Cats come in such a beautiful array of colors and patterns! And, each specific breed sports its own unique combinations as well. It’s nearly impossible to define every color-pattern-breed combination but there are some common colors and patterns that appear frequently in purebred and mixed breed cats alike.
According to the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA), all cats’ coats and patterns stem from the dominant colors of either black or red. After that, the “dilutes” (lighter versions of the color that occurs through breeding) are blue and cream.
There are also white cats, which are a bit more complicated when it comes to genetics. White is not actually a color, says the CFA. “The gene that results in a white cat is one that allows a “cover” or “mask” of white to hide the true color of the cat. Many white cats are born with a spot of color on their heads, and that color will indicate the true color of the cat.”
In addition to solid colors, there are quite a few color combinations and patterns with specific names to describe them.
- Bicolor – A cat that is mostly white and usually has patches of color on his head and torso.
- Van – A cat that is almost all white with colored patches on his head and tail.
- Mitted – The mitted cat typically has white on his chin chest, belly and feet.
- Locket – A solid colored cat with a spot of white on the chest.
- Harlequin – A cat with a mostly white coat with several large patches of colors.
- Tuxedo – Tuxedo cats are often mostly black with a white “bib” and paws.
Any solid colors can be combined to create a tabby pattern, which in itself has five types of distinct patterns, according to the Cat Fanciers Association.
- The Mackerel Tabby (sometimes called “tiger cats”) – A tabby with stripes that run from the cat’s spine to his stomach.
- The Classic Tabby – A tabby has a swirl pattern on its side and a “butterfly” pattern across his shoulders.
- The Spotted Tabby –Instead of stripes or swirls, this tabby has spots.
- The Ticked Tabby - Each of the ticked tabby’s hair shafts have both light and dark colors on them. This gives the ticked tabby a mottled but consistent appearance.
- The Patched Tabby – The last type of tabby is the Patched Tabby, which is any of the other tabbies but with areas of red or cream throughout his coat.
And, according to the CFA, all tabbies have a trademark “M” pattern on their forehead!
A tortoiseshell, or “tortie” coat occurs when colors combine in “random color distribution among varying shades of red, black, and cream,” according to Dr. Brenda Griffin of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Griffin describes variations of the tortie markings including:
- Dilute Tortoiseshell – A dilute version of the black and red combination.
- Calico – A red and black tortoiseshell with large white patches and a dilute calico one who is blue and cream with large white patches.
- Torbie - A tortoiseshell with tabby patterns. Torbies are also called “Patched Tabbies.”
According to the CFA, pointed cats have a gene that causes the coolest parts of the cat’s body – the head, tail and paws – to become a darker color than the rest of the body.
Depending on the color or the pattern, Pointed Cats can also be called Color Points, Tortie Points, Lynx Points (striped) or even Torbie Points.