Have You Wondered What Causes Cat Coat Colors And Patterns?

Do you have a kitty with some unusual markings or fur color? It’s a complicated mystery. Cat coat colors and patterns become created by genetics, and depend upon what the kitty embryo inherits from mother and father.

To learn some basic background information, watch the video below:

Amazing and hard to believe that all cat colors become some sort of combination of two colors: red and black. Yet, so many patterns exist among individual kitties. These two colors can be distributed among six varieties of cat fur patterns: Tabby, Solid, Bicolor, Tricolor, Tortoiseshell and Colorpoint.


Since the tabby pattern began with the first cat, the African Wildcat, a brownish-colored cat with what is now known as “tabby markings,” what are the different tabby patterns? You will discover the five main varieties, and very likely, if you love cats, you have met all five. They are:

  • Mackerel
  • Classic/Blotched
  • Spotted
  • Ticked
  • Patched

Think of the cats you have seen who have some variation of these patterns, as they may show their tabby background. For example, mackerel tabbies have stripes running vertically along their bodies, with a stripe that runs down the spine. The coat underneth may be light orange or gray.

Maine Coon Tabby Cat
Maine Coon Tabby Cat

A classic, or blotched tabby has stripes on the head, but swirls on the body instead of straight stripes. This cat might have a mix of imperfections, swirls, and stripes covering their bodies. A spotted tabby has spots instead of stripes.

These appear in different sizes, showing as either circular, oval, or rosettes. One very popular type of spotted tabby is the Bengal.

Ticked tabbies have agouti hairs, meaning a single strand of hair has bands of different colors on it. Patched tabbies have tortoiseshell coloration mixed in with tabby patterns and markings.

The agouti gene, also called the A gene, is a modifier gene that regulates the distribution of black pigment in the coat. You will find this gene at work in many cat coat patterns.

Solid Colors

To become part of this group, the cat must show only one color on its body. Though you can find a wide variety of cats whose coat shows only one color, you might find many more cats with varying patterns in their fur. A solid color cat can prove rather uncommon.

Common solid colors include black, grey, and white. Less common solid colors could include chocolate, cinnamon, fawn, lilac, cream, smoke, and chinchilla.


These cats have a base color of white and their fur will include one other primary color. This color can often show as black, The bicolor pattern might typically show up in a mix-breed cat. To discover what mix of breeds causes the color combination, try a DNA test.

The classifications and names for these cats depend on the markings of white which appear on their fur. True bicolors have equal amounts of white and another color. However, many variations can occur.

For example, a “locket cat” has a small white patch on their chest. My Pogo had such a “locket.” Tuxedo cats have white chests, stomachs, and paws, and sometimes show white on parts of the face. My Carlos had all of these. However, a tuxedo cat can be white and any other color.

White cat with black head

Sometimes a bicolor cat might appear to wear a mask, or might have colored fur on the top part of the head and back, maybe even in the tail. Cap-and-Saddle cats have less color. The colored fur shows only on parts of the cat’s face, and might show just on the ears.

Harlequin cats have white fur with small patches and spots of color, usually on the tail. Van cats only have color on the head and tail.


These cats have a coat made up of a mixture of black and red (orange) fur, and may also have a mix of “diluted” colors of cream and blue. Though considered a rare cat color pattern, you’ve most likely seen them, or even owned one. The coat may also have speckles of white. They also go by the name of “torties.”

Most tortoiseshells are female, as the genes that code for the black and red fur colors come from the X chromosome. Because males only have one X chromosome, they rarely will be able to display both the red and black fur color. If you do find the rare male, he will most likely be sterile.


Tricolor cat

The calico comes in as a tricolor cat, adding some white in their coat. Most common colors in that coat are white, orange, and black. Other combinations possible include cream, blue-black, red, and brown.

Most calicos are females because of the connection with the X chromosome. For a cat to have a tri-colored coat, she must have two X chromosomes, usually only found in females. A male calico has two X chromosomes and another Y chromosome, and most prove sterile.


My semi-feral Siamese, Lou

These cats have dark coloration on faces, paws, and tails, in contrast with their lighter-colored bodies. Look at the Siamese, Ragdoll, and Himalayan to see a colorpoint cat. A genetic mutation leads to temperature-sensitive albinism, causing the color points, and also leads to their blue eyes.

This rarest of color patterns accounts for 16 different point colors, including lilac, chocolate, seal and blue. Many other breeds have developed from these.

My little Siamese, Lou, showed the dark colorpoints but also a darkened fur on the lighter parts of her body due to colder Alaskan temperature.

What Types Of Cat Fur Might You Find?

Besides color and pattern, another factor that can affect the appearance of your kitty comes from differing types of cat fur. It can vary in length, texture, and abundance. Consider these four types:

  1. Short-haired cats: The most common type of cat, consider this one low-maintence, as fur does not grow longer than 1.5 inches, and requires minimal grooming.
  2. Long-haired cats: Depending on the breed, fur can grow up to 5 inches. They require frequent grooming to keep that coat flowing and knot-free.
  3. Curly-haired cats: A recessive genetic mutation causes curly fur. This one you will find in only a few cat species, such as the Devon Rex. Hair can grow long or short, ranging from a loose curl to the appearance of a perm.
  4. Hairless cats: Though no fur, these cats do have a a very fine hair that feels like peach fuzz. Though they will not shed on furniture and clothes, they become more prone to skin conditions and can get chlly in winter. The Sphynx is one of 10 such hairless breeds.

In Summary

From these basic colors and patterns, the individual cat can provide so many variations, giving a truly remarkable range of possibilities. If you would like more specific genetic information, look through the references at the bottom of this post.

Meanwhile, enjoy this one more video showing cats with the craziest fur markings:

References I used for this post:

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