Angela Westfall
Your guide to this article today is by cat expert Angela Westfall
Published 14:46 pm

The differences and variety that comes with cat coats are one of the features that make each cat different. The different cat colors on display worldwide can be attributed to a several reasons, including genetics, and so can the patterns. You can get anything from bold colors and patterns to subtle ones depending on what you like, and it contributes to the fun of choosing a cat. Understanding the history or story behind coat colors allows you to know your cat more to be able to relate to them.  In this article, we will look at cat colors and some amazing facts behind cat coats and patterns. Now let’s begin.

Cat lying on grey couch

Every Cat Is a Tabby

One of the most well-known, if not the most famous pattern of cats, is the tabby, and a fun fact is all cats are tabbies. This encourages the notion that all cats have one blueprint from which many other variations emerge. However, while some cats show the features that make them tabby others do not, and this can be attributed to the agouti gene. It also noteworthy that at some point in their lifetime, all cats will show their tabby features, even solid-colored ones. Most of the time, it shows while they are a kitten, and then they shed it off when they become adults. However, when under bright light, including sunlight, you can still faintly see the underlying tabby pattern.

What does the tabby pattern look like, you may ask? Well, the distinguishing feature is the ‘M’ marking usually found on their forehead. You can also identify tabbies by the black eyeliner appearance as well as thin pencil lines on the face. You might notice pigmented lips and paws and a pink nose, which is outlined with darker colors. They can be categorized into four kinds

  • Classic or blotched tabbies: These cats are characterized by a blend of swirls, stripes, and blotches, which usually look like a bull’s eye. This is often the first type of cat people think of when tabby is mentioned because it is very popular. This pattern was developed as a result of the cats moving into environments with deciduous forests, and it is not that visible in long-haired cats. Another pattern used to identify these is the butterfly shape located across their shoulders.
  • Ticked tabbies: These are characterized by a banded hair shaft with a lighter color at the base, creating an iridescent look. There are no striped involved, and even if there are, they are muted and more blended into the coat. Cats with this type of coat are likely to be descendants of the earlier cats who joined humans about 9,000 years ago.
  • Mackerel tabbies: They are cats with an extended dark line from their shoulders to their tail and stripes across the sides of their body. Their name comes from the fact that the stripes look like fish bones, and these cats are likely to have come from coniferous forests. It is easy to identify this pattern even with long-haired cats.
  • Spotted tabbies: Just like the name, these cats have spots all over their bodies with different sizes and spacing between them. The Egyptian Maus has randomly-spaced spots of different shapes and sizes, which are high contrast. Bengals feature rosette spotting while Ocicats have large spots resembling thumbprints.

There is a fifth type of tabby called the patched tabby, which is basically a female cat with any of the patters mentioned above but with additional red-colored patches. They show these patches due to an inherited orange gene that is linked to sex. With this feature, you can easily distinguish a male from a female cat.

Cats Have Only Two Colors (Technically)

It may be impossible to believe this because of the colorful display of the felines available, but they have only two basic colors. It is from these primary colors, as well as genetic factors that dilute and mix to acquire the various cat colors. These colors are black and red, and every cat is black, except they have inherited the orange masking gene, which makes the ‘red.’ The X chromosomes usually carry this orange gene and so it is not rare to find female cats with flashes of red in their coat. This means that a female cat can be both black and red, while a male can only be one or the other. Polygenes and genes are responsible for changing these colors to others through hereditary. The work of polygenes is to acquire other similar genes and determine the color of the coat. The rufous gene is the polygene that determines the intensity of the shade, so the more the rufous gene, the darker the coat and vice versa. Therefore, a lilac cat or a cream colored cat is likely to have acquired its color due to a low amount of rufousing. This is also referred to as the diluting factor, and if it’s inherited, it can turn a darker color to a lighter shade.

Coat Color Is Sensitive to Temperature

Did you know that there were temperature-sensitive genes? Well, now you know, and it is a fascinating fact about cat coats. The gene responsible for adding color to specific points on the cat’s body is sensitive to temperature and usually shows on the cooler ends of the cat. Because of this feature, it is not rare to find a light-colored cat with dark-colored extremities. This gene is called the point-restricted pattern gene and is common in Siamese cats. Parts of the body where color can be concentrated include the face, testicles, legs, ears, and tail. This gene that restricts color to only the extremities is known to be a part of the albino series, which modifies skin tone. As cross-breeding occurred, the gene has become more widespread and not only restricted to Siamese cats. Most of the time, the recessive version of the gene is passed on and is hidden in the genotype. It can, however, appear in their litter later on.

Sex Chromosomes Are Controlled by Coat Chromosomes

This may sound absurd at first, but then you go into details, you will understand how this works. As mentioned earlier, some coat colors are determined by the genes, and with cats, unlike other mammals, you can tell the gender by looking at their coat. This is due to the genes that have been passed on from generation to generation for preservation. Apart from the genes already mentioned, there are others that do different things. One of these genes is the Barrington Brown, which is responsible for diting brown to mahogany. It is a recessive gene that has so far only been observed in laboratory cats, and it also changes chocolate to pale coffee. Another gene responsible for the pigment in coats is the Dilution modifier gene denoted as DM. This gene is responsible for caramelizing dilute colors as the dominant trait, and it is a controversial topic among cat enthusiasts. There are genes known as pattern modifying genes that are theorized to be the cause of the variety in spotting patterns. The underlying cause of the tabby pattern is due to the Agouti gene, which has a dominant A allele and a recessive a allele. The wild type of the dominant allele is responsible for the banded black and orangish/brown hairs. The recessive gene when paired with another on, thus aa causes no bands, and so the cat gets a solid color. There is an exception if an O allele present because it supersedes the action of aa and causes stripping in red or cream-colored cats.

Calicos Are Unique

Apart from the tabby features mentioned, above there is also the Calico, which does not follow the usual pattern. Calico is a predominantly white cat that has big black and orange patches or sometimes grey and cream. Cats with this type of fur are usually always females because the gene responsible for this is attached to the X chromosomes from the maternal and paternal sides. Unless they have Klinefelter syndrome, which is two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome, male cats cannot be calico. These cats also come in a lighter color known as dilutes, which can be differentiated by their grey, gold, and cream colors. Calicos are part of the particolored cats alongside bi-colors, and tortoiseshells. They are also referred to as tri-colored cats with at least four genes responsible for that pattern. An incomplete dominant white spotting gene causes these kinds of patterns, and a polygene can also determine how much white the cat ends up with.

Calico cat sleeping

Coat Colors Can Predict Personality

In the case of cats, the saying that ‘do not judge a book by its cover’ might have little meaning. Studies conducted have shown that coat colors and patterns can tell you something about the cat. For example, research conducted by the University of California found that calicos were unpredictable and feisty. The study involved participants choosing a color category that best described their cat and that confirmation as made. Another study by California State University, East Bay, and the University of California, Berkeley asked some cat guardians to assign some terms to five different cat colors. The terms included aloof, intolerant, shy, active, stubborn, bold, friendly, calm, and trainable, and the colors were red, white, tri-colored, black, and bi-colored. The results showed that participants were most likely to attribute intolerance to tricolored cats, friendliness to orange cats, and aloofness to white cats. The limitations of these studies, which should be kept in mind, are that they were conducted based on human perception. Factors like gender and coat length were not controlled for, and so it cannot be sure that coat color affects personality. Gender might play a more significant role in personality than coat color, and there are assumptions on how fur length can predict personality. It is clear that more research should be conducted in this area before a definite conclusion can be made.

Eye Color Is Linked to Coat Color

Apparently, you cannot talk about coat colors without considering their eye color. Kittens have blue eyes at birth, and as they mature, their potential eye colors push through and become more visible. It starts about six to eight weeks, and it is not until one to two years that they attain their actual eye color, depending on the breed. According to some cat experts, cats have three primary colors, with domestic cats experiencing a greater variety. As expected, genes are responsible for eye color and in one way or the other is linked to coat color. The same gene causes the Persian Cat’s brilliant copper eye color, Bombay’s deep gold eyes, and the Russian Blue’s emerald green eyes. Through selective breeding, the variety of eye colors have been perfected. When it comes to cat’s coats, it is said that white cats typically have yellow, blue, odd, and gold eyes. Odd eye color is when the two eyes have different colors, and cats with spots usually have this. Cats that have restricted pattern genes where they have dark hair on their extremities typically have blue eyes due to the albinism factor. It is not far-fetched to have coat color linked to eye color because they may share a gene.

Fluffy colorful cat sitting

To Summarize

It is beautiful to see all the different cat colors and patterns that they come in, and it is not far-fetched to wonder how the colors come about. It is not all that you think that is the truth about the colors and pattern, and there is the need to seek more information. Some of the facts about coats and patterns are quite interesting, but they will make you appreciate it more. Whether it is a brown, white, black, red, or buff colored cat, there is a story behind it, which is worth knowing. It will help you to understand your cat more if you know what makes their whole existence even with something as small as their physical appearance.

Angela Westfall
Angela has fostered, adopted, screened and saved cats for over 15 years. She is known as one of Central Ohio’s most passionate and knowledgeable cat enthusiasts. Her rescue, Angels Assisting Felines has partnerships with PetSmart and PetSuppliesPlus to help more cats find great homes.

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