Cat Coat Colours and Patterns

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

27 June 2018

The world of cat breed coat colours and patterns can be confusing. The combinations are many, (or in the case of the common domestic shorthair or longhair cat, ENDLESS), and the variations that can exist in one breed can be dizzying for the uninitiated. However there is a simple way to understand cat coats and it all starts with just four colours. Let’s dive into all the wonderful colours and patterns your cat’s coat can come in.

Cat Coat Colours

Cat coat colours are a good place to start when describing the beauty of our fur babies. Whether you have a fabulous purebred Persian or an adorable Domestic Shorthair, you'll usually describe your cat’s coat colour before anything else. There are four primary colours that a pet cat’s coat can display:

  • Black
  • Red or Ginger
  • Brown or Chocolate
  • Cinnamon

cat coat primary colours

Primary cat coat colours clockwise from top left: Black Domestic Shorthair, Red/Ginger Domestic Shorthair, Brown/Chocolate Burmese and Cinnamon Oriental Shorthair.

Hang on there hooman, where is the white cat coat colour?! White cats happen when a dominant gene called KIT takes charge. This will cause a cat to have different degrees in white markings or be totally white, also known as epistatic white.

Other or secondary cat coat colours are created when a special gene “dilutes” the original cat coat colour. This can happen through selective cat breeding or natural breeding over time.

  • Blue - a dilution of black coat colour
  • Cream - a dilution of red or ginger coat colour
  • Lilac - a dilution of brown coat colour
  • Fawn - a dilution of cinnamon coat colour

cat coat secondary colours

Secondary cat coat colours clockwise from top left: Blue British Shorthair, Cream Turkish Van Cross, Lilac Selkirk Rex and Fawn Somali.

Almost every cat you meet will have a variation of one of these coat colours. What makes it more interesting is the way your cat’s coat can be delightfully patterned...


Cat Coat Patterns

Let’s move on to cat coat patterns. There are a few different variations of coat and colour patterns and these can be found in many different cat breeds. Think of these as the outline for your cat’s colouring!

  • Solid Coat Colour

This means that the cat displays only one solid coat colour.

  • Bicolour

A bicolour cat coat is always one dominant coat colour plus white markings. A black and white fur baby, also known as a Tuxedo cat, is a great example of this furbulous cat coat pattern.

  • Tricolour

A tricolour coat pattern combines two coat colours (either primary or secondary colours) and white markings.

  • Tortoiseshell

Tortoiseshell kitty cats display a patched combination of red and black coat colours. They can also be “diluted” and display blue and cream coat colours.

cat coat patterns - solid, bicolour, tricolour, tortoiseshell

Cat coat patterns clockwise from top left: Solid Domestic Shorthair, bicolour Domestic Longhair, tricolour Exotic Shorthair and tortoiseshell Domestic Shorthair.

Tabby Cat Coat Patterns

The tabby cat pattern is the most common pattern you’ll find in the cat world. It can actually be broken down into 5 beautiful variations…

  • Mackerel tabby
  • Classic, blotched or marbled tabby
  • Ticked tabby
  • Spotted tabby
  • Patched tabby - also known as a torbie, which is a tortoiseshell cat with tabby stripes.

mackerel, classic, ticked and spotted tabby cat coat patterns

Tabby cat coat patterns clockwise from top left: mackerel tabby, classic. blotched or marbled tabby, ticked tabby and spotted tabby.

Colourpoint Cat Coat Patterns

The colourpoint pattern in cat coats is thanks to something called temperature dependent albinism. Which basically translates to extremities on your cat’s body being a different or darker colour than the rest of your cat’s coat. These points can come in solid, tabby or tortoiseshell patterns. There are 3 types of colourpoint patterns:

  • High contrast colourpoint - most commonly seen in Siamese cats.
  • Mink colourpoint - a middle ground between high contrast and low contrast and most commonly seen in Tonkinese cats.
  • Low contrast colourpoint - most commonly seen in Burmese cats.

colourpoint cat coat patterns

Colourpoint cat coat patterns from left to right: High contrast Siamese, mink Tonkinese and low contrast Burmese.

Cat Hair Patterns

Not only can your cat’s coat be different colours and patterns, their cat hair shaft itself can also have distinct patterns that can change the way they look!

cat hair patterns

  • Tipped

This is when the tip of each guard cat hair is coloured and the base of the hair shaft is near white. Depending on the the cat hair tip colour, this can create a shimmery effect most commonly seen in Chinchilla Persian cats.

  • Shaded

In shaded coat cats, the base of the guard hair is near white and the mid to tip of the hair shaft is a darker pigment. This beautiful cat hair pattern is most commonly seen in golden or silver shades in British Shorthair and Persian cat breeds.

  • Smoked

Smoked cat hair is the darkest of cat hair patterns, with the majority of the cat guard hair shafts being a darker pigment. Cats with smoked coats can often look like they have a solid coat colour at first glance, but parting the top layer of their cat hair will reveal a near-white undercoat.

  • Ticked

The final and most exotic looking cat hair pattern is ticked or agouti. This is when the cat guard hair is made up of alternating bands of colour. This causes your cat’s coat to have an overall shimmery effect, purrfect for camouflage! This lovely cat hair pattern is most common in the Abyssinian cat breed.

Ginger, chocolate, ticked or tabby. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what a cat looks like. As devoted purr-ents we know that cats are the superior pet and deserve the best a fur baby can get. Giving our cats a secure home, frisky fun indoor entertainment and access to the great outdoors in a safe and spacious cat enclosure or cat run is how we show them love. Find out how your tortoiseshell, your lilac or your colourpoint kitty loves you right back here. And, for even MORE feline loving fun, have a peek at 5 things all cat lovers do here.


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