#19 Are Tortie kittens harder to tame?

Question: I tamed an older litter of feral kittens about 4 months old. The male kittens all tamed down with lots of steady work and application but one of the 2 females in the litter took nearly three times the amount of time and energy before she was adoptable. Even so, she still doesn't like to cuddle or be picked up much. The Tuxedo female in the litter was tough too, but nothing like what it took to tame the tortie. What's been your experience? Taming a Tough Tortie.

Answer: I avoid generalities since they are often misleading and create a preconceived prejudice by the socializer going into the project. BUT, since you mentioned that she was a TORTIE (Tortoise-shell), I must let you know that there is a widely held opinion among Vet Techs, rescuers and anyone who's met a large number of felines, that Torties (and to a lesser degree Calicos) tend to be stand-offish cats and aren't usually cuddly lap cats. Some go as far as to only adopt them out as singles for fear of a territorial instinct which often makes for fighting with other house partner cats. When the Tortie in question is feral it seems to be kicked up even a notch higher. That said, Torties are much loved by their humans and very playful and fun-loving cats who often live in perfect harmony with other cats. It would appear that genetically they are infused to a higher degree than other cats with that "fight or flight" instinct and don't like to take chances, not even with family members they know and trust. Getting picked up or falling asleep in a human's lap is a very vulnerable situation to put yourself in. Torties just don't seem to think it's a smart thing to if it can be avoided. That said, there are millions of Torties and Calicos out there that are rolling belly up right now as I write this, enjoying a full body rub-down and can cuddle with the best of them. RUBY in these pictures lives with me. She provides endless entertainment and in her way is very in tune with humans. Every couple weeks she comes for her fix of petting and attention which lasts about 3 minutes and then she's good. She will curl up and sleep on the bed every night for a week and then we don't see her for a couple months. She's her own girl and very independent. RUBY lives happily with many cats and no fights have ever occured. As you can see she even naps with her Calico pal though we took the picture because it was so unexpected and rare. RUBY was returned from an adoption because the adopters found her too independent and not bonded with them. We love her independent streak and are very attached to her. Make of this what you will but if you have doubts about an adopter, you may want to carefully select who gets the tri-color girls.

Read the following blog for more info about socializing female kittens in the 3-6 month age range.

An interesting foot-note is that Torties and Calicos are all female except for one in 100,000 cats being male. The genetic explanation is that only the female chromosome X can carry color. Male cats only have one female chromosome so they can only carry one color in addition to the color White which is by definition the "lack of color." Female cats have two female X chromosomes so they can carry both black and orange, or any combination of two cat colors along with white. Therefore, only a female cat can be Calico or Tortoise-shell colored. The rare male cat that is bi-colored probably has three chromosomes being XXY, allowing him to be both male and carry color on two different female chromosomes.
If you find this as interesting as I do, or if I've thoroughly confused you, there's lots more info here:



  1. Hi Mike,

    Here's the story of my Tortie. I hope it helps your readers work through any speed bumps on the road of life with Torties and ferals or semi-ferals.

    Three years ago my fiance and I rescued a very pregnant, semi-feral Maine Coon kitten. We had only ten days to bond before she went into labor, but amazingly she let me help her through labor and all five of her kittens survived. Two of them are torties and one is calico. We adopted the mom and one tortie, and friends adopted the four other kittens. The two torties are highly independent, the calico a little less so, and the two tuxedo boys are very social if skittish.

    The tortie we adopted, named Hebe (pronounced Hay-bay), is a wonderful, sweet, feisty girl. Hand-raised from birth, she was VERY affectionate as a kitten, the first to investigate our other cats and the first to greet visitors. At around 4 months old she became less affectionate and started seeking spaces of her own. This behavior continued and increased after spaying and until about her third birthday. She is very healthy and continues to interact with her mom, but she growls when picked up or held or being pet more than once or twice.

    Or I should say, she USED to growl, because since her third birthday, she has become more and more affectionate, seeking us out, rubbing our legs, playing with the other cats, and talking to us almost nonstop!

    For two and a half years she exerted her independence in any way she could. Rather than force her to act a certain way, we allowed her the freedom to grow, like the budding teenager she was. We gave her her own space, putting her favorite bed and toys in our office where she could "get away from it all" when her fight/flight instincts were in high gear. At the same time, we steadily reassured her that she is loved and an important member of our cat family.

    Now that she's no longer a rebellious teenager, our efforts and encouragement have paid off. She runs to greet me when I come home, she lies on her back on her cat tower asking for belly rubs, and she sprawls across my desk purring up a storm as I work.

    I've socialized many feral and semi-feral cats, and can now add a tortie to the list. In every case, it is vitally important for adopters to remember that they are making a LIFETIME commitment, and that forming a bond is a fun, winding road that takes time, just as in all human relationships.

    All the best,
    Karen H.

    1. My kitten was doing so well after being in the bathroom for a week that I let her out. She was sleeping on my legs and very happy. It seems as though she has reverted a little. She hides under the couch most of the day and hisses even if I just look at her. She also terrified of my hands. She has a good bond with my older cat, but I'd kind of like her to bond with me. I now have her in a large cage with my hopes that if she can see me and be around me, she will get over her fear. She also has never scratched or bitten me. Is there anything else I can do to help her along? Thanks. :)

  2. Well said, Karen. I have 6 feral cats, all rescued later than 12 weeks of age. It takes great patience to home a feral cat but it can be done. Each cat has their own unique personality and as such should be treated individually and not lumped into a category as seen many times by well meaning cat enthusiasts.

  3. Anonymous14 July, 2011

    Hi mike, i have two cats and this is how i trained both of them to be very sociable with the family. when they were both younger instead of holding them every time they would come up to me i would set them back down and very kindly push them away from me and the more i did this the more they wanted to be with me . it is said that cats, even farel one will come up more often to people who don't like them because they know that the person will not pick them up and hold them. so in using this info i was able to very successfully train them to be sociable around people .

  4. Anonymous15 July, 2012

    Since the day I brought my tortie home 3 years ago she has slept at the foot of my bed every night. She is constantly laying on me and licking me. When I leave for work she gets upset and my roommate has even taken pictures of her standing at the door, staring and waiting for me to come home. She is the most loving and affectionate cat I've ever met, I even joke that she's more like a dog than a cat. Torties are so unique and awesome, I think anyone who owns one will see how rewarding it is!

  5. Anonymous15 July, 2012

    Absolutely! As they say, the acception makes the rule. I've come to conclude that Torties aren't antisocial, just very discerning who they want to grace with their affections. Best, Mike