Color-coat genetics is difficult enough to understand without the ambiguities caused by poorly defined color terminology. Cat fanciers often confuse outsiders when they label gray cats as blue, orange cats as red, and pale-brown cats as lilac. The following guide can help cat owners and fanciers to understand the terminology applied to cats’ coat colors.
The Dilution Gene and Coat Color
Cat breeders often refer to the dilution gene, a recessive trait that makes the cat appear lighter in color than its base genetic makeup. Some cat fanciers joke that the dilution gene is the “white paint” of the cat breeding world, because it lightens whatever color the cat would otherwise be inclined toward. For example, an orange (“red”) cat without the dilution gene appears cream in color, while a black cat with the dilution gene appears gray (“blue”). For this reason, in cat fancier terminology, cream cats are sometimes called “dilute reds”, gray cats “dilute blacks”, and so on.
The Solid Gene and Coat Color
Cats who are a solid color, with no tabby markings, are referred to as “solids” in cat fancier lingo, although some breeders refer to them as “selfs”, especially in Britain. The solid gene is a gene that suppresses tabby markings. Instead of being striped, the cat expresses one of the colors that its tabby markings would have displayed. Because the tabby gene is still present in all cats, however, faint “ghost” tabby stripes can be seen even on solid black cats– much in the same way that black panthers still have faint spots.
Markings and Coat Color
The terminology used for defining cats’ colors is used to designate general color, as well as the color of its specific markings. For example, a standard calico cat’s markings are defined as red and black, and a dilute calico is defined as cream and blue. Likewise, patches, blotches, and tabby stripes are defined by the colors of the undercolors as well as the overtones. Cats with point markings (like Siamese cats, colorpoint Persians, and colorpoint shorthairs) are also defined by the color of their points.
Recognized Coat Colors Defined:
Red Coat Color
The professional cat fancier’s term for a cat commonly called orange or ginger is “red”. While there are no truly red cats, it is the standard term used to denote a cat with orange, ginger, or marmalade tabby stripes. All red cats have visible tabby markings because the tabby-suppression gene is ineffective on the red coat.
Cream Coat Color
Red cats who carry the dilution gene appear to be cream or peach in color, and are officially dubbed “dilute reds” or “creams”. They are often buff-colored, sand-colored, or wheat-colored. Although their tabby markings may be somewhat faint, all true cream cats have tabby markings to some degree.
Chocolate Coat Color
These rare beauties and have deep, lush mohagany coats. Chocolate cats are extremely rare because they are seen in only a few gene pools, and require the presence of the solid gene to be true chocolates. Their coats appear brown or chestnut, and they do not have highly visible tabby markings. All brown cats are called “chocolate”–never simply “brown”–in official terminology.
Lilac Coat Color
A lilac cat is a rare and envied gem within cat fanciers’ circles. This is because they must carry three uncommon genes: the chocolate gene, the dilution gene, and the solid gene, to have a true lilac coat color. Lilac cats appear pale brown to lavender, and are seen by some as the holy grail of rare coat colors. Although not all dilute-chocolate cats appear lilac in color, it is the preferred term among cat fanciers.
Black Coat Color
One of the oldest coat colors, melanistic cats carry a gene very similar to the black panther. Like black leopards and black jaguars, the standard markings of the species–tabby stripes in this case–can be faintly seen on most individuals. Standard gray-and-black tabbies are called “black tabbies” or “brown tabbies” by breeder terminology, and cat fanciers dub solid black cats “black solids” or “black selfs”.
Blue Coat Color
Solid gray cats are the same as black selfs, but with the dilution gene. Although they have only very slight bluish undertones (there is, obviously, no such thing as an ultramarine cat) the term blue is the standard and official word used by cat fanciers to denote this shade. They are also rarely referred to as “dilute blacks” or “dilute black solids”.
White Coat Color
Cats who appear fully white in color have a gene that fully suppresses all other coat colors. However, this does not mean that no other color is present in its genetic makeup (this is, in fact, impossible except in albino cats, which are very rare). Cats who are white sometimes have small patches of another color when they are kittens; this is the cat’s true underlying color. Cats are defined as “white” by cat fanciers only if they lack any other colors as adults.
Because cat color genetics is a very complicated subject that encompasses many variations, including silver tabbies, smoke tabbies, tortoiseshells, temperature-sensitive albinos, and true albinos, this list is not all-inclusive, but it does cover the most commonly recognized coat color traits in adult show-quality cats. Cat fanciers turn a fascinating science into an addictive hobby that celebrates one of our planet’s most wonderful creature.
Source Used: Common Cat Colors. Cat Fanciers’ Association. Accessed 24 Dec 08.