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Cat Colors FAQ: Common Colors
This FAQ covers common cat colors, basic color terminology, and
Copyright © 1994-1999
and David Thomas
A. Common Cat Colors (this file)
If you want to read about which colors are commonly seen in cats, or if you want to know what your cat's color is called, read section A.
B. Cat Color Genetics (separate file)
- Solids and Smokes
- Cats with white markings
- Torties, Patched Tabbies and Calicos
- Pointed ("Siamese") pattern
- Frequently Asked Questions
If you are interested in the genetics of different colors and in what colors are theoretically possible, read section B. Section B is more technical. You may want to read section A first to become familiar with cat color terminology.
This section is primarily intended to answer the question, "What color is
my cat?" It also explains basic color terminology and gives some
information about how the colors and patterns work together. There are
many colors and patterns that are genetically possible in the cat, so this
section only covers the colors that you are most likely to see. There are
additional color mutations that are seen only in certain breeds; these
colors are covered in the color genetics section.
Note: Cat fanciers use the term "red" for the color that is commonly called "orange," "marmalade," or "ginger". We also use the term "blue" for the color that is commonly called "gray" or "maltese."
If your cat has stripes, it is a "tabby." (Some people call these "tiger
cats.") All tabbies have thin pencil lines on the face, expressive
markings around the eyes, and a tabby "M" on the forehead. If you look up
close at the light parts of a tabby's coat, you will see that the
individual hairs are striped with alternating light and dark bands, like
the fur of a rabbit or a squirrel. This banding is called "agouti." Tabby
is thought to be the "wild type" (the original color) of domesticated cats.
There are four different tabby patterns:
Tabbies come in many different colors. You can tell what color a tabby is
by looking at the color of its stripes and its tail tip. The color of the
agouti hairs (the "ground color") may vary tremendously from cat to cat,
some cats may have a washed out gray ground color and others will have rich
- A "mackerel tabby" has narrow stripes that run in parallel down
its sides. This is what some people refer to as a "tiger."
- A "classic tabby" cat has bold, swirling patterns on its sides like
marble cake. This color is called "blotched tabby" in the UK.
- A "spotted tabby" has spots all over its sides. Sometimes these are
large spots, sometimes small spots, and sometimes they appear to
be broken mackerel stripes.
- A "ticked tabby" (sometimes called "Abyssinian tabby" or "agouti
tabby") does not have stripes or spots on its body. However, like
all tabbies, it has tabby markings on the face and agouti hairs on
the body. This is the color of the Abyssinian cat, but it also
appears in non-purebreds and does not mean the cat is Abyssinian.
If your cat is pretty much the same color all over, it is a "solid." Some
people, especially in the UK, use the word "self" instead of "solid."
- A "brown tabby" has black stripes on a brownish or grayish ground color.
The black stripes may be coal black, or a little bit brownish.
- A "blue tabby" has gray stripes on a grayish or buff ground color. The
gray stripes may be a dark slate gray, or a lighter blue-gray.
- A "red tabby" has orange stripes on a cream ground color. The orange
stripes may be dark reddish orange, or light "marmalade" orange.
- A "cream tabby" has cream stripes on a pale cream ground color. These
stripes look sand-colored or peach-colored rather than orange.
- A "silver tabby" has black stripes on a white ground color. The roots
of the hairs are white. You can also have a blue silver, cream
silver, or red silver tabby (red silver is also known as "cameo
tabby") depending on the color of the stripes. In all cases, silver
tabbies have a pale ground color and white roots. To make sure,
part the hairs and look at the roots.
Most solid colored cats are the result of a recessive gene that suppresses
the tabby pattern. Sometimes the tabby pattern is not totally suppressed,
so you might see indistinct "shadow" tabby markings in certain lights even
on a solid black cat. If you look at a black leopard in a zoo, you might
also see these shadow markings, because the black leopard has a similar
- A "solid black" is just that: black all over. It may be coal black,
grayish black, or brownish black. Black cats can "rust" in the
sunlight, the coat turning a lighter brownish shade.
- A "solid blue" is blue-gray all over. It may be a dark slate gray,
a medium gray, or a pale ash gray. This color is also sometimes
called "maltese." This is the color of the Russian Blue,
Chartreux, and Korat, but it can appear in almost any other breed
as well, and is also seen in non-purebreds. Solid blue does not
indicate that a cat is related to any of these breeds.
- A "solid white" is white all over. Sometimes white cats have blue
eyes, sometimes they have green or gold eyes, and sometimes one
eye is blue and one eye is green or gold! This last color is
called "odd-eyed white."
The tabby-suppressing gene is not effective on red or cream cats, so you
won't see red or cream cats without tabby markings.
Solid white cats are the result of a different gene that suppresses color
completely. Young white cats often have vague smudges of color on the
top of the head where the color is not completely suppressed. Sometimes
this persists even in an older white cat.
If your cat is pretty much solid black or gray, but the roots of the hairs
are distinctly white, it is a "smoke." (It's normal for the roots on a
solid cat to be grayish; true smokes, on the other hand, have definite
white roots.) Smokes are the solid version of silver tabbies. These cats
are very dramatic because when they move, the hair parts and the white
undercoat can be seen.
Clearly delineated white markings (as opposed to shaded points, like the
Siamese) can appear on any color. Just add "and white" to the cat's basic
color to describe the cat. So for example your cat might be a "black and
white" or a "cream tabby and white."
- A "black smoke" is a solid black cat with white roots.
- A "blue smoke" is a solid blue (gray) cat with white roots.
Cats with white markings might have larger or smaller areas of white. If
you want to describe your cat's color more precisely, there are different
names for the different amounts of white:
There are a couple of affectionate, informal terms used for black and white
- A "mitted" cat just has white paws.
- A cat with a white spot on its chest has a "locket."
- A cat with one or more little white belly spots has "buttons."
- A "bi-color" is about half white.
- A "harlequin" is mostly white with several large patches of color.
- A "van" is almost all white with color patches only on the head and tail.
If your cat is randomly patched with different colors, you probably have a
tortie, patched tabby, or calico.
- A "tuxedo cat" is a black and white cat with white paws, chest, and
belly. It might have some white on the face as well.
- Some people call black and white cats "jellicle cats" (after T.S.Eliot)
For cats without white markings:
There is special terminology for tortoiseshells with white markings,
depending on how much white they have:
- A "tortoiseshell" or "tortie" is randomly patched all over with red,
black, and cream. The patches may be very mingled, or they may be
- A "blue-cream" (also called "blue tortie" or or "dilute tortie") is
randomly patched all over with blue and cream. This is a soft,
- A "brown patched tabby" looks almost like autumn leaves, with patches
of brown tabby and patches of red tabby. This color is also known
as "torbie" because it is a tabby tortie.
- A "blue patched tabby" is a soft color with patches of blue tabby and
patches of cream tabby.
If your cat has dark "points" (face, paws, and tail) shading to a much
lighter color on the body, it is a "pointed" cat. This is the pattern of
the Siamese cat, but many other breeds as well as non-purebreds also come
in this pattern, so it does not mean that the cat is a Siamese. This
pattern is also sometimes called the "colorpoint" pattern (not to be
confused with the Colorpoint Shorthair breed) or the "himalayan" pattern
(not to be confused with the Himalayan breed).
- A "tortoiseshell and white" or "blue-cream and white" has only small
white areas. The body has mingled colors.
- A "calico" has more white. As a rule, the more white there is on the
cat, the larger and more distinct the red and black patches will be.
You'll notice that the large black patches are solid black, and the
large red patches are actually red tabby.
- A "dilute calico" has the same amount of white as a calico, but instead
of red and black patches, it has blue and cream patches. The blue
patches are solid blue, and the cream patches are cream tabby.
- A "patched tabby and white" or "torbie and white" may have any amount of
white. A patched tabby with a lot of white, like a calico, has large
distinct patches of color, and is sometimes called a "patterned
calico," "calico tabby," or "caliby."
Pointed cats are born white and gradually darken with age. A young pointed cat will have a much lighter body color than an older pointed cat.
Pointed cats can come in many different colors:
You can even have a pointed cat with white markings! If the cat has a lot
of white, however, it can be hard to see the pointed pattern (especially on
the feet). White markings will cover up any other color where they appear.
- A "seal point" has dark brown points and a body color anywhere between
light brown and ivory.
- A "blue point" has gray points and a light gray or beige body.
- A "lynx point" has tabby points! It might have any of the colors
described in the tabby section. For example, you could have a
"blue lynx point" or "red lynx point." The body color may show
some shadow tabby markings, especially as the cat gets older.
- A "tortie point" has tortoiseshell points, and a "blue-cream point" has
blue-cream points. Patched tabby points are also possible.
Are tortoiseshell cats always female?
What eye colors are possible?
Tortoiseshell and related colors (blue-cream, patched tabby, calico etc.)
are the result of a sex-linked gene and require two X chromosomes to
appear. Generally speaking, these colors will only appear in females.
Very rarely, these colors may appear in male cats, but these males are
genetically abnormal (they have XXY instead of the normal XY) and are
almost always infertile.
Are white cats always deaf?
Eye color is genetically related to coat color.
- Pointed cats always have blue eyes.
- White cats, and cats with a lot of white markings, can have:
- blue eyes
- green, gold, or copper eyes
- or "odd-eyes" (one blue eye and one green or gold eye)!
- Other cats can only have green, gold, or copper eyes, not blue eyes.
The most common eye colors are in the middle of the eye color
spectrum (greenish-yellow to gold). The colors at the ends of the
eye color spectrum (deep green or brilliant copper) are usually
seen only in purebreds who have been selectively bred for extreme
eye color, but they may sometimes appear in non-purebreds.
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No. Some white cats are deaf, and some are not. If a white cat has blue
eyes, it is more likely to be deaf than a white cat with gold or green
eyes. Deaf cats make perfectly good house pets, although they should not
be allowed outside because they can't hear cars coming.