Cats come in many colors. A cat’s color is determined by genes, gene modifiers, gender and more. Black and red are dominant, and therefore only one copy of the gene is needed for the cat to have these colors.
A cat has 19 pairs of chromosomes, which are inherited from the mother and father. Each chromosome contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live, and reproduce.
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Genes come in pairs, one from the mother and one from the father and may be dominant or recessive. A dominant gene overrides a recessive gene, and two copies of a recessive or allele gene must be present for that trait to occur.
An allele is one of two or more versions of a gene that arise by mutation and found in the same chromosome. Basically every cat has two alleles of each gene; one inherited from each parent.
The chocolate or brown color coat is encoded by a recessive primary gene for coat color. In order for a cat to appear chocolate, he has to carry two recessive genes for brown coloration. The intensity and pattern of the brown coat will be further determined by other coat-related genes.
Chocolate is derived from a genetic mutation of the gene for a black coat which in a dilute form becomes chocolate. While chocolate can appear as points in several breeds like the Balinese and Siamese, the Havana Brown is a breed known for being solid chocolate.
Tortoiseshell colored cats, or “torties,” do not belong to a specific breed. They are distinguished by a coat that mixes two coat colors of red and black into a swirling pattern that is distinct on every cat.
Tortoiseshell cats have no white mixed in, but the mix of colors can sometimes appear to have gold, gray, orange, or brown in it. Tortoiseshell cats are common in both purebred and in mixed breed of cats, but this color pattern is almost exclusively found in female cats.
Silver cats refer to both colors and patterns and can occur in many breeds. There are three possible patterns in silver coats that could be more or less desirable depending on demand. In general, a silver coat is indicated by hair that is only colored at the tip, which gives the cat its smoky appearance.
The silver coats may have patterns that are striped where the coat has full color, shaded, where even less of the coat has color, or just tipped, meaning that only the smallest part of the coat is colored.
The lilac color is a variation of the brown color, determined by the recessive primary gene for coat color, and diluted by the dense pigment gene. The process of the formation of this color is similar to that of the smoke color coat.
In order for a cat to be lilac, it has to be a recessive homozygote for the primary gene for coat color, and it also has to be a recessive homozygote for the dense pigment gene. It is a point color found in Persian, Siamese, Balinese, and Colorpoint Shorthair cat breeds, as well as a solid color found in the Oriental Shorthair.
The chinchilla coat pattern is found in the Persian cat breed, and is sometimes called chinchilla Persian. It is characterized by silver-tipped hairs with a pale base that is caused by the dominant melanin inhibitor gene and is a tabby variant.
The dominant allele of this gene suppresses eumelanin production, which fades the base of hair in solid cats, and turning tabbies into a sparkling silver color while leaving the stripes intact. The chinchilla pattern is the tabby variant affected by this melanin inhibitor gene.
A cat with colorpoints has a light-colored coat that is marked with color on the head, legs, and tail. There are 16 possible point colors, including chocolate, blue, lilac, and seal, which are the recognized Siamese color variants.
However, there are other variations, including flame point (red), as well as various pointed patterns, such as tortoiseshell and lynx.
#7 Dilute Calico Cats
Dilute calico cats have the same coloring as calico cats, in a “diluted” form. Basically dilute calicos are calico cats with less intense color hues. The coloring can be blue/gray and tan patches on a white or cream base, which is different from the standard calico of black and red patches on white.
The rosette pattern, also known as a spotted tabby pattern, is determined by the agouti gene which is related to tabby and ticked coat patterns.
This is a less common form of the pattern, and it is usually seen in the Bengal, Serengeti, Egyptian Mau, Maine Coon and a few other domestic cat breeds. Cats with rosette look like little leopards and are most often found with hybrid breeds like the Bengal, Savannah, Egyptian Mau, and Ocicat.
The albino cat is the rarest color pattern of all. To get an albino cat, you need parent cats with two recessive genes and the offspring must receive both.
The recessive genes in true albinos damage their TYR gene, which causes them to produce no melanin in their skin, resulting in a cat with pink skin that casts their white fur with pink. They can have light blue or pink eyes. Sadly, albino cats are prone to sicknesses of the eyes and skin, with many being photosensitive, immunodeficient, or prone to balance issues.
#10 Black Smoke
The black smoke cat color is solid black but white at the roots, which makes them appear to be wavy or patterned as they move. The first Black Smoke cat was reported in the 1800s when, according to some theories, a tabby with the gene for black markings bred with a silver-white coated cat and the two colors layered creating black smoke kittens.
Black smoke colors are rare but most likely to occur in the Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest, Persian, Turkish Angora, Egyptian Mau, and Siberian breeds.
Fawn is dilute of brown and resembles the lilac coat color, but is lighter. The non-agouti cinnamon and fawn colors are seen most often in the Oriental and British Shorthair breeds.
The fawn color is a variation of the cinnamon color, determined by a recessive gene and diluted by a dense pigment gene. In order for a cat to be fawn color, it has to be a recessive homozygote for the primary gene for coat color, and it also has to be a recessive homozygote for the dense pigment gene.
Cream coat color is a dilution of red and is pale with a tiny rusty hue. As with most of the other dilutions, cream is uncommon among mixed-breed cats, but is becoming more common among purebred cats.
Cream color cats come from a variation of the orange color, determined by a red gene and diluted by a dense pigment gene. This red gene, found on the X chromosome, determines whether there will be any red variations in the fur color.
Cat coat color is always determined by genetics and some combinations of genes that do not occur as often as others. These rare colors can be the result of selective breeding and most often occurs in certain breeds.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most rare cat color?
The rarest cat color is albino. In order to get an albino cat, both parent cats must have two recessive genes and their offspring have to receive both.
What is the prettiest cat color?
There are hundreds of possible cat colors and patterns. Some more common than others but it is a matter of preference. These colors are all the result of just two types of pigment: eumelanin and pheomelanin.
What is the least popular color of cat?
Black cats seem to be the most unpopular color and usually the least desirable to be adopted. According to some, black cats are half as likely to find a home when compared to a cat of another color.
Are chocolate colored cats rare?
Chocolate color cats are rare because a cat with a brown coat has a gene variant that works to reduce the black pigmentation in the coat, resulting in brown coloration. This gene variant is not very common in cats, but the Havana Brown and the Oriental Shorthair are examples of purebreds with chocolate brown color coats.
I was surprised that Torbie wasn’t listed, or is that more of a marking pattern than coat color?
Good point—it would count as a pattern but didn’t make it onto this particular list. Thanks for mentioning that!
On FaceBook I saw a white/blacked blotches cat. I think it would be a murel patter. Any information?
It’s hard to say without seeing photos—that sounds like a regular tuxedo cat from your description, but it may be a rare pattern as well. Sorry I can’t be of more help!
Are female Ginger cats uncommon?
Yes! Up to 80% of all ginger cats are males, so female gingers are in the minority. 🙂
What about charcoal, grizzled, mocha, golden, amber….aren’t they much more rare than the colors mentioned above?
Good suggestions! We’ll consider expanding the article to include some other colors.
is ginger rare?