What is a dilute calico cat and how rare are they?

Persian dilute calico cat sitting on couch
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The dilute calico cat is a rare beauty indeed. So much so that many cultures around the world consider this feline to be a lucky mascot that brings wealth and good fortune to any family that it lives with and are more than happy to spoil it in return with all the food and toys that money can buy.

Regardless of whether you buy into the idea that the dilute calico is a symbol of luck, there’s no denying that its soft tri-color coat featuring gold, silver-gray and cream-white tones is a stunning sight to behold. 

While the dilute calico shares the same genetic code of the standard calico cat that determines the color variation of their coat, they also possess what’s known as the dilution gene, which means that their fur takes on a much more muted quality.

Many breeds can produce a dilute calico cat, but they’re incredibly rare. With only one in 1,000 cats being born a calico, the chances that both parents would have also carried the dilution gene and passed it on is even slimmer. 

If you find yourself welcoming a dilute calico cat into your family, consider yourself very lucky indeed. Read on to find out everything you need to know about one of the most prized and rare feline treasures in the world….

What is a dilute calico cat?

Named for the coloration and patterns of their coat, the dilute calico, like the standard calico, is a domestic cat with a genetic code that determines the color variation their fur will take on. 

Scientifically known as “X chromosome inactivation”, a genetic code found on the X chromosome is what gives the standard calico cat the distinct black and orange patches that they sport on their coat. 

Just like the calico, the dilute calico also shares this same genetic code, but they may also inherit the dilution gene from their parents, which will give them the same tri-color patterning as the standard calico but much softer and more muted.

Interesting fact: a standard female calico may carry the dilute calico gene without having turned out to be a dilute calico herself. If she partners with a rare male calico or any other male who carries the dilute calico gene, they can produce a dilute calico kitten.

What’s the difference between a calico and a dilute calico?

A lot of people mistakenly believe that the calico cat is a breed in and of itself, but in reality, any breed of cat has the potential to produce calico or dilute calico offspring. 

The calico and dilute calico cat were given their names because of the specific tri-color coat pattern that they have. Instead of being purely white, orange or black, for example, the calico has fur that’s a mix of all three.

Where the dilute calico differs from the standard calico is in both the colors that appear in their tri-color coat and the strength of those colors. Often referred to as a muted calico, the dilute calico cat's fur has much softer colors of gray-blue and cream, along with patches of white.

It’s also possible for a dilute calico cat to have a coat that is tinged with gold or silver colorings, but no matter what shade their fur takes on, expect their overall look to be much softer than the bold appearance of the standard calico.

Dilute calico cat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What cat breeds can be dilute calico?

The dilute calico is named for its coat pattern and isn’t a breed in and of itself. That means that there’s actually a fairly long list of cat breeds that can produce beautiful tri-colored kittens. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Maine Coon
  • Persian
  • Norwegian Forest Cat
  • American Bobtail
  • Japanese Bobtail
  • Manx
  • Scottish Fold
  • American Shorthair
  • British Shorthair
  • Ragdoll
  • Turkish Angora
  • Siberian

As you can see from the list above, dilute calico cats can occur in both shorthaired and longhaired breeds.

Can dilute calico cats be male?

Like the standard calico, male dilute calico cats are extremely rare. In fact, given that 99.9% of all calico cats are female and only one in every 1,000 cats born is a standard calico, you can imagine how scarce male dilute calicos are!

The same genetic code that produces the beautiful coat color of the standard and dilute calico cats is also what determines their gender. Female cats have two X chromosomes, while males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. This means that male cats can display either the black or orange gene but not both.

However, in extremely rare cases, known as Klinefelter Syndrome, a calico cat may be given an extra X chromosome which would then produce a male calico. On top of that, they would also need to inherit the dilution gene in order to be a male dilute calico.

Are dilute calico cats rare?

Yes, even female dilute calico cats are rare. As we saw above, only one in every 1,000 cats is born a standard calico and dilute calico cats are that much harder to come by.

One of the reasons for this is that the dilution gene is what’s known as a recessive gene. That means that a more dominant gene can mask it and a kitten would need to inherit the dilution gene from both parents in order to be born a dilute calico.

Because the dilution gene is recessive and can be overridden by a dominant gene, it’s also very hard to specifically breed dilute calico cats - so, consider yourself very lucky indeed if you become the pet parent to one of these beauties.

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.