In this article we take a look at how coat color is inherited by kittens, and explore the relationship between ginger coat color and gender in cats.
The Ginger Male Cat
If there was ever a stereotyped cat, it’s the big ginger tom.
They crop up everywhere: Garfield, Thomas O’Malley in The Aristocats, Crookshanks in the Harry Potter series.
And probably in every street you’ve ever lived on.
They’re often typecast as either arrogant and lazy, or the swaggering Casanovas of the cat world.
But why do we usually picture ginger cats as boys?
Are all ginger cats male, or can you get female ginger cats too?
To answer these questions we need to find out how cat fur gets it color, and how coloring is passed down from parent to kitten.
Ginger Coat Color In Cats
Ginger cats are sometimes mistaken for being a breed of their own, like Siamese or Persian cats.
In fact, ginger coat color is like ginger hair color in humans – an option for many cats!
Some pedigree cats are ginger, but no breeds are specifically known for it. In fact, the cats most likely to have ginger coats are long-haired and short-haired domestic cats.
In this context, “domestic cat” simply means a non-pedigree cat of mixed ancestry (sweetly known as “moggies” in the United Kingdom).
How Ginger Cats Get Their Color
Cat fur is colored by melanin in the hairs.
We often talk about the melanin in our own skin, but did you know the term “melanin” encompasses a whole palette of naturally occurring pigments?
The two melanins found in cat hair are eumelanin and phenomelanin.
Eumelanin is a dark pigment which gives black or brown fur when it is concentrated, and light brown or gray fur when it occurs in small amounts.
Phenomelanin is the red pigment that gives ginger cats their vibrant orange coats. In low quantities, it’s also the pigment which makes cream colored fur.
Just for ease of understanding in this article though, I’m going to call eumelanin ‘black or brown pigment’ and phenomelanin ‘ginger pigment’.
Making A Female Ginger Cat: The Genetics
It helps first to think of black or brown pigment as the default pigment in cat hair.
To make a cat’s hair ginger instead, they need to have the gene that codes for ginger pigment. We’ll call that gene the ginger gene.
When a cat’s skin cells lack the ginger gene they produce brown or black pigment, and grow black or brown hairs.
When they contain the ginger gene the brown or black pigment is replaced by ginger pigment and the ginger hairs grow from them instead.
Can Ginger Cats Be Female? How The Ginger Gene Is Inherited
All cats’ genetic code is arranged on 38 chromosomes in nineteen pairs.
Why in pairs? Because one chromosome of each pair comes from mother, and the other from dad.
The nineteenth pair of chromosomes are known as the sex chromosomes, and they come in two types: X and Y.
A cat with two X chromosomes is a girl, and a cat with an XY combination of sex chromosomes is a boy.
This is all relevant because the ginger gene is also carried on the X chromosome, and we’ll see next how that affects the ratio of female ginger cats to male ginger cats.
Genetic Coding For Male Ginger Cats And Female Ginger Cats
This is where it gets a bit complicated, but we’ll take it step by step:
Male cats only have one X chromosome, so they either have the ginger gene, or they don’t. If they do, it is present in every skin cell and makes them ginger.
Female cats have two X chromosomes, so they could get two copies of the ginger gene, one copy, or no copies.
Female cats with no copies of the ginger gene don’t produce any ginger pigment, and therefore don’t have any ginger in their coat.
Something a bit funny goes on when female cats get just one copy of the ginger gene:
While the kitten is still a tiny embryo, one X chromosome in each cell is deactivated to manage the information overload from having two X chromosomes.
The cells don’t communicate to deactivate the same X chromosome though.
So in some cells the X chromosome with the ginger gene is switched off, and in some cells the X chromosome without the ginger gene is switched on. This results in a kitten with patches of ginger fur and patches of brown or black fur: a lovely tortoiseshell!
Only female cats with two copies of the ginger gene are ginger all over.
So, male cats only need one copy of the ginger gene to be ginger all over, but female cats need two.
And that’s why male ginger cats outnumber female ginger cats.
Are Female Ginger Cats Rare?
The probability of a male or female kitten being ginger depends upon whether their dad carries the ginger gene, and how many copies their mum has.
When a ginger tom cat fathers female kitten, he always gives them his X chromosome, and thus his ginger gene.
So his daughters will always either be ginger or tortoiseshell. Or possibly calico, if they also inherit the gene for white spotting.
And mating two ginger cats will always produce a litter of ginger kittens.
The website Science Focus estimates that roughly three quarters of ginger cats are male, and one quarter are female.
So ginger female cats are less common then male ginger cats, but statistically they are not that remarkable.
Are You Looking For Female Ginger Kittens For Sale?
This article is all good news if you would like a ginger female kitten, but thought you might be asking for the moon on a stick!
Watch out though for unscrupulous breeders who would have you believe that female ginger kittens are incredibly rare, and consequently especially valuable.
Fascinated By Female Ginger Cats?
If you found this article interesting, it’s not the only time we’ve explored how cats’ coat color is linked to their other physical characteristics.
Elsewhere on the Happy Cat Site:
Your Deaf Cat – Hearing Loss in Cats and Kittens
Investigating the link between having a white coat and hearing loss in cats.
Are All Calico Cats Female – The Link Between Coat Color And Gender In Girl Cats
Delving into the special genetic formula that gives calico cats their distinctive patches.
Are All Ginger Cats Male?
So to conclude with the short answer: no!
Male ginger cats outnumber female ginger cats by about three to one, but you certainly can get ginger female cats.
And finally, one last piece of trivia about ginger cats: a 2015 study from the Department of Psychology at California State University found that people have a strong inclination to associate different coat colors with specific personality traits in cats.
And the coat color perceived as friendliest of them all? Ginger of course!
Do You Have A Ginger Cat?
Are they a girl or a boy, and do you agree that they are friendlier than other cats?
Tell us about them in the comments section below!
Today’s article is by Sarah Holloway. Sarah holds a bachelors degree in Zoology and has a special interest in animal behavior and communication
You can follow the journey of a ginger kitten from the very beginning on Billy’s Blog here.
- Delgado, M. M., Munera, J. D., & Reevy, G. M., (2015), “Human Perceptions of Coat Color as an Indicator of Domestic Cat Personality”, Anthrozoos, 25(4): 427-440.
Carol Kaine says
My ginger kitten is about 7 months old now
I adopted him from the SPCA here in Queensnury, NY. He is very ftiendly & I love him a lot!
My 13 year old cat doesn’t appreciate his being too friendly & jumping on her. I am trying to train him not to do this & he’s getting a little better now.
I guess that’s what a kitten does though. There is a lot of fighting because of this. Any advive???
Christina A. says
We have a short-haired male ginger cat and a long-haired female black, white and grey cat. Our ginger cat is definitely the more assertive of the two–more curious and willing to get into things and gives her a hard time on occasion which he has gotten better at not doing with age but we have come to associate the behavior in part with his general personality but…we always conclude that “when it strikes him to do so” then he can be exceptionally sweet…even to her!
He sounds like a character 🙂
My ginger female is 12 years old now and she is of the long fur variety.
She’s patterned like a tiger cat, but in ginger! I have been approached over the years to mate her, but she was spayed at a young age.
My ginger cat’s name is General Jackson Andrew. He was the runt of his litter and I wanted to give him a good strong name! Jack is 12 years old and stares his home with his sister Olivia Jane, a black and white kitty. Jack loves me so much, as I love him! He sleeps in my hair and wants to be with me all the time! He has a little problem with third eye lids, but that does bother him getting around. He plays fetch with the most unusual items. He also will go sit on the bathroom vanity in the morning and wait till I come in to get ready for the day. I loves for me to turn on the hair dryer on low and “blow dry” his long hair! He has a white puff on the end of his fluffy tail!!! He and Olivia never go outside. They were fixed at 6 months old. They love to sit in the indoor patio and watch the birds and squirrels. They both love company! They are truly spoiled and I adore them. If one goes to the vet, they both go! They suppose each other. Oh I could go on and on! I love by fur babies! I am truly blessed to have General Jackson and Miss Olivia in my life!
Liza Dowsell says
I have 3 ginger cats. Two boys one aged two who can be very naughty but thinks he is a dog sometimes lol and a six year old.
My female will be 21 in May 2018.
The boys are so different from the female.
I also have one female tortoiseshell she is six years of age and with one leg bless her but can be adventurous lol. We adopted mother and son from cats protection. I Love all my babies.
I’m sorry, but did you just say you have a 6 year old tortoise shell cat with only 1 leg??? That is what I thought I read?
We adopted a male ginger kitten from our local shelter almost 2 years ago.
Toby is the sweetest most friendly cat ever.
We are so happy to have him as part as our family.
We got my daughter a ginger cat that she fell in love with. He is a year old now and full of energy. He loves to go outside with mommy and explore. He is very assertive and thinks he’s in charge but loves to get attention from anybody and everybody who comes to our house. I have never had a ginger cat before but I love ours now.
I’ve got 4 gingers – 3 males 1 female, all 1 family rescued from a feral colony, so not what I would call overly friendly. They hide whenever there’s a visitor. The grumpy father is cantankerous, but the younger 3 are very loving towards my husband and me. I love ginger cats.
Katie Stern says
I have a male ginger cat and a female ginger and black (tortoiseshell) they are brother and sister from the same litter. They are almost 5. Their mum is ginger and their dad is black so this article is spot on about the genetics (they were from a litter of 4,2ginger boys 2tortie girls). They are both very friendly
Peggy Stanley says
I have 2 male ginger twins….exact markings, except 1 has a small white dot on his back. Their 2 ginger sisters, and mother cat who is a ginger also. The father was a ginger minx, and we gave away the 1 that was born without a tail. He is a ginger also. We see him often. We also did have another sister that was all white with black tail, but she disappeared one night.
Ky Bock says
I have a short haired female ginger. She’s the most loving cat I have ever had! She’s 10 and a half currently and petite. Everyone mistakes her for being much younger than she is because she’s still so fiesty, active and small! She just never grew up despite a healthy diet! She grew up among others; Freddiekins (we never knew her real age as she was a rescue) & Cynder (just a year older). Tigs is the last one left after Cynder’s sudden passing the morning of the solar eclipse in August 2017. She has a new friend, Ash, who is 1.5 years old. She raised him like she’s his mother despite her being spayed (and him being fixed). Tigger still sleeps in my arms every night like she did the moment my ex-boyfriend brought her home to me! Loves to snuggle and give “kisses”!!! She also loves to climb and scratch her condo (I will never declaw a cat)! I hope to enjoy many more years with her!
Evelyn Schneider says
My lovely ginger cat Ella jumped on my lap while I was on the internet. I looked for some pic of male ginger cats for her but she was not impressed and jumped off. Sorry guys. Next time I will try finding her some other cats.
I have a pale ginger female who 2 she had a litter of kittens and we kept one which is long hair almost blonde he’s such a pale ginger and his dad was a Maine coon cross so he’s huge
She’s also just had one single kitten which is also pale ginger ?
Heather Hutton says
I have a ginger female and a ginger male. They are brother and sister. Their mother was a tortoise shell calico. My Mellie is the first female ginger I have ever seen. Her brother Big Hauss is a big orange friendly cat who loves to roam. Mellie chose me when she was a little kitten. She would sit In their box and just cry until I would pick her up. She gets spells of rowdiness and runs through the house making me laugh which makes her more energetic. She is also the smartest cat I have ever encountered and I have been around many cats in my 48 years. I feel very lucky to have been blessed with her. She senses how I’m feeling and when I am stressed she comes up on my lap and comforts me.
Christine Hughes says
We have 3 cats, a 3-year-old tabby and white male and two 2-year-old ginger sisters – one ginger striped and one solid ginger. The Tabby male is by far the friendlier of the three, every time he comes into the house he greets everyone in turn. He will then flop down on one of us and demand attention. We think he thinks he’s a dog! His best friend is our Cocker Spaniel, who is always greeted first! They frequently sleep together much to the dog’s disgust, as he takes up so much of her bed. The Solid ginger is my grown-up daughter’s cat and is quite aloof, it spends most of its time in her room and totally idolises her and ignores the rest of us. The stripy ginger is very vocal and often chats with us all. Her chosen place to sleep at night is between my husband and I
We have our golden female ginger kitty we rescued from outside. Before we brought her inside, she had 3 kittens. One was a male ginger, and she also had a set of white twins who were male. I wish we could have kept the twins.
When my female first visited my yard, I asked her what her name is. She looked at me like she understood me and replied what sounded like Maomao. So, after that that was her name and she answers to that.
We had her spayed after she had the kittens. The kittens were adopted by good people. The twins were adopted by a family with 2 little boys.
Maomao’s mother was a tawny color, and her sister was a little lighter ginger color.
All 3 had kittens within days of each other. The sisters cared for each other while they were pregnant.
My Maomao is now seven and still runs like the wind and hunts all of the time going after the toy birds, mice that chirp, and toy trolls.
She is truly a miracle and beautiful cat.
I have 2 16 year old ginger boys, brothers, as different as chalk and cheese. One is a bright ginger very petite looks very kitten like and loves lots of fuss but not cuddles. The other is big and a dull ginger, a bit neurotic, scared of a lot of things and people, will only let me cuddle him first thing in the morning. Their Mother was a true ginger. The 2 don’t like each other, even after all these years they fight now and again. We introduced a dog a few years ago, it took about 6 months for things to settle down. Now there is a pecking order on the bed. The dog sleeps on the bed, when the big ginger gets on early in the morning the dog gets off, then when the little one gets on the big one gets off! All strange. I love them all but the big Ginger one is my fave of the cats as I don’t think he would survive without me.
So how often would you see two females in the one litter?
I have two sisters, they’re incredible cats