the same amount of playtime, but all of them will need at least some daily attention. If you have a calico breed that requires more attention than you can provide, consider adopting a second cat to keep them company. Provide your calico with high-quality toys, scratching posts, and other enrichment to keep them entertained. If your calico gets bored, it can start engaging in undesirable behavior like scratching the furniture or knocking items to the floor.
  • Litter boxes — Have at least one litter box in your home for each cat. For example, you’ll need at least three litter boxes if you have three cats — calico or otherwise. If you only have room for one box, you’ll need to be diligent about cleaning it every day, sometimes more than once.
  • Clean water — Keep clean water available at all times. Because cats have evolved to prefer running water, your calico may not enjoy drinking from a bowl. If this happens, consider getting a water fountain designed for cats.
  • Grooming You’ll need to brush your calico to keep its coat clean and healthy. The frequency of brushing will depend on the breed. If your calico has a short coat, brush it at least once a week. On the other hand, if your calico has a long coat — like a Persian or a Maine coon — it can get tangled or even matted when not cared for properly. Brush twice a week or more as needed.
  • Dental care — Brush your calico’s teeth twice a week. You can also add other dental care items to your calico’s routine, such as special treats and chews.

Should you adopt a calico cat? 

Calicos aren’t a breed, but their distinctive look makes them a popular choice for many pet owners. However, if you want to adopt a calico, you should know that you’re very unlikely to find a male. That’s why calicos are the ideal choice for someone who prefers female cats.

Are you looking to adopt a calico cat or another furry friend? The cat experts at betterpet can advise you on all things cat and dog ownership, including feeding, grooming, and exercise.