Cat Fur Patterns, Colors and Markings – petsKB

Cats have a wide range of coat colors and patterns that are more related to genetics than breed. Because there are only subtle differences between some, many people find the whole topic quite confusing. it’s actually not as difficult as you might think to distinguish one cat pattern or marking from another.

cat fur has six main patterns made up of five basic colors. some patterns can be further subdivided and certain colors have diluted versions. with other cat markings that can occur randomly in any pattern, it’s not surprising that confusion arises.

cat patterns are simply the result of different fur colors in particular formats. once you’ve read this guide, you’ll have no trouble telling one from the other.

cat fur colors

The cat’s fur can be of five colors: white, black, brown, cinnamon and red. other than white, these are known as dense colors.

white fur is different because a masking gene is present and this masks the color the fur would otherwise display.

Any other color that appears is a diluted version of one of the dense colors. A cat’s color is diluted when it carries a dilution gene.

here is a chart of colors for cats and their diluted versions.

cat patterns

There are six main cat patterns: solid, tabby, bicolor, tricolor, tortoiseshell, and colorpoint.

1. the solid cat pattern

When a cat is a single color tone with no visible patterning, it is said to have a solid coat. all solid layers except white would actually have a pattern, but this is suppressed by a masking gene.

white cats are slightly different as if they are also the result of a masking gene, it is a single color that is masked and not a pattern.

It’s rare to see a cat that is solid red, as there is often a tabby pattern somewhere, especially on the face.

2. tabby cat markings

The most common cat pattern is the mackerel tabby (sometimes referred to as a tiger cat), followed by the classic tabby. it occurs in many purebred and mixed-breed cats alike. often people don’t realize there are 4 different tabby patterns, let alone how to tell them apart.

the four tabby patterns can be distinguished as follows:

  • mackerel, where parallel stripes run from a cat’s spine to its belly, resembling the skeleton of a fish.
  • classic, where a cat has swirls and whorls of patterns on its shoulders, a bit like butterfly patterns.
  • spotted, where a clear pattern of spots is obvious throughout a cat’s body.
  • ticked or agouti, where each individual cat hair shows bands of different colors.
  • white areas may appear on tabby coats and you’ll see how these markings are labeled below.

    3. bicolor cat markings

    People refer to any cat with two-color fur as a bicolor or piebald. there is a range of two-tone coats, many of them in black and white. however, bicolor can include two different colors.

    harlequin cat markings

    if you’ve ever thought a cat looks like it has the markings of a cow, you’ve probably seen a harlequin pattern.

    Harlequin cats are predominantly white with large patches of color, usually black. however, harlequin patterns can be any color or cat pattern.

    tuxedo cat markings

    A cat that is predominantly black with a white chest, belly, and feet is known as a tuxedo cat because it appears to be wearing a black tuxedo over a white shirt. one could say that these cats are also mittens.

    van pattern cat markings

    The van cat breed originated in the van region of turkey, where they always had solid white coats. today, cats of many breeds are said to have a van cat pattern if they are predominantly white with colored fur only on the head and tail.

    mask and cloak cat markings

    Bicolor cats are considered to have a mask and mantle when they have black mask-like markings around their eyes and ears that continue along their backs like a coat. this can sometimes run the length of the cat’s tail.

    cap-and-saddle cat markings

    cap and saddle marks are similar to mask and cloak marks, but the cloak is separated from the cloak by a white patch. the mask is also separated by a central white stripe.

    4. tricolor cat patterns (also known as calico cats)

    A calico cat has a distinctive tricolor coat. the most common calico has red, black and white patterns, but there are 8 possible variations:

    • dense calico, where a cat is white with red and black spots.
    • diluted calico, where a cat is white with blue and cream spots.
    • dense calico smoke, like dense calico but with each hair dyed with paler roots.
    • diluted calico smoke, as for diluted calico but with each hair dyed with paler roots.
    • Dense-shelled calico, where a cat is white with patches of black and various shades of red. each hair shaft on the cat’s back, sides, and tail is tipped slightly black and shades of red.
    • dilute shell calico, where a cat has white spots of blue and various shades of cream. each hair shaft on the cat’s back, sides and tail is tipped with slightly blue and cream tones.
    • Dense shaded calico, where a cat is white with patches of black and shades of red. it has a mantle of black and red shading along the sides, face, and tail.
    • diluted shaded calico, where a cat is white with flecks of blue and cream tones. It has a blue and cream mantle along the sides, face, and tail.
    • 4. tortoiseshell cat markings

      Tortoiseshell cats are bicolor, often black and red, and instead of having a distinctive pattern, their mottled markings resemble those of a tortoiseshell. their faces are often distinctive, with each side having different colors. turtle shells can actually have four colorations:

      • dense shell, where a cat has black and red fur.
      • diluted tortoise shell, where a cat has blue and cream fur.
      • dense smoke shell, like a dense tortoise but the roots of each hair are paler than the tips.
      • shell of diluted smoke, as for diluted turtle but the roots of each hair are paler than the tips.
      • White areas may appear on turtle coats and you’ll see how these markings are labeled below.

        For genetic reasons, almost all tortoiseshell cats are female.

        5. color cat point markings

        Certain cats have colored dots, and by dots we mean their limbs. a perfect example is the siamese cat. it has darker fur on the tips of its ears, toes, and the tip of its tail. this pattern can occur in mixed breeds, but is more prevalent in conjoined twins.

        Spot markings are caused by the darkening of a cat’s coat on the cooler areas of its body.

        examples of cats with colored dots are:

        • flame point
        • lynx point
        • sealing point
        • tabby spot
        • marks that can occur in any cat pattern

          locket cat markings

          If a cat has a small white marking on the upper chest, this is called a locket. medallions can be in many shapes, including circular, oval, heart-shaped, and diamond. they can vary in size, be symmetrical, asymmetrical, central or decentered.

          medallions just happen and are not a trait breeders can control. this is unfortunate for those who like to enter their cats in shows, as many cat clubs do not allow cats with a medallion mark.

          cat marks on buttons

          Cats are said to have buttons when they are solid color or have a tabby pattern, and also have a row of white spots along the chest or tummy.

          These white markings resemble small buttons, hence their name. if a button starts high enough, the first one could be considered a locket.

          cat markings on mitten

          If a cat is predominantly one color or patterned tabby but has white paws, it is said to be gloved simply because it appears to be wearing gloves. cats in gloves are often said to have socks or boots. all colors and patterns of cats can be used.

          cat fur patterns, colors and markings: conclusion

          Coming to terms with the complexities of cat coat genetics is no easy task. it takes an expert to fully understand the intricacies of color coding to fully explain how so many colors and patterns can occur.

          However, owners may gain a better understanding of the various patterns and colors that adorn these popular pets and we hope this guide has done just that.

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