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Dilute Tortie: the cat with tortitude!

Dilute tortie cats are stunning to behold. With parti-color coats, gently muted by the presence of a mysterious dilution gene, each and every one of these cats has its own unique appearance – no two are the same.

I am doubly lucky to share my life with a standard tortoiseshell and a dilute tortoiseshell cat so sit back and let me explain how a dilute tortie differs from the “regular” version.

I’ve avoided rehashing existing information and instead bring you first-hand information about dilute torties that I think you’ll like to know, especially if you’re planning to become the proud owner of a dilute tortoiseshell anytime soon.

What is a dilute tortie?

A dilute tortie is simply a tortoiseshell cat with a paler coat pattern. Whereas a traditional tortoiseshell cat has vibrant black and red fur, a dilute tortoiseshell’s coat is various shades of blue and cream. Their parti-colors are muted by the presence of a special dilution gene.

Make no mistake, dilute tortoiseshells are not a specific breed. The diluted tortie pattern occurs naturally in many purebred and crossbred cats.

Dilute tortie vs regular tortie

The only difference between the regular tortie and the dilute version is one little gene – the dilution gene to be precise.

It’s easier to show you the difference this makes with photographs. The regular tortie has black and red fur and the dilute tortie has a blue and cream coat. Other than this, both cats are virtually the same.

A regular tortoiseshell

A black tortie smoke cat.
Mona, our black tortoiseshell smoke Maine Coon

A dilute tortoiseshell

A dilute tortie smoke cat.
Rosie, our dilute tortie smoke Maine Coon

Dilute Tortie cat variations

The dilute tortoiseshell cat has two subtly different forms: dilute tortie and dilute tortie smoke. You’ll sometimes hear dilute torties referred to as blue torties. You’ll also find some people refer to gray or grey instead of blue – it’s all the same.

Dilute Tortie

On close examination, within the coat of a dilute tortoiseshell, each hair is one color from root to tip. What this means is each blue hair is one shade of blue and each cream hair is one shade of cream.

The blue fur of a tortie smoke can vary from pale and silvery to a dark slate gray (or grey). Its cream fur can be almost white through to a pale yellowish-ginger.

Dilute Tortie Smoke

A dilute tortie smoke looks exactly like a dilute tortie. However, a closer look reveals that the root of each individual hair is much paler than the tips. This is more noticeable on their blue fur than on their cream.

There aren’t many ladies who relish having their roots exposed but Rosie allowed me to photograph her pale roots so you can see exactly what we mean – thank you Rosie!

A close-up of the roots of a dilute tortoiseshell cat with a smoke coat.
Smoke roots on a dilute tortie

What kind of cat is a dilute tortie?

A dilute tortie is not a breed but a pattern that can occur in virtually any cat breed, short or longhaired.

Examples are:

  • Maine Coons
  • British shorthair
  • American shorthair
  • Persian
  • Cornish Rex
  • Devon Rex
  • Norwegian Forest Cat
  • Ragamuffin

What makes a tortie have a dilute coat?

Dilute torties are the same as standard tortoiseshell cats bar one difference: they carry a dilution gene. This dilution gene has the simple effect of muting the standard tortoiseshell colors of black and red and turning them grey or cream.

In simple terms, all cat colors are based on black and red. If a cat develops any shade of blue fur, a dilution gene is responsible. Shades of cream fur would have been red without the presence of the dilution gene.

White fur is a different story altogether. This is either black or red but the color is blocked from view by a masking gene.

Are all dilute torties female?

It’s a fact that most torties, dilute or otherwise are female. The reason behind this is cat genetics involving x-chromosomes.

I won’t bore you with the finer details but in a nutshell female cats inherit two x-chromosomes in every cell in their bodies.

Among other things, x-chromosomes happen to hold the genes responsible for a cat’s fur color. Females only need one x-chromosome and so, randomly, one of each pair is deactivated.

Tortoiseshell patterns occur if one of the pair of x-chromosomes is coded to produce red fur and the other to produce black fur.

Randomly switching off one of the x-chromosomes gives a chance of some fur being red and some black, leading to the tortoiseshell pattern.

Dilute male torties are extremely rare as they are only produced if a genetic anomaly occurs whereby they have XXY chromosomes instead of the usual XY, and as well as this they also must have a dilution gene.

If a male cat happens to have the XXY chromosome anomaly, one of the x-chromosomes gets disabled as for females, leading to the same tortoiseshell pattern developing.

The chances of a male tortie kitten being born is about 1 in 3000 and of him also having a dilution gene is even lower. Hence, the extreme rarity of dilute tortie males.

Male torties, dilute or otherwise, are virtually always sterile too.

A dilute tortie cat on a bed.

The dilute tortie personality: tortitude explained

There is a popular term applied to tortie cats and people do ask if they have this: tortitude! It’s a play on the word attitude and in my experience, it might be a thing.

Our tortie girls have very different personalities. Though both are friendly and always gentle towards us, our dilute tortie is friendlier towards our kittens than our regular tortie.

Mona, our regular tortie, is a confident cat with all sorts of quirky habits. She’s very vocal in a squeaky way and also cuddly on our bed at night – all night!. She likes to slightly terrorize our younger cats but never actually hurts them.

Mona gallops about like a horse and tries to open food herself. She’s a self-confessed Dreamie addict and can open the cat-proof tub.

Rosie, our dilute tortie, is very sweet and gentle. She’s shyer than Mona and very affectionate toward our kittens. She likes to be near us, and whilst she loves a fuss, doesn’t want to be held and cuddled. She’s talkative and likes to be able to get into any room we’re in – the bathroom especially.

Rosie is a much daintier cat than Mona, and an excellent climber. She enjoys being outside, leaping powerfully to reach passing insects.

Because virtually every type of cat can have a tortie version, it’s impossible to claim they all have a particular personality. The way a cat is reared and treated has a huge bearing on its developing nature, so it’s something you should bear in mind.

From my recent experiences, I can state that a dilute tortie Maine Coon is a more laid-back, and quiet cat than a regular tortie.

A shorthair dilute tortie

Dilute tortie patterns and those that are not!

Many terms are used to describe tortoiseshell patterns. These can also be applied to dilute torties.

Patched dilute tortie

A torties pattern is sometimes referred to as patched and what this actually means is the cat has blotches of solid colors.

In the dilute torties case, this means it has small to large patches of solid blue and patches of solid cream throughout its body and face. Solid patches are sometimes termes unbrindled which means no other colors are intermingled.

The classic split face of a tortoiseshell cat occurs when it has an unbrindled patch of fur of one color on one side of its face and another color on the other. Don’t confuse this with a chimera cat which Is a different thing altogether as I’ll explain in a moment.

Brindled dilute tortie

When a dilute tortie is brindled, its coat doesn’t have distinct patches of blue and cream fur. Instead, these two colors are intermingled. The brindled tortie can still have distinct patches on its face.

Our cat Rosie is a perfect example of a brindled dilute tortie with a patched face.

A dilute tortie with a patched face and a brindled body.

Mosaic dilute tortie

A tortoiseshell cat is sometimes called a mosaic cat. The term mosaic is used to describe cats with multicolored coats so it can be applied to patterns such as tortoiseshell and calico.

So in the case of the dilute tortie, mosaic. patched and brindled are the same pattern.

A chimera cat is not a tortie!

Because tortoiseshell cats, the dilute version included, often have a two-colored face they are sometimes incorrectly thought to be chimera cats.

However, chimera cats and torties are two entirely different things. A chimera cat occurs when two embryos fuse in the womb at a very early stage.

The resultant kittens of embryo fusion can have a face that’s one color on one side and a different color on the other. Their bodies will display large patches of both colors.

The cat below is a chimera cat. If the two embryos had not fused, one kitten would have been black and the other a red tabby.

A chimera cat.
A chimera cat.

Bi-color is not another term for tortie

Another common mistake is referring to a tortoiseshell cat as bi-color. Bi-color is the correct term for a cat with white and one other color in its coat. For example, a black and white cat is bi-color.

Dilute torties are technically parti-color which means a cat with black and red or blue and cream fur.

How much should you pay for a dilute tortie cat?

A dilute tortie cat should not be any more expensive than any other cat. Tortie prices are dependent on the breed.

A dilute tortie Maine Coon might cost anything upward of $800 whereas a crossbreed might just cost you an adoption fee from a rescue center.

Try to avoid buying a dilute tortie from a breeder who is charging an extortionate amount as careful research should reveal decent breeders who charge fair prices.

Dilute torties and allergies: are they hypoallergenic

People with cat allergies are always hoping to find a hypoallergenic breed. Alas, there is no such thing. However, some cats trigger allergies in people more than others.

I am allergic to many shorthair cats but am fine with Maine Coons – thankfully as I own four. So it is impossible to say if a dilute tortie will be hypoallergenic for you.

The real answer is, certain breeds of dilute torties might be hypoallergenic for some people and not others. You would have to get exposure to a variety of tortie cats to find out.

Dilute tortoiseshell cats: Conclusion

A dilute tortie is not a breed but is a cat with a specific coat pattern. Its fur is blue and cream and in reality is a diluted version of black and red.

Most dilute torties are female with males being about as rare as you can get in the cat world. If a male tortie kitten is born, it is very likely to be sterile.

Dilute torties range in price from virtually free to very expensive depending on the breed and the scruples of their breeders.

You are very likely to find a dilute tortie to be a friendly, sociable cat providing it has been well-bred and cared for.

Torties are lovely cats, though I must confess, I think all cats are.

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