Stripes, swirls, spots, or even solids, there’s a long list of cat coat patterns to fall in love with. For me, the unique mix on a tortie and the colorful patches of a calico stand out the most. And whether you love the bold and busy or something more subtle and subdued, there’s always a strict science to understanding cat coat patterns.
Did you know a cat’s coat pattern manifests depends on their genetic code?
It can get pretty complicated once you get down to Punnett squares and recessive versus dominant genes. But no matter what your cat’s coat looks like, it’s her DNA that determines whether she has the stripes and swirls of a classic tabby or the pointed pattern of a Siamese. Every type of cat coat pattern has been analyzed and categorized, and here are the top most interesting facts you probably didn’t know about your favorite kinds of cats.
1. Those Pretty Points Have A Relation To Their Body Temperature
The gene related to the point-restricted pattern (recognized by a lighter body color with a darker color at the face, ears, and feet) is sensitive to temperature. The color only appears on the cooler extremities of the body. Siamese cats are great examples of this cat coat pattern. They typically have cream-colored fur on the bulk on their bodies and dark brown fur marking their extremities. There are also flame-point, lilac point, lynx point, chocolate point, and several other kinds of point coat patterns. This coat pattern is not restricted to any individual cat breed, and they’re fairly easy to spot.
2. Coat Chromosomes Control Sex Chromosomes
Most cat lovers know calico cats and tortie cats are almost always female, and most gingers are male. This has to do with chromosomes that carry certain color genes, and you can read more about that here. Most people don’t realize, however, that cats and hamsters are the only mammals that closely link coat color to gender.
Think about it: you can’t tell what gender a dog is simply by looking at its coat color, can you? That’s because most mammals have genes for hair color and pattern on other chromosomes besides the sex chromosomes. For cats, however, coat color is found on the same chromosomes that determine if the cat is male or female.
3. Only 3 Colors, Technically
You’ve seen cats of all colors including black, gray, cream, white, brown, and orange. There’s a whole rainbow of cats out there. But scientifically speaking, cats only come in three colors. Those colors are black, red, and white. All those other colors you see are simply dilutions or mixtures.
4. Do You Believe In Ghosts? What About Ghost Markings
Ready to have your mind blown? We bet you didn’t know that all cats are tabby cats.
You’re right when you call a tiger-striped kitty a tabby, but there’s more to it than that. Whether a cat shows its stripes or not depends on if it has a dominant Agouti gene that controls the distribution of black pigment. If the gene is not present, their dark stripes won’t show up. But even still, many solid colored cats show their inner tabby if you look at them in the right lighting or when they still have their kitten coats. These are called “ghost markings.” To avoid confusion and to make things simpler, we only call cats tabbies when their stripes are clearly seen.
5. A Signature Marking All Tabbies Wear
Besides the stripes and swirls, there’s one other way to identify a tabby cat. All tabbies have the characteristic “M” marking on their foreheads. It can be any color, but you’ll always find it planted squarely between a cat’s eyebrows. It gives tabbies a striking look that accentuates their eyes.
6. There Is More To It Than Just “Tabby”
To keep up with our favored tabbies, did you know there are actually five different kinds of tabby cats? The classic tabby with its combination of stripes and swirls is what most people think of. Then there are ticked tabbies that have an almost iridescent look thanks to their multi-colored hair shafts. On each hair, there is a lighter color at the base and a darker color near the end.
A mackerel tabby is characterized by vertical stripes down their body and a dark colored spine. Spotted tabbies are easy to find thanks to their visible spots. Lastly, patched tabbies are cats that show any of the other four tabby coat patterns in addition to red or orange patches linked to their sex gene. These cats are also sometimes called “torbies” or “reverse torties.”
Want to learn more about calicos, torties, and torbies? Check out our article on them: How To Tell The Difference Between Torbie, Tortie, Calico And Tabby Coat Color
7. Ever Heard Of A Caliby?
There’s an unofficial sixth type of tabby cat called a caliby. This is when the cat is both a tabby and a calico. A caliby has stripes or swirls and the M on their forehead mixed in with their calico colors.
8. Calicos Are Always Unique
A black and white cat only needs one speck of orange to be called a calico. Sometimes a calico’s patches and splashes of color are bold and hard to miss. But there are also calicos that only have small amounts of orange. Round up all the calico cats in your neighborhood—even the whole country—and you’ll be hard pressed to find two that look alike. Calico cat coat patterns are unique and special.
9. Tuxedo Cats Are Not Always Wearing Their Formal Suit And Tie
Tuxedo cats are popular for their adorably formal-looking coat patterns. They’re bi-colored cats recognized for being mostly black with white on their chests, feet, and sometimes faces. Being black and white, however, isn’t a requirement for the “tuxie” coat pattern. There are also tuxedo cats that are gray, orange, and cream.
10. Truly Solid Is Rare
A solid color without any patches, stripes, swirls, or spots is considered one of the basic cat coat patterns. The cat can be all black, white, gray, red, or cream. It sounds simple, but it’s actually fairly rare for a cat to have absolutely no other color. A lot of mostly black cats have small white markings on their bellies or between their toes. This makes them bi-colored no matter how small the colorful speck.
What’s your favorite cat coat pattern? Share with us!
(This guest post was authored by Amber King. She is a seasoned pet writer and cat lover.)