The Feline Spectrum

A Brief Dissertation on Feline Coat Colors and Markings
by Herder Mairen

Very Basic Genetics (a brief OOC note)

The coat characteristics of cats like hair length, pattern of markings, and color are carried on genes found on the female or X chromosome in cats. Because sex is an easy characteristic to monitor in animals, the coat characteristics can be closely tracked in breeding felines. The females carry an XX genetic code and the males carry an XY. In females, because they can have two different color genes, one on each X chromosome, you may see something called the mosaic effect . This effect occurs because neither X chromosome carries a dominant gene. A dominant gene is one which, when expressed, prevents any other genes from being expressed. For instance, if the gene for a long hair coat is dominant, the other X chromosome can carry a gene for short hair but the cat will be long haired. However, both genes can be passed on to their offspring. Therefore, the longhaired cat when bred to a shorthaired cat can have both longhaired and shorthaired kittens. Both colors are expressed in patches creating a visible mosaic effect. This is what gives us the tortoise-shell and calico patterns on cats. Calicos and Tortoise shell cats are almost exclusively female. On occasion a male may show these color variations but he will almost certainly be infertile, as this requires that he carry two X chromosomes in addition to the Y chromosome. In general the male cat will have only one base color and is also more likely to carry only one of the characteristics, like tabby or white spotting. You will still see males with both, but the females are on the average more likely to have multiple characteristics and less likely to be solid colors.

Coat Length

Cats have basically three lengths of fur: long, short, and plush. More unusual variations are caused by mutations in the breeding line. Cats have a two-layer hair coat: a short dense undercoat and longer guard hairs over the top.

Long-haired cats have very long guard hairs and thick undercoats. The two layers may be different colors, giving the cat a shaded appearance. For instance, a white undercoat with black guard hairs gives the coat a smoky appearance.

Short-haired cats still have the same thick undercoat but the guard hairs are shorter and lay flat along the body.

A plush coated cat is almost a variation on the short-haired cat but the undercoat is shorter and the guard hairs are denser and shorter. This coat variation is less glossy than the standard short-hair but much finer and softer to the the touch. The guard hairs rather than lying smoothly stand out more like velvet.

A curly-coated cat is a mutation on the standard cat. These cats have only an undercoat with no guard hairs. The soft dense undercoat is wavy in appearance, and thinner around the neck and on the underside. The whiskers on these cats are also short and curled.

Last to be mentioned is the hairless cats. These cats have neither under coat nor guard hairs. Their skin is pigmented however in the standard coat patterns. Usually their skin appears blue-gray to black or white. These like the curly-coated cats are a mutation of the normal cats.

Coat patterns

Cats only have four basic coat patterns, although each pattern may have more than one variation. These coat patterns or markings can be combined, although as mentioned above this is more common in the female than in the male.


The background color of a tabby ranges from white to buff, tan, golden brown, or charcoal grey. The markings are darker and overlay this undercolor. The markings are the actual color of the cat and the background as we visualize it is the pattern. A black tabby has black stripes, a brown tabby has dark chocolate brown stripes an orange has of course orange stripes.

* ticked: Rather than having definitively visible markings, a ticked tabby has color on the tips of each hair. This gives his whole coat a uniformly speckled appearance. (OOC Breed examples: Abysinnian, Singapura, shaded Persions)
* classic: The markings of a classic tabby are in large blotches or a bullseye pattern on the cat's flank.
* striped, mackeral: The striped or mackeral tabby is the common tiger striped tabby.
* spotted: The spotted tabby has spots on its flanks and underside, and is sometimes called leopard tabby. (OOC Breed examples : Bengal, ocicats, California spangled cats, Egyption mau)

It is important to note that among the variations you may see blending of these markings. A striped tabby may be ticked and a spotted may have some vertical stripes. The cats are generally characterized by the predominate markings.


A calico has large distinct blotches of orange, black and white.


A torbie much resembles the calico or tortoiseshell but has visible stripes on her black or orange blotches. (These cats like the tortoiseshell and the calico are female.)

Basic Primary Background Colors of Cats


The hairs are solid black from base to tip. A black cat has black or dark slate gray toe pads and a black nose. A true black cat has orange eyes, but many will have gold to green eyes as well.


The hairs are again one solid color from base to tip unless marked with tabby markings. This is a gingery orange color. The toepads and nose leather of an orange cat are pink.


Brown or Chocolate is often seen as a base color but rarely as a solid color cat. (Except in breeds like the Burmese.) The toepads and nose leather of the brown cat range from pink to dark brown.


The white cat is similar to an albino animal. White cats often have blue eyes. Blue-eyed white cats may be deaf in many cases. Some white cats will have green or gold eyes. This may be because the cat carries another color gene as well but it is the white which is expressed as coat color. White is not a true color but rather the absence of color, at least in cats. The white cat cannot make the pigment which causes the coat color.


These are other options which can be expressed in combination with any of the color or marking combinations.

* White spotting: White spotting usually shows up as white legs or paws, a white locket on the chest, and a white tail tip. The size of the markings are variable but this is different than the white cat. (Although again there is overlap between the two.)
* Dilute: This dilutes the base color of the cat. Black dilutes to blue or grey, brown to lilac, and orange to buff.
* Pointed: This is similar to the white cat, but this color is what is refferred to as conditional. The pigment cannot be made by the cat's body at normal body temperature but requires cooler temperatures. This conditional temperature-sensitive option causes the extremities of the body to show the base color, but the body is white or creamy. These cats have blue eyes like the white cats. (OOC Breed examples : Siamese, Tonkinese, Himilayan)

All of these options can show up in combination with each other as well as with any of the colors or patterns.

The last note to make is that all colors, patterns and options can be seen regardless of coat length.

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