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Have you ever seen a cat that looks strikingly similar to yours? There are lots of different cat coat patterns and colors, and your cat’s genetics play a key role in the way they look.
Cat coat patterns can vary from breed to breed, but many patterns are common in several breeds. Different cat coat patterns are highly sought after, and some patterns are very rare. No matter what kind of coat your cat has, proper coat care is the key to keeping your cat’s coat healthy and preventing skin conditions like dermatitis.
From Bengal cats to calicos and everything in between, here’s everything you need to know about cat coat patterns and how they work.
- Why Do Cats Have Different Coat Patterns?
- Genes That Control Cat Coat Pattern
- White Gene (DW) & White Spotting (Ws)
- Common Cat Coat Patterns
- Cat Breeds With Specific Coat Patterns
- Cat Coat Care
- Cat Coat Patterns: FAQs
- Final Notes
Why Do Cats Have Different Coat Patterns?
Cats have different coat patterns as a result of genetics.1 The same way people have different eye and hair colors, every cat has a different color and cat coat pattern. Cat coat patterns are determined by the genetics of their parents.
There are more types of cat coat patterns than you probably realize. There are several categories, with different types of coat patterns within those categories. Even a naked cat can have a distinct skin pattern.
Genes That Control Cat Coat Pattern
Because cat coat patterns are determined by genes, experts have learned about some of the genes that affect cat coat patterns. This isn’t a comprehensive list of genes that affect coat patterns, but these are some of the genes that most commonly determine the color of a cat’s coat.
Before we begin, let’s take a look at some important terms that will help you understand cat coat pattern genetics:
- Chromosomes: Chromosomes are thread-like structures found in a cell's nucleus that carry genetic information, including the instructions for an organism's traits and characteristics.
- Alleles: Alleles are different versions of a gene that can occupy the same position (locus) on a chromosome and determine variations in a specific trait, such as coat color or pattern in cats.
Agouti Gene (A)
The Agouti gene controls the way pigment is distributed in your cat’s coat, which is also known as banding. There are two types of Agouti alleles — the dominant A allele and the recessive a allele.
Cats who have a dominant Agouti A allele have a tabby pattern, while cats with two recessive a alleles have an all-black coat. Cats with the recessive agouti allele can have other solid coat colors if they have other genes that affect coat color.2
Orange Gene (O)
Orange cat genetics are linked to sex because it’s located in the X chromosome. There are two different alleles within the orange gene: the dominant O allele and the recessive o allele.
The dominant O allele allows cats to produce orange pigment in the fur. Cats with one or two O alleles in their genetics have orange coloration in the fur.3
The recessive o allele prevents cats from having orange pigment. If a cat has two recessive o alleles, they won’t have any orange pigment in their fur.
All male cats have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. The X chromosome is inherited from the mother and determines whether the fur is orange or not. Males that inherit an O allele will have an orange coat while males that inherit an o allele will not. This is why most cats that are pure orange are male and have a tortoise pattern.3
Colorpoint Gene (c)
The colorpoint gene causes cats to have colored “points,” or certain parts of the body that are different colors. This gene is associated with temperature-sensitive pigment production, which causes a lack of pigment in the cooler parts of the body.
On a Siamese cat, color points offer a thermal map on their bodies, with darker hues gracing their ears, face, paws, and tail due to cooler body temperatures, adding a special touch to their appearance.
In order to have colored points, a cat must have two recessive C alleles. A dominant C allele will cause cats to have a full-color coat.4
White Gene (DW) & White Spotting (Ws)
The white gene is a little more complicated than other cat coat pattern genes because there are more variables. There’s the normal allele (N), the dominant white allele (DW), and the white spotting allele (Ws).
Cats with N/N alleles have no white, while cats with N/DW or DW/DW are white and have a higher risk of hearing impairment. N/Ws cats and Ws/Ws spots have white spotting, while DW/Ws cats are white and also have a higher risk of hearing impairment.5
Common Cat Coat Patterns
Solid-colored cats have a coat that’s made up of a single color — there are no stripes or oddly colored spots. This is one of the most common cat coat patterns. Cats who have a solid coat are commonly black, gray, or white.
Tabby cats aren’t the most common, but they’re one of the most sought-after coat patterns. There are several different types of tabby cats with gorgeous coat patterns:
- Classic tabby: The classic tabby cat has an almost marbled look, with beautiful swirls and spots on the body.
- Mackerel tabby: Mackerel tabby cats are sometimes called “tiger cats” because they have solid vertical stripes. The name comes from the similarities between a fish skeleton and the pattern of the stripes.
- Spotted tabby: The spotted tabby cat looks sort of like a mackerel tabby with broken-up stripes. These cats have spots — varying in size and shape — all over their bodies.
- Ticked tabby: Ticked tabby cats almost don’t look like tabby cats, but they have the markings on their face and the agouti hairs that are present in tabby cats.
- Patched tabby: A patched tabby cat has both brown tabby and red tabby patches on the coat. Patched tabbies can have any of the tabby patterns we mentioned above.
Tuxedo cats have black and white coats that sort of resemble a tuxedo, hence their name. These cats usually have a solid black coat with white on the chest, face, and paws.
Tortoiseshell cats feature a mix of two colors in a sort of patchy pattern. Tortoiseshell cats can have different colors in their coats, but they’re usually a combination of black and orange.
Calico cats are similar to tortoiseshell cats, but they have three distinct colors on their coats — black, orange, and white. The large white patches give calico cats a unique look that makes them easy to tell apart from other coat patterns.
A pointed coat pattern means the ears, face, paws, and tail are darker while the rest of the coat is lighter in color. This coat pattern is a result of temperature-sensitive pigmentation that affects warmer areas more than cooler ones.
Cat Breeds With Specific Coat Patterns
The Turkish Van is a large cat that has one of the most unique cat coat patterns. These cats have an all-white body with markings only on the tail and face, which separates them from tabby cats and calicos. The Turkish Van coat pattern can sometimes appear in other cats, and it’s usually referred to as the “van” pattern. These cats often have a small colored spot on their back, which is called the “thumbprint.”
There are actually two distinct coat patterns that Bengal cats can have — a spotted pattern and a marbled pattern. Both patterns are more reminiscent of wildcat coats than domesticated cats, which gives them a unique look that people really love.
Cat Coat Care
No matter what kind of cat you have, proper coat care is a key part of their health. Here are some tips to help you prevent flea bites, dermatitis, and other cat coat and skin problems:
- Regular brushing: Brushing removes loose hair, reduces shedding, and prevents matting.
- Bathing: Bathing keeps your cat’s coat clean, especially if they like to spend time outside.
- Proper nutrition: A balanced diet including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help your cat maintain a smooth, healthy coat.
- Hydration: Cats should drink a certain amount of water each day based on their body weight. Hydration helps prevent skin and coat issues caused by dehydration.
- Flea and parasite control: Using flea and parasite prevention medication like Revolution Plus can help prevent bites, rashes, and infections.
- Regular vet check-ups: Routine vet check-ups help you keep an eye on your cat’s coat, and your vet can even offer coat care tips.
- Manage allergies: If your cat is allergic to certain foods or substances, make sure they’re not consuming those allergens.
Cat Coat Patterns: FAQs
Are coat patterns related to a cat's breed?
Certain coat patterns are related to specific cat breeds, but cat coat patterns and colors have more to do with genetics. Some cats, such as Bengal cats, Turkish vans, and Siamese cats are known for their very distinct color pattern. However, coat patterns can appear in mixed-breed cats depending on the genetics of the parents.
Can coat patterns change over time?
Cat coat patterns usually stay the same as they get older, but you may notice slight changes in terms of the intensity of their coat pattern and colors. Some coat patterns may fade or become more pronounced with age, and cats often have gray or white hairs as they get older.
Do coat patterns affect a cat's behavior or personality?
Coat patterns have no effect on a cat’s behavior or personality — even if it may seem like they do. Several factors determine cat behavior, including the way you interact with your cat. Cat training can help you encourage or discourage certain behavior.
Are some cat coat patterns more prone to shedding than others?
Shedding isn’t determined by coat pattern, but rather by the length of the coat itself. Cats with longer coats typically shed more, while cats with shorter coats don’t. You can reduce shedding by brushing your cat regularly to remove loose hair.
There are so many different types of cat coat patterns, so you can find all sorts of unique cats with beautiful coats. From tabby and tuxedo cats to different breeds like Bengal and Turkish Van cats, coat patterns vary widely.Taking care of your cat’s coat is always important, and Dutch makes it easy. With our online pharmacy, you can get prescriptions delivered to your door to prevent fleas and ticks. You can even video chat with a vet to get personalized advice about your cat. Try Dutch and get expert help that makes it easier to keep your cat healthy.
"Basic Cat Genetics." Governing Council of the Cat Fancy. Jan 2022. https://www.gccfcats.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/BasicCatgenetics.January2022.pdf.
"Agouti." UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/test/agouti-cat/.
Schmidt-Küntzel, Anne, et al. “A Domestic Cat X Chromosome Linkage Map and the Sex-Linked Orange Locus: Mapping of Orange, Multiple Origins and Epistasis over Nonagouti.” Genetics, Genetics Society of America, Apr. 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2666509/.
"Colorpoint Restriction." UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/test/colorpoint-restriction.
"Dominant White & White Spotting." UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/test/dominant-white-cat.