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Cat Coat Genetics: Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Written by: Brooke Billingsley

Last Updated on April 25, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

orange long haired bi color doll face persian cat

Cat Coat Genetics: Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Have you ever wondered how your cat ended up with the coat color that they did? Maybe you know that your cat had a black parent and a white parent but ended up with a brown tabby. How does this happen? What genetic factors determine the color and type of coat your cat has? What determines what types of markings (or lack thereof) your cat has?

The short and sweet answer to any question surrounding why your cat’s coat is the way that it is due to several genes that your cat inherits. However, it’s much more complex than that because even scientists have some uncertainty about how specific genes act to impact a cat’s coat color, markings, and length. Let’s talk about the science behind cat coat genetics.

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What Determines a Cat’s Coat Color?

Coat color is a sex-linked trait, so the sex of the kitten almost always plays a role in how coat color is determined by the genes.

The genes that code for the  color orange are located on the X chromosome. Since male cats only have one X chromosome, it means that orange male kittens get their coat color genes from their mother. In this instance, the queen’s (female cat) coat color will directly impact an orange male kitten’s coat colors. This is also why orange male cats are often seen as more prominently orange when compared to their female counterparts. In cats, this is the only coat color found exclusively on the X chromosome.

The other colors found on cat coats can be inherited by both parents. The genes that code for these colors are found on all of a kitten’s chromosomes which are inherited by both parents equally.

Examples of Other Coat Colors
  • Black
  • White
  • Cinnamon
  • Chocolate
  • Silver
  • Blue

Please note that while there are a myriad of colors that cats can inherit, purebred cats often have stringent color requirements for show-purposes. If you wish to have a cat entered for such a showcase, you’re strongly advised to work closely with a knowledgeable breeder to check your cat’s ancestry records.

Black tabby Maine Coon with harness
Image Credit: DenisNata, Shutterstock

Can Certain Coat Colors Only Be Male or Female?

For a long time, many people believed that certain coat colors could only be present specifically in male or female cats. The most common coat color associated exclusively with male cats is an orange or orange tabby, while the most common colors associated exclusively with female cats are tortoiseshell, calico, and blue cream. We now know that these colors can be expressed in both males and females, but they do more commonly occur in specific sexes. Calico or tortoiseshell males are often sterile.

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What Determines a Cat’s Coat Markings?

The genes for markings or patterns are inherited from both parents, but some patterns are dominant genes that will usually (but not always) be expressed in each generation. These include tabby, tortoiseshell, and color pointed coats.

If one or both parents have tipped hairs (fully colored only at the tip and have a white base), they can create both pointed and non-pointed offspring. This is because the gene for having tipped hairs is autosomal dominant.

What Determines a Cat’s Coat Length?

A combination of the parents’ genes pertaining to coat length will determine what coat length the kittens have. If both parents are longhair cats, the kittens cannot be shorthair. Shorthair coats come from a dominant gene, while longhair coats come from a recessive gene. Two shorthair parents can create longhair offspring, but it’s statistically highly unlikely (25% chance at best).

a diluted calico cat with collar sitting on cemented path
Image Credit: Raychan, Unsplash

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In Conclusion

The genetics behind cat coats can be extremely complex, and this is not an all-inclusive, deep dive into the genetics. However, this is an overview of how genetics can impact what kind of coat your cat has. There are multiple factors that do impact the coat your cat has, and some of them haven’t been fully understood by science yet. What we do know, though, is that if your cat has a brown tabby coat, then one of their parents might not be the white or black cat you thought they were.

Featured Image Credit: Light Hound Pictures, Shutterstock

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