The Premier Online Magazine devoted to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats
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The Premier Online Magazine
devoted to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats

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The Premier Online Magazine devoted
to Persian & Exotic Shorthair Cats

Close this search box.

Hot Tortoiseshell Cats

Tortoiseshell cats come in six possible color combinations, one for each black-based color, plus its associated dilute color:

  • Black tortoiseshell (black and red, often simply referred to a tortoiseshell)
  • Blue tortoiseshell (blue and cream; this color is also called dilute tortie or blue-cream)
  • Chocolate tortoiseshell (chocolate and red)
  • Lilac tortoiseshell (lilac and cream)
  • Cinnamon tortoiseshell (cinnamon and red)
  • Fawn tortoiseshell (fawn and cream)

Regardless of the color, part of the charm of the particolor cats is the uniqueness of each individual’s coat pattern. But have you ever heard a judge say a tortoiseshell’s color is “hot”? Have you wondered what they meant?

To explain what is mean by “hot tortie”, we first need to understand the classic appearance of a tortoiseshell cat. Whether longhair or shorthair, from Persian to Oriental Shorthair to Sphynx, the description of tortoiseshell coloring is that of a black-factored cat (black, chocolate, cinnamon) with softly intermingled areas of red or cream on both the body and extremities of the cat. Several shades of red/cream are acceptable. The implication in this description is that the predominant color of the tortie is of a black-factored cat (black, chocolate, cinnamon). Similarly, a dilute tortie should be predominantly the dilute of the black-factored color (blue, lilac, fawn).

If you look at the photo of the two Exotic Shorthair sisters below, you can see that the black tortie has more black than red in her coat, while the blue-cream has a predominantly blue coat. Each kitty would be considered examples of traditional tortie coloring.

These two Exotic Shorthair kittens are examples of classic tortoiseshell coloring.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so let us take a look at a selection of photos of classic tortoiseshell cats of both dominant and recessive colors. Then we will look at photos of “hot” torties for comparison.

The Dominant Tortoiseshell

(Dominant Colors: Black Tortoiseshell, Chocolate Tortoiseshell, Cinnamon Tortoiseshell)

The standard description of a tortie as a black/chocolate/cinnamon cat with areas of red is a man-made description. In reality, torties come in black/red combinations that vary from predominantly black with touches of red, through a complete spectrum to the opposite extreme of a predominantly red cat with touches of black.

If a tortie has a lot of black coat with delicate strokes of red, she may be referred to as a “black” tortie. 

Look at the photos below of tortoiseshells and you will see that although all cats have generous amounts of red in their coats, the over all impression is still of a black (or chocolate, or cinnamon) kitty.

Tortoiseshell Persian
IW SGC Dark Angel De Longua Aqua/LO, TICA’s Best Cat of the Year 2015
Photo by Laurent Alain
Tortoiseshell Maine Coon
Tortoiseshell British Shorthair Kitten
Chocolate Tortoiseshell British Longhair

The Dilute Tortoiseshell

(Dilute Colors: Blue-Cream, Lilac Tortoiseshell, Fawn Tortoiseshell)

Similar to the color description of her dominant sister, the dilute particolor standard describes a blue/lilac/fawn coat with intermingled areas of cream, but with the dominant color being the dilute of the black-factored color.

Blue-Cream Scottish Fold
Blue-Cream British Shorthair
Lilac-Cream British Shorthair

The Hot Torties

(Dominant & Dilute)

Now that we have a good idea of the classic tortie appearance, we can discuss what is meant by a “hot” tortie. Simply said, if a tortie has more red or cream in her coat than black/blue/chocolate/lilac/cinnamon/fawn she is referred to as a “hot” tortie.

Because ideally a dilute should be as pale as possible, the low contrast between the dilute base color and the cream may make the cream less noticeable on a hot dilute tortie than would be the case when looking at a hot dominant tortie. The added cream that gives an overall paler appearance to a dilute tortie’s coat may even be a plus to the cat’s general impression as a dilute in the show ring.

Below are examples of hot torties:

Hot Tortie Persian
Hot Tortie Maine Coon
Hot British Shorthair
VERY Hot Tortie Exotic Shorthair
This zot kitten’s coat is predominantly cream.

Showing Hot

Depending on a breed’s show standard, a hot or reverse tortie may be a color fault. Depending on how hot the coat is, plus the judge’s personal view, and how many points are awarded for color in the breed’s standard, some judges may penalize the hot tortie. Still other judges may overlook her color flaw entirely if the rest of the cat is outstanding. Certainly a quality hot tortie can still do well in the show ring. Remember an often quoted philosophy of judging; structure first; color second. Build the house, then paint it.

GC Tanglebox Periwinkle OF Tamarakatz
Although clearly a hot tortie, this lovely blue-cream Persian enjoyed a very successful show career.
Photo by Chanan

Breeding Hot

There has been very little scientific study regarding how the particolor coat pattern is determined genetically. Obviously there are multiple genes involved given the variety of pattern and color evidenced in torties. There is some anecdotal evidence that a hot tortie pattern can run in a family, tracing down through the maternal line. Conversely, there is also plenty of evidence that a hot tortie can produce black torties — and vice versa.

A “hot” calico is more commonlly referred to as a “reverse” calico.

Other Breeds

We have used several breeds to illustrate the concept of hot torties in this article. Any breed, including kitties of mixed parentage, can also produce hot torties as long as particolors are part of the color gene pool.

Breeds with tortoiseshell color in their breed standard include:

  • American Bobtail
  • American Curl
  • American Shorthair
  • American Wirehair
  • British Shorthair
  • Cornish Rex
  • Devon Rex
  • Exotic
  • Japanese Bobtail
  • Devon Rex
  • German Rex
  • Maine Coon
  • Manx
  • Munchkin
  • Norwegian Forest Cat
  • Oriental
  • Persian
  • Scottish Fold
  • Scottish Shorthair
  • Siberian
  • Sphynx

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According to folklore from Southeast Asia, tortoiseshell cats were formed from the blood of a young goddess. In Japan, it’s believed that tortoiseshell cats can help protect the home from ghosts. English folklore says rubbing a tortoiseshell cat’s tail on a wart will cure the affliction. In the United States, tortoiseshell cats are believed to be “money cats” that will bring good fortune into the home.