Even if you have never owned an orange cat before, you’ve certainly seen them! From Garfield to Puss in Boots, from comedies to science fiction, orange cats dominate our arts – and our hearts! These colorful cats have a reputation for being the friendliest cats and for getting grabbed up the fastest in animal shelters. They are distinctive in appearance and the coloration crosses many breeds and mongrels. What more should you know about ora
What is an Orange Cat?
Orange cats are not a breed at all, but a coloration that comes off the tabby coloration. In fact, all orange cats are some version of a tabby – you cannot have a solid orange cat! (That would look rather strange, come to think of it). Orange cats can be found across multiple breeds and can be both long hair and short hair, and their orange shading can range from being quite muted to very bright. They always have white on them as well though and some sort of patterning, either stripes or spots or sometimes both, as well as swirls.
There are five coat patterns in orange cats: classic tabby, spotted tabby, ticked tabby, patched tabby, and mackerel tabby. We’ll get into the differences in a bit. Orange cats tend to have gold, bronze, or green colored eyes, though like all cats, they are born with blue eyes. Orange cats can also be known as ginger or marmalade colored, depending on the owners.
What are the Characteristics of an Orange Cat?
Orange cats are not a breed unto themselves, but there are characteristics that can be found across multiple cats of this coloration.
As noted, ‘orange’ is a bit of a misnomer. The correct coat name is ‘orange tabby’ because pure orange is not a color that exists for a cat. They come in five variations:
- Mackerel: Mackerel, or tiger, have the stripes running down the side of a cat with even spacing and no broken lines. It’s called ‘Mackerel’ because ideally, the stripes look like a fish skeleton
- Classic tabby: Most common type with bold swirling patterns on their back and random dark and light orange swirls on their bodies
- Spotted: Instead of being covered in stripes, these cats have spots all over their sides (but still stripes on the tail). The spots may look a lot like stripes though and it’s unknown whether the spotted look comes off the mackerel gene or whether it’s entirely separate.
- Ticked: Abyssinian cats almost always have the ticked orange pattern (when they are orange). They don’t have spots or stripes and it can be hard to see that they are tabbies. But they do have the tabby markings on their forehead and their fur is striped with dark or light brown bands, so they are tabby. They are extremely distinctive
- Bi-color spotted/Patched: Patched tabbies have the spotted pattern but marked more as patches rather than swirls. Their spots are darker in color than the rest of the body. They are less common than the mackerel and classic tabby coloration and are often confused with the mackerel or classic tabby.
No matter what type of pattern your orange cat has, it’s always going to look striking. Orange cats also often have white on them, such as on their chest, belly and/or paws and their stripes are darker than the rest of their coat.
All orange cats have the distinctive M shape on their forehead, though it may be more or less obvious. No one quite knows why there’s an M on their head, but ideas from range from out and out legends to being good camouflage for their eyes when they are hunting. Orange cats can also develop black freckles on their mouth and nose! These are almost always harmless, but if they start changing in unexpected ways, talk to your vet.
Orange cats also have a reputation for being the friendliest cats and for loving food! (A big chunk of this might fall on Garfield for perpetrating the myth). In actuality, most of a breed’s personality is going to come from a combination of their breed(s) and how they were raised. I have met extremely affectionate orange cats that came running for attention the moment they saw me and extremely standoffish orange cats that needed a longer period of time to get to know me. (Mind, they were all bigger cats, so there might be something to the loving food part of their personality!) Orange cats are also said to be very tolerant, intelligent, and easy to tame.
Do keep in mind though that these are generalizations. You could just as easily end up with an orange cat that is standoffish, loves to play, and is food picky. As usual, it will come down to breed and environment, as well as how it is raised.
Orange Cat Genetics
So, what gives with that orange coloration?
As usual, it all comes down to genetics. Female cats have two X chromosome while males have one X and one Y. The gene for an orange coloration is found on the X chromosome. This is why male orange cats outnumber female ones four to one (75-80% of orange cats are male); they simply get twice the chance to inherit the orange gene.
Furthermore, the orange gene is always dominant, so a cat only needs to inherit one to show some orange (this is why orange is found in many other colors as well!) Depending on how many orange gene copies the kitten inherits, the kitten will be more or less orange. Males only need to inherit one dominant copy from their mother to be orange while females need to inherit it from both mother and father (And even then, she may just end up calico or tortoiseshell).
If a male inherits the recessive orange gene from their mother, he will be calico or tortoiseshell (which can cause genetic abnormalities for the poor male cat!) while females that inherit two orange genes can be ginger or calico. Orange females don’t display any more problems than their male counterparts – they are just a lot more uncommon.
To delve a little deeper, there are two O genes: O (which is the Orange or red gene) and o (which is a variant on O, but does not produce a red pigment). If a male kitten inherits O from his dam, he will be orange. If he inherits o, he will have black piment on other genes. This will not make him red and black because he also needs to either inherit two X chromosome or merge with a twin (And that comes with its own problems). Female cats who have the O on each X chromosome (OO) will be red). If not, they will be Oo, making them calico or tortoiseshell and oo would make them black. This is why female cats are less likely to be orange – they have so many other genetic combinations to ‘play’ with compared to their brothers.
The orange gene itself though is extremely common which is why calico and tortoiseshell coloration is relatively common (particularly calico). Red or orange is one of the two primary colors that make up the wider coloration of cats – the other one being black. However, because of how they have to be imprinted and where, it’s more likely you’ll end up with a female calico, or several, for every orange cat. And this of course assumes that you are deliberately breeding!
The orange color too comes from a pigment called pheomelanin which is the same pigment that creates red hair in humans. Neat! Humans with red hair though often get a negative or problematic reputation whereas cats with the exact same pigment are well loved. Pheomelanin is found in their skin, so even hairless cats can be ‘orange’. Some of them look quite striking and often have a very distinctive M on their foreheads!
Breeds of Cat that Tend to be Orange?
The orange coloration of a cat crosses many breeds, but there are some that are more common than others. These include:
- Egyptian Maus
- British shorthairs and exotic shorthairs
- Maine Coons
- Abyssinians (one of the only breeds which will have the ticked orange coloration)
- American bobtail
- Turkish Angora
- Scottish Fold
- Devon Rex
But just about any breed that isn’t bred to be a specific handful of colors can turn out orange tabbies. And of course, they are found across mongrel cats as well. Orange cats can be harder to find in shelters than other colors because they tend to get adopted quickly.
The breeds that are more likely to have orange cats may also explain why many of them are considered to be so intelligent, sociable/vocal (and kind of food crazy). Most of these breeds are some combination of those characteristics anyway – for example, Persians tend to be very sociable and Egyptian Maus are quite intelligent. And I don’t know about most British shorthair, but my British shorthair cross only lost her love of food when she was grieving the death of her buddy or when she was sick.
Interesting Myths and Facts About Orange Cats
Because orange cats are so popular, it makes sense that there would be plenty of myths and stories about them, as well as some just interesting facts.
- No one can quite figure out the point of the M marking on their head, but all types of tabbies have them! In the case of orange cats, some people believe that the M marks where Mary (mother of Jesus), kissed an orange tabby on the forehead for keeping her baby warm. Others say that the M stands for Mohammed who touched the forehead of an orange cat in gratitude for helping him. On the scientific side, it’s believed that perhaps the M on tabbies helps to disguise their eyes when they are hunting.
- The ratio of male orange cats to female orange cats is roughly 75%-25%. Interestingly, this is the same ratio of female calicos to male calicos! (Unlike male calicos, female ginger cats do not suffer for their genetics giving them an orange tabby coat).
- Orange cats can also be called ‘ginger’ or ‘marmalade’, ‘red’, ‘butter’ or ‘caramel’. (I think we humans see them as being food lovers because we nickname them after food and expect it!)
- Orange cats are really popular in Hollywood – Puss N Boots, Goose (Captain Marvel, though technically he’s not a cat), Orion (Men in Black), Jones (Alien), Orangey (Breakfast at Tiffany’s).
- Orange is considered to be an optimistic color and the color of appetite. This might actually be the reason why people think of orange cats as being gregarious and food hogs – we are just assuming it based on their color! Mind you, there are plenty of cat owners with stories of cuddle monsters who eat everything in sight, so once again, it probably just comes down to the individual cat.
- Because of the general breed make up of orange cats, they can live to be upwards of sixteen years of age, or older.
Many people who have had orange cats also say that they are very vocal, love to cuddle, and are lazy. Again though, this is a generalization – you might have a quiet, standoffish orange cat that loves to play! It all comes down their breed and environment.
Orange cats are not an uncommon coloring, and they are found across many breeds. But their warm appearance and reputation for being vocal, friendly, and cuddly makes them incredibly popular with humans! It’s still important to make sure that you choose a cat that is right for your family and that will fit in well with your home. But with so many good breeds displaying the orange tabby look, it shouldn’t be too hard! Do keep in mind though that in shelters, orange cats tend to go fast.
Do you, or have you, owned an orange cat? Was it as food loving and cuddly as people say or did it display a very different personality? Let us know!
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.