We’ve all seen plenty of cats in our lifetimes and know that they come in a wide range of colors and patterns. There are many feline breeds, and many of them have distinctive markings and colors that are instantly recognizable. Most cats are black, white, or orange and can be one solid color or any of the three. However, you can also find them sporting other colors, and some are quite rare.
Join us while we discuss the hardest-to-find colors and what factors influence the color. We’ll cover colors, patterns, genetics, and even some history to help you learn more about the rarest patterns and coat colors in cats.
We identify cats by color, pattern, breed, and hair length. For instance, Taylor Swift’s cat Olivia is a white and black tabby Scottish Fold shorthair. This system is a great way to learn everything in one sentence.
Most people don’t realize that all cats are black, with varying amounts of white. The orange cats have inherited a red gene related to sex and only transmitted on the X chromosome. Therefore, male cats with one X and one Y chromosome tend to be either black or red. Female cats have two X chromosomes and can achieve the full calico color of black, white, and orange.
Here are the colors and patterns you may find on your cat’s coat, from the rarest to the most common.
The 13 Rarest Cat Patterns and Colors
1. Albino Cats
The albino cat is the rarest of all coat types. Two recessive alleles in the C gene cause complete albinism, and it is extremely rare for cats to get both. Most cats will get one of the alleles and present the ColorPoint pattern instead. These cats usually have the trademark albino blue eyes and must stay out of the sun to protect them. Their skin can also suffer damage from the sun, especially around the nose and ears.
2. White Cat
The white cat may look like an albino cat, but the color comes from the KIT gene we mentioned earlier. Cats that receive the correct combination of alleles will appear pure white, even if they have other color genes, because this condition blocks the pigment from reaching the skin. These cats do not have the health concerns that albino cats have, and their eyes are the same as other cats.
Though not true albinos, these cats are extremely rare, and you will unlikely see one without contacting a professional breeder.
3. ColorPoint Pattern
Cats with the ColorPoint pattern have mostly white bodies with coloring on the face, ears, paws, and tail. It is temperature-controlled albinism that ceases the production of pigment in areas over a specific temperature. The color present is usually brown or black and is darker in areas where the body is cooler. This pattern is one of the most unusual cat colors and offers more protection from sunlight and allows the pigment to reach sensitive areas like the ears and nose. Because albinism is involved, many of these cats have blue eyes.
Colorpoint is relatively common in the Siamese cat and a few other breeds but quite rare otherwise, even though it can occur in any breed.
4. Silver Pattern
The silver coat pattern describes a condition where only the tip of the hair contains pigment, which gives your cat a smoky or silvery appearance but leaves the stripes and other markings still visible. There are three types of silver patterns based on how much hair is colored.
- Silver-striped means half of the hair is colored.
- Silver shaded means less than half of the hair is colored.
- Silver tipped, also known as chinchilla, means that only the tips are colored.
All silver patterns are rare and can fetch a high price from breeders.
5. Smoke Pattern
The smoke pattern is somewhat like the silver pattern and is a condition that leaves a part of the hair uncolored. In this case, the pattern affects solid-colored cats and leaves the bottom 8th of the strands a white or cream color.
The smoke pattern is almost as rare as silver. However, it’s not as sought after since you can find usually find it for a fair price.
Tortoiseshell is a tricolor pattern that features a mottled or swirled mixture of red and black or any of the diluted colors. There can also be some white in the colors, but the white will be in small amounts without any large areas covered.
While the tortoiseshell is not that rare among female cats, a male cat will require an extra X chromosome to produce this pattern, which makes finding one extremely rare.
The calico features the same colors as a tortoiseshell, but the colors resemble patches instead of a blended or swirled coat. Calico cats also have a large amount of white fur, especially on their underside, which the tortoiseshell does not have.
Like tortoiseshell, only females can create this pattern normally. A male cat born with an extra X chromosome may also produce this pattern in rare cases.
Tuxedo is a bi-color pattern that features an all-black cat with a bit of white on its chest. This pattern can have white paws as well. The overall look resembles a man’s tuxedo. It’s rare to get enough coverage of color with the correct pattern to get the name tuxedo, and most are Vans.
9. Ticked Tabby
Ticked tabby cats do not have stripes. Instead, these cats often have a sandy appearance and may also have bands of colors. Ticked tabbies are the rarest among the common tabby cats, and it can be challenging to find one.
10. Spotted Tabby
The spotted tabby has broken stripes that resemble spots. The spots can be of various sizes, and certain breeds are much more likely to have this type of pattern. The breeds most prone to the spotted tabby coat include the Arabian and Egyptian Mau, Bengal, Maine Coon, and the Serengeti.
11. Classic Tabby
The classic tabby looks marbled or blotched. The cats usually have swirls on their side with three thin stripes down the back. There is often a butterfly pattern on the shoulders as well.
12. Mackerel Tabby
The Mackerel, or fishbone tabby, features vertical stripes on the sides. The pattern can feature unbroken or broken stripes resembling bars or spots. You can often see the telltale M on their forehead that defines this common pattern. The Mackerel tabby pattern is the most common type and is one of the most commonly seen except for Van.
Van is a bi-color pattern that features a mostly white cat with some color on the tail and top of the head. There can also be areas of color about the body, and secondary colors like brown and cream may also be visible. Van is the most common pattern and color scheme.
The Color Genes
Let’s discuss the genes responsible for the colors of your kitten.
The eumelanin pigment is affected by the primary gene for coat color B/b/b1 in all cats. The dominant allele B is responsible for the black color, while the recessive allele b creates a chocolate brown. The other recessive gene, b1, creates a cinnamon color. The intensity of each color depends on other genes, as do the patterns and makings.
Phaeomelanin is affected by the red gene O/o. The dominant allele O is responsible for the red color in cats, while the recessive o result in black fur. The intensity of the colors is affected by other genes, and it is here that sex comes into play. Since cats have only one X chromosome, they can only receive one allele and either be orange or black.
Female cats have two X chromosomes, which results in more options.
- Allele OO – The female cat will have an orange color
- Allele Oo – The female cat will have a tortoiseshell color
- Allele 00 – The female cat will only have black colors
Dense/Dilute Pigment Gene
As the name suggests, this gene, D/d, affects the intensity of the resulting color. If the cat receives a D, DD, or Dd, the color will be deep and vibrant, while a d or dd, the result will be a faded color. A black cat will appear grey, and a red cat will take on a creamy color. It will do the same to the other colors, like chocolate and cinnamon.
The KIT Gene
The KIT gene determines how much white the fur contains, and there are several alleles.
- Birman Gloving Allele
The Birman gloving allele is responsible for the white paws of many cats. It’s a recessive gene, and homozygotes will have white paws. Heterozygotes will have white paws but may also have other white patches.
- Wild Type Allele
The wild-type allele can be W/w and determines whether white is in the coat. If they receive the dominant W, the coat can have white. If they get the recessive allele, it will prevent any white from showing in their fur.
- Dominant White Allele
The dominant white allele blocks melanocytes from reaching the skin, resulting in a pure white cat no matter what other color genes they have. This gene will also cause blue eyes in your cat and deafness.
- Dominant White Spotting Allele
The dominant white spotting allele is like the dominant white allele, but this one only blocks the melanocytes from reaching certain areas of the skin.
The tyrosinase gene has three alleles, C/c/c1, and it affects the tyrosinase enzyme. If your cat receives the C allele, it will receive a full coat of pigmentation, while it will receive one of two forms of albinism: full and temperature-sensitive.
Of all the cats we discussed, the true albino cat is the rarest. These cats will have an all-white coat with blue eyes. The non-albino white cat is the next rarest, followed by other cats with white fur due to albinism, or the gene that prevents color from reaching the skin. These cats include the colorpoint, silver, and smoke patterns. A male tortoiseshell or calico pattern cat would be the next most unusual since this would mean the male has an extra X chromosome. After that, the patterns are pretty common, with some being more prevalent than others.
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Featured Image Credit: loicp90, Pixabay
- 1 Cat Identification
- 2 Cat Colors
- 3 Overview
- 4 The 13 Rarest Cat Patterns and Colors
- 5 The Color Genes
- 6 Summary