What breed of cat is orange?
Orange Tabby Cats: Everything You Need to Know
The orange tabby is known for being the most loving and affectionate cat out there. But did you know that orange tabby cats aren’t actually a breed? That’s right, Puss in Boots and Garfield aren’t the same cat breed.
Instead, the term tabby refers to a cat’s specific type of coat pattern. The pattern is recognized by different fur patterns and can be in any color, including orange!
So, you may be wondering what breed is an orange tabby? Keep reading, and you’ll learn exactly what an orange tabby is and where they originated from.
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What is an “Orange Tabby” Cat?
First, let’s take a look at what an orange tabby is, or rather a red or ginger tabby. These beautiful ginger cats are signified by their bright orange coat with a unique pattern type. Depending on genetics, the pattern can range anywhere from stripes to swirls. It can also vary slightly in color, including golden yellow, white, and orange.
In general, five different varieties of coat patterns meet the standard of the “Orange Tabby.” They are:
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- Mackerel – a pattern that has tiger-like stripes.
- Classic – a pattern type that swirls light and dark together.
- Spotted – a unique pattern where the cat has spots instead of stripes or swirls.
- Ticked – light and dark bands that alternate between each other.
- Patched – random patches of orange, yellow, or white fur.
These five main fur patterns are what breeders aim to breed. However, you can see an orange tabby cat with various patterns depending on the parents’ genetics. The main similarity is that fabulous bright orange fur is a standard of the orange tabby cat.
Aside from that, genetics play a significant role in how the fur type looks. Some genetics make the pattern type very prominent, while others are subtle. So, a lot of variety is packed into the Orange Tabby name.
The Red Fur Pigment
According to a study, orange tabbies have the same genetics that causes red hair in humans. Pheomelanin is a predominant gene that causes that striking orange hue. Essentially, if a cat has the pheomelanin gene, it replaces eumelanin which is responsible for black or brown pigments.
Pheomelanin is not unique to the “orange tabby” cat. Instead, it’s found in various cats bred to be an orange tabby. Hence, knowing about the breeds used to produce an orange tabby cat is essential.
What Breed is an Orange Tabby?
An orange tabby isn’t just one breed of cat. In fact, it’s actually a pattern type that is found in different feline breeds. Each breed still has that signature orange coat, which can vary in hue. However, the patterns often range slightly, which causes variation in features amongst orange tabby cats.
So, what breeds of cats does the orange tabby come from? Here are the different varieties that are commonly used when breeding:
- American Bobtail
- British Shorthair
- Maine Coon
- Egyptian Mau
Orange Tabby Characteristics
Aside from their coat and color, an orange tabby also includes some defining characteristics. Below, we’ll discuss a few that are specific to them.
You’ve likely seen an “M” shaped marking on many orange tabby cats. This is a unique characteristic that breeders want. The marking is entirely natural, with some believing that it refers to the word “Mau,” which is Egyptian for cat.
However, the M-shaped markings are standard for mackerel or classic tabby cats. These have the traditional orange and white fur color, with white spots on the mouth and around the forehead.
White/Dark Lining Around Eyes
If you’ve ever looked closely at an orange tabby, you may have noticed a faint white or dark line around its eyes. This tends to develop early on and is more prominent by age one.
Pigmented Paws & Lips
You may also notice that an orange tabby has a signature pigment on its paws and lips. The color is the same and will generally help define their features.
Pencil-like lines appear in a yellow or white color around the cat’s body and face. While not all orange tabby cats have this characteristic, it’s prominent in most.
Pale Coloring on Chin & Belly
Lastly, their chin and belly have pale coloring. The most common color is white. However, depending on their breed, some tabbies have orange, yellow, and other colors!
Orange Tabby Gender Myths
One of the questions we get all the time is, is there a female tabby cat? The answer is yes and no. While the “breed” is essentially male-dominant, there’s a specific reason for this.
Pheomelanin is a recessive gene that is only found on an X chromosome. Females have two XX chromosomes, while males have an XY chromosome. When you breed a female, the mother and father must have the recessive gene. However, the male-only needs the recessive gene from the mother.
This results in most orange tabby cats being born male. At least 80% of orange tabby cats are male due to this. Despite this, people still love the breed and enjoy the company of the male orange tabby.
Where Did the Orange Tabby Cat Originate?
There is a lot of debate on where the orange tabby originated. Experts believe that the orange tabby originated from Egypt or Ethiopia.
This is because the Egyptian mau and Abyssinian cats originated from those areas. These cats had the recessive gene that produced that vibrant red hue and patterned fur.
While this is the orange tabby’s first appearance that was documented, there is little known about their original origins. Civilizations before these could have also had similar cats, but it’s uncertain.
The Bottom Line
While the orange tabby isn’t an actual breed, the cat does have a distinctive appearance. Depending on what breed the cat was bred from, it can have plenty of varying qualities, including temperament, size, and more. Overall, the orange tabby will still be a popular “breed” due to its signature ginger look.
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Are All Orange Cats Male and All Calico Cats Female?
You’ve always assumed the calico cat that sits in your neighbor’s window is a she. And you’re certain that the orange tabby you’ve fallen in love with at the shelter is a boy. Chances are, you’re right. Most orange cats are male and most calicos are female.
“These other chromosomes contain genes that affect hair color, pattern, shape and length,” Grahn says. “Since the genes for sex and hair colors are on different chromosomes, they are inherited independently of each other. Thus, no color is associated with a particular sex, except in cats and hamsters.”
Nature doesn’t always abide by a rigid set of rules, however, including when it comes to feline fur color. A small percentage of orange cats are female, and even a more miniscule portion of calico cats are male.
Below, learn how genetics and sex influences a cat’s coat color, and why some cats don’t fit typical color patterns.
Color in Cats is (Mostly) Linked to Sex
Whether calico, tortoiseshell, orange, black, brown, or gray, a cat’s fur color is derived from two dominant colors: Black and red. These colors can mutate into different shades—black can become chocolate, cinnamon, lilac, blue and fawn. And red, which is determined by the orange gene, can become cream.
“They are actually alleles, meaning they are two variations of the same gene in one location on the chromosome,” he says. So an X chromosome can contain either a black hair gene or an orange hair gene, but not both.
Males normally carry only one X chromosome. Therefore, males can be black or orange (or other color variations based on other gene locations) but cannot have both black and orange hair colors on their body. The female’s extra X chromosome allows the possibility of her receiving both a black and orange gene, says Bell.
Are All Orange Cats Male?
About 81 percent of orange cats are male, says Bell. While female cats will inherit an orange coat only if they carry the orange gene on both X chromosomes, if a male carries the orange gene at all, he will be orange, says Konecny.
“As the frequency of the orange gene is much less than the frequency of the black gene in the general cat population, the chance of having two orange genes is much less frequent. This makes male orange cats more frequent than orange females,” Bell says.
What does this all mean for their offspring? If a mother cat is orange, her male kittens will be orange regardless of their father’s color, Konecny says, and if a mother cat is tortoiseshell (a mix of black, white and orange), half of her male kittens will be orange while the other half will be black.
To get an orange female kitten, both the mother and father must be orange, Konecny says. If the mother cat is tortoiseshell and the father cat is orange, half of the female kittens will be orange, she says.
Illustration: Josh Carter
Are All Calico Cats Female?
Calico cats have the same coloration as tortoiseshell ones, white orange and black blended together, but calicos have distinctly-marked patterns. According to Bell, research shows that fewer than 1 in 1,000 calico cats are male. This can be chalked up to the female’s extra X chromosome.
That extra X chromosome means a female can receive both a black and orange color gene, which gives rise to calico and tortoiseshell variations.
“Females with a black gene on one X chromosome and an orange gene on the other X chromosome will be calico or tortoiseshell colored,” says Bell.
So how can any male calicos exist at all? It’s mostly attributed to a mutation in the skin cells during formation of the embryo, says Bell.
“Historically, the orange hair gene occurred as a mutation in the black hair gene that caused it to produce orange coat color,” he says. “Occasionally we see spontaneous ‘back mutations’ in the developing embryo that convert the orange hair gene back to a black hair-producing gene.”
If the mutation occurs early in the embryo, then the male can inherit the calico coloring, he says. If it occurs later in the development of the embryo, there may only be an occasional patch of black hair in an otherwise-orange coat. He says this phenomenon occurs only in the skin cells, and is not passed to the male’s sperm, so they can still reproduce as orange.
Another rare occurrence causing male cats to have a calico color pattern is called chimerism, the fusion of two fertilized eggs in the womb.
“These would have become two different kittens if they remained separate, but because they have fused, they become one kitten with two separate sets of cells containing different sets of chromosomes,” Bell says. “If one of the fertilized eggs was for an orange cat, and one was for a black cat, you could find equal amounts of black and orange in a male cat.”
The least common reason male calico cats exist, he says, is due to an “abnormal” egg or sperm that produces a fertilized egg with an extra sex chromosome. So instead of having XY, this type of cat would have XXY. This type of cat would be outwardly male, but sterile.
“If one X chromosome carries the orange hair gene and one the black hair gene, then he will be a calico,” Bell says.
Paula Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer and researcher specializing in companion animal health and nutrition, and science. She’s written for clients like Prevention magazine, PetMD.com, PawCulture.com, Parrots magazine, and University of Texas-Arlington. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and feathered family members, including parrots Whit and Sweetpea.
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