5 Questions and Answers Concerning Cat Coat Patterns

5 Questions and Answers Concerning Cat Coat Patterns

Breed Facts

Cats come in a myriad of different colours and coat patterns, from the often seen black and tabby cats, to far more unusual ones such as lilac and caramel. Here are some FAQs concerning cat coat colours and patterns...

What is the most common coat pattern in cats?

There are certainly a lot of cat colours and patterns. The CFA in America lists more than 60 colour patterns for the Persian alone! But the most common coat pattern is definitely the tabby. This is the pattern of the domestic cat's wild ancestors, and it is still seen most often in domestic cats.

In fact, tabbies come in several distinct patterns and many colours. Ginger cats are actually red tabbies – have a look at their markings. There are also silver tabbies, blue tabbies, and cream tabbies, as well as the very familiar brown tabby. The tabby pattern is so dominant that even in solid coloured cats you can often discern faint tabby markings, especially on the head, legs, and tail. This could be seen as abiding proof that every cat is a wild tabby cat underneath!

Are all tortoiseshell cats female?

Almost all tortoiseshell (tortie) and tortie and white cats are female, but not quite. There are a very few tortie males; usual estimates are about one in 3000.

Let's make sure that we know what colour we're talking about here. A tortie cat has patches of orange and black, or sometimes patches of grey and cream. There may be white patches too – a tortie and white cat. In the USA, a tortie and white cat is called 'calico'. Some cats in these colours have them in a tabby pattern – a tortie tabby.

Almost all tortie cats are female, because the the gene for that coat pattern is carried on the sex chromosome, and you need two X chromosomes to make a tortie. Generally female cats have two X chromosomes, while the males have one X and one Y. but every so often you get a male cat who has two X chromosomes along with the usual Y. this unusual genetic arrangement is called Klinefelter's syndrome, and it happens in other species as well. If this cat has orange coding on both his X chromosomes, then he will be rare male tortie.

In female cats, the orange colour can be expressed as either a red tabby (ginger) or as a tortie. People sometimes think that all ginger cats are male, just as almost all tortie cats are female. But this is not the case, and there are many ginger females around.

Are all white cats deaf?

Not all white cats are deaf. However it is quite common for white cats to be deaf. The reason is genetic; the masking gene, which prevents the development of colour in a cat, causes it to be white. In other words, there is no gene for the white colour, just a gene preventing other colours showing themselves. This gene also sometimes prevents proper development of the inner ear, causing deafness. This is more common in white cats with blue eyes, but can occur in white cats with eyes of other colours, and also in cats which are mainly white, but have a little bit in the way of other colours. The only way to be sure is to have a test done on all white or nearly white kittens, to see if they are deaf or not, and all reputable breeders will do this. If the kitten can hear, then it will carry on hearing; the deafness will not develop later. This is sometimes misunderstood. I once heard someone at a show say that her white kittens would not go on to be deaf because they had tiny black patches on their heads. Well, the black patches would not prevent them being deaf. But they would have been deaf at birth if they were going to be; if they can hear as kittens, then there is nothing wrong with their hearing. This is a classic case of not understanding the reason for deafness in white cats.

We're always hearing about 'naughty torties'. Are all tortoiseshell cats badly behaved?

The jury seems to be out on this one! Many owners describe their tortie cats as badly behaved, feisty, independent, and headstrong. They seem to agree that there is a definite personality which the majority of tortie cats share, and that they deserve their reputation as being 'naughty torties'.

However, the experts disagree. There seems to be no evidence connecting coat colour to personality traits. It is true that almost all tortie cats are female, and some people perceive female cats as being more headstrong and lively than males, but there's not a lot of evidence for this either. To complicate matters, even some vets say that most of the tortie cats they have met tend to deserve their reputation.

Perhaps we should just remember that every cat is an individual. It may possibly be true that more torties are naughty than some other colour cats. But this does not mean that if you get a tortie cat, she will be badly behaved. Personality is a mixture of heredity and environment, in cats as much as in humans. So if you want a tortie cat, get one and treat her well, and she may turn out to be a complete angel. Or...she may not...

Can you know the colours of kittens before they are born?

The answer to this is “sometimes”. If the mum is a moggy, you are unlikely to know for certain who the father is, and it is even possible for a cat to be made pregnant by more than one tom cat, resulting in kittens with different dads. In this case you really cannot even guess the colour of the kittens.

However in the case of pedigree cats, where you know both parents, you may have a pretty good idea. Most breeders are fairly knowledgeable about cat genetics, and can calculate what colours the kittens are likely to be. But it will not be certain. Indeed, they may only know what colours cannot possibly be produced! And if either parent cat is white, the white is a masking gene, and the breeder may not know what colour is being masked, ie what colours the white cat will be carrying in its genes. So there may be some definite surprises in the kittens. Nevertheless, if you want a kitten of a particular colour, any reputable breeder should have a good idea of what colour kittens her cat will produce. And after that, you cross your fingers...

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