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Cat Colors and Coat Patterns

By: J. Anne Helgren

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Today's Colors and Patterns

The mixing and matching of these genes gives us the more than 300 color and pattern combinations we see in cats today. Since so many exist, cat color and pattern is generally broken into five divisions or categories to make it easier to organize. These divisions are solid, tabby, shaded, particolor and pointed.


In the cat fancy, a solid-colored cat is any cat that is one solid color without recognizable stripes, spots, ticking, patches of white or shading. These cats are sometimes called "self colored," although this term is more commonly used in Great Britain. Solid-colored cats can be found in many breeds. In some breeds, breeders have worked very hard to eliminate any residual tabby striping and make the coat a consistent color.

Common solid colors are:

  • Black – solid ebony black to the roots. Solid black cats can be found in many breeds such as the Persian, Oriental shorthair, and the Bombay.

  • Blue – a soft gray color. Solid blue breeds include the Russian blue, Korat and the Chartreux.

  • Brown – a rich chocolate brown color seen in breeds such as the Havana brown and the Tiffany/Chantilly.

  • Red – although called red, this color is actually orange. Many breeds bear this color.

  • White – solid white to the roots. This color can be found in many breeds; the solid white Persian is particularly lovely.

  • Lilac (lavender) – a pale pinkish gray shade. This color is found in Oriental breeds such as the Oriental shorthair.

  • Fawn – a warm pink or buff color. This color is found in many breeds.

  • Chocolate – a rich medium brown coat color, found in Oriental breeds and breeds such as the Havana brown and Tiffany/Chantilly.

  • Cinnamon – a reddish brown color, found in Oriental breeds.

  • Cream – a light warm beige color. A dilute of red, this color can be found in many breeds.


    Tabbies can be found in many breeds, as well as in many random-bred domestic cats. Five varieties exist:

  • Mackerel tabby – mackerel tabbies have thinner stripes that radiate down the sides from the spine like the bone of a fish, hence the name. Many breeds possess this pattern, including the American shorthair and Maine coon.

  • Classic (blotched) tabby – classic tabbies have wider stripes and often have swirls or bull's eyes on their sides. Many breeds, such as the American shorthair and Maine coon, possess this pattern.

  • Ticked (agouti) tabby – each hair of a ticked tabby is decorated with alternating bands of lighter and darker color, ending with a dark tip. Ordinary tabby striping can exist on the face, legs, and tail. The Abyssinian is the best known ticked tabby, but several other breeds such as the Singapura possess ticking.

  • Spotted tabby – spotted tabbies have spots, and usually have some tabby striping on the face, legs, and tail. Breeds such as the Ocicat, Egyptian mau, and Bengal are spotted tabbies.

  • Patched tabby – this fifth type combines two patterns. All females, patched tabbies possess any of the above tabby patterns combined with patches of red. Many breeds boast this pattern, including the Persian.

    Shaded and Smoke

    Shaded and smoke varieties (also called the silver group) all possess darker colored hair tips overlying a paler under color or ground color, giving the coat a contrasting or shimmering appearance. This effect is created by the dominant inhibitor gene (I), which inhibits the pigmentation in the hair. These varieties come in many colors, including black, blue, red and cream, and patterns such as tabby and tortoiseshell.

    The golden color group is similar to the silver, except that the ground color is a rich cream instead of white. This effect is created by polygenes rather than the inhibitor gene. (Polygenes, which alone exert minor influence on a cat's color, produce larger effects when grouped together.) Goldens can be seen in breeds such as the Persian, where the long fur gives this pattern a particularly spectacular look.

    Three types exist:

  • Chinchilla, which has the least amount of tipping. Only the ends of the hairs are pigmented, and give the coat a characteristic sparkling or silvery appearance, especially when the cat moves. This is particularly dramatic on longhaired breeds such as the Persian.

  • Shaded, in which the hair is more heavily tipped with color, but still has a distinctive and readily apparent undercoat.

  • Smoke, in which the hair is heavily tipped with color and is sometimes difficult to tell from a solid cat, because the ground color is minimal. However, when the cat moves, the fur parts and the ground color can usually be seen.


    Depending upon the cat association, a particolor is a cat that has patches of two or more colors, or that has any color or pattern combined with white. Some of the most common particolors include:

  • Calico – white with patches of black and red
  • Dilute calico – white with patches of blue and cream
  • Chocolate calico – white with patches of chocolate and red
  • Tortoiseshell (tortie) – black with patches of red
  • Blue-cream – blue with patches of cream
  • Chocolate tortie – rich chocolate brown with patches of red
  • Lilac-cream – warm pinkish toned lavender with patches of cream
  • Van – mostly white with patches of color on the head and tail
  • Mitted – predominantly colored with white on the paws, back legs, chest and chin
  • Piebald (Harlequin) – mostly white with patches of color usually on the extremities
  • Bicolor – approximately half white and half another color

    Pointed Pattern

    In the pointed color pattern (also called the Siamese or Himalayan pattern), the hair contains little pigment, but the "points" of the body (face, tail, feet and ears) contain more and therefore appear darker. Even at the darkest points of the body, however, the pigmentation is diminished so that, for example, black appears dark brown. The amount of pigment distributed in the hairs depends on temperature – the cooler the temperature the more pigment is produced. The skin temperature of the body's extremities is a few degrees lower than the rest of the body, and therefore attracts more pigmentation. The pointed pattern can be found in many breeds, but is most commonly associated with the Siamese and other Oriental breeds and with the Himalayan. Common colors include:

  • Seal point – pale fawn or cream body with deep seal brown on the points
  • Blue point – platinum gray or bluish body with deeper grayish-blue points
  • Chocolate point – ivory body with warm milk chocolate points
  • Lilac point – even milk white body with lilac gray or pinkish points
  • Fawn point – ivory cream body with warm beige to taupe points.
  • Red point – warm creamy white body with deep orange red points
  • Cream point – white body with cream points
  • Tortie point – creamy white with seal and red patches on the points
  • Lynx point – light colored body with dark tabby stripes on the points
  • Tortie lynx point – creamy white or pale fawn body and beige-brown points with dark brown tabby markings and patches of red

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