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

What is a dilute calico cat and how rare are they?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Calico cats are beautiful felines with their tri-color hues of orange, black and white but what is a dilute calico cat and how rare are they? In short, they are a paler, more pastel-like version. Their white fur has patches of light orange, charcoal gray and cream which are often blended, making them look particularly gorgeous. And the reason for their stark appearance is purely down to genetics.

A standard calico cat has one particular genetic code. A dilute calico cat has two. As you will see later in this exploration of dilute calico cats, it makes a big difference, giving the fur a more muted quality. Since there are very few dilute cats around, they’re also considered lucky in many world cultures. Have one of these cats in your home and your family, it is said, will be blessed with wealth and good fortune.

So let’s take a look at dilute cats in more detail. As you read on, you’ll discover why these cats are not tied to one particular breed and why some types are incredibly rare. In doing so you will come to appreciate just why they are among the world’s most prized felines.

What is a dilute calico cat?

So we’ve touched upon the reason why dilute calico cats exist but what genes are actually at play? In the case of a standard calico cat, the coloring is due to “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.

Dilute calico cats have the same genetic code but they also inherit the dilution gene from their parents. This gives them the same tri-color patterning as the standard calico but it is much softer in appearance. Any breed of cat has the potential to produce calico or dilute calico offspring, too.

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?

Color, quite simply. Standard calico and dilute calico cats have a tri-color coat but the difference between them is the strength of the colors. A dilute calico cat's fur has much softer colors of gray-blue and cream, along with patches of white and a dilute calico cat can have a coat that is tinged with gold or silver colorings.

Dilute calico cat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What cat breeds can be dilute calico?

Since the dilute calico is named for its coat pattern and isn’t a breed in and of itself, there’s a fairly long list of cat breeds both short-haired and long-haired breeds that can produce beautiful tri-colored kittens. They include:

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

Are dilute calico cats rare?

Yes. Only one in every 1,000 cats is born a standard calico and dilute calico cats are even 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 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.

Can dilute calico cats be male?

Most calico cats are female and males 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 to be a male dilute calico.

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.