A cat’s coat is a magnificent sight to behold. Whether long or short, or even woollen, the variety is immense with a range of colours and markings unique to each feline.
Thanks to thousands of years of cross-breeding, our feline friends sport an incredible range of coat colours and patterns. No two markings are ever the same, much like the personality of each cat.
Despite what many people think, colours and markings aren't specifically linked to breeds. This can make it more complex to understand the exact roots of your feline. However, there are some interesting facts about colours and patterns that might be of interest to you in learning more about your four-legged fur friend. Calico cats are just one example!
Depending on the source, expert, or even organisation, the number of officially recognised cat colours differs slightly but are more or less the same. Basically, there are many!
However, like us, you might be fascinated to learn that black and red (orange) are the two primary coat colours for all cats - just that there are variations of these colours. The exception applies to white cats as the white technically masks either a black or red colour.
To simplify a more complex scientific explanation, it is the genetic differences of the colour genes that result in the array of different colours, shades and markings of these black and red cats.
As there are many complexities to the make-up of the genes that create each colour variation, for another day perhaps, we're going to look at the most common colour variations recognised by the majority of cat associations around the world. They include:
- Blue (often called grey)
- Champagne (dilute of red, also called honey-beige, tan or yellow)
- Chocolate (rich brown, often called sable)
- Cinnamon (reddish-brown)
- Cream (dilute of red, also called sand or beige)
- Fawn (beige-toned lilac)
- Lilac (or lavender, although some differentiate between the two)
- Platinum (soft grey with undertones of fawn)
- Red (often called orange, ginger or marmalade)
- Sepia (soft brown)
In addition to coat colours, there are numerous colour patterns that comprise both purebred and other domestic cats. Given the extensive number, we have broken these down into six of the most popular pattern types you are likely to be most familiar with.
Solid-coloured, or self-coloured coats, simply refer to those of one distinct colour. Although some cat coats appear to be one uniform colour, in certain light (for example in sunlight) you might be able to see a faint outline of their underlying tabby pattern. This can often been seen in kittens who are born with a faint pattern only to shed their kitten coat to a solid-coloured adult coat.
Here's another fun fact for you - all cats are genetically tabby cats. However, whether or not they appear as a tabby (the common stripes and blotches associated with this look) will depend on the colour genes that produce the final colour and pattern of the cat. For those that sport the distinct look and that we call tabbies, they can be divided into four different types. All sport the trademark 'M' marking on their foreheads and have darker lines around their faces.
- Classic (or blotched) tabbies have a combination of stripes, swirls and blotches that contrast against lighter fur (see pic below).
- Spotted tabbies are as the name suggests. These 'spots' are the result of 'broken' lines or swirls. Some say this coat makes the cat look like a leopard!
- Striped (or mackerel) tabbies have narrow, vertical stripes that run down the body, from the spine to the tummy. A darker line also runs from the neck to the tail.
- Ticked tabbies often have stripes or spots on the neck, chest and points only, and not on the rest of the body. Hairs are also characterised by dark and light banding, although these do not appear as stripes.
Due to the genetic make-up of tortoiseshell cats, almost all of them are female. Otherwise known as torties, their pattern is made up of a mixture of red and black, or if the diluted gene is inherited then cream and blue. A brindled tortie is one where the two colours are well mixed, while others are much more marked in colour variations or blotches. Torties may also contain white for which they are referred to as tricoloured or calico cats.
When we talk about a bicolour coat, we mean a coat with two colours, one of which is white. The white can simply be one small patch, or almost entirely solid with just a small amount of one other colour - and anywhere in between. Those that are predominantly white with a few patches of solid colour are often called harlequins. In the right light, you can notice one of the tabby patterns in the coloured patches.
This is a distinctive coat that is easy to recognise whereby the ears, face, paws and tail are much darker than the rest of the coat. It can often be seen in Siamese and other similar breeds, and marks the coolest extremities of these cats. Kittens will be born without the distinctive colour markings but these will develop as they grow.
Can you identify your cat's coat?