Guide to Cat Colors

This article discusses very basic elements pelt pigments, which is useful for having some general knowledge on the different colors of fur on cats. I’ve decided not to get into genetics, to keep this simple. It explains the colors of feline pelts as well as the patterns found – the differences between calicos, torbies and torties, and the four different types of tabbies.

Only four basic colors in cat fur exist – black, chocolate, cinnamon and red – and all other colors are variations of those. White is not actually a color, but like in terms of light, it is the lack of color. It and its variations will be treated as a color in this article though, since cats do come in white. Obviously black is black (also called ebony), chocolate is the brown, red is an orange and cinnamon is a lighter, warmer brown color. The names of each color can vary from breed to breed.


magnified hair displays the dilution

RED PIGMENT

Ginger cats are also referred to as red, sorrel, orange or marmalade, and there is also a division to very dark ginger called ruddy. They can be solid, patched or tabby, and the gene also appears in calico and tortie cats and patches and spots. Solid and tabby gingers have a high ratio of male cats then female cats, and the variation of a cream color is a diluted version of red. All the variations of gingers come from the original red pigment.

BLACK PIGMENT

Black is obviously a common color for cats and appears in a tortie and calico patterns as well. Gray cats are all referred to as blue in breeding, but there are some shades of blue that are more true to the blue color we know. They come from a mixture of black and cream, being the diluted form of a normal black. The color of a hair under a microscope is not a solid gray color, but a patchy gray/cream.

CHOCOLATE PIGMENT

Chocolate cats are the brown cats, and the diluted form is a lighter, sometimes pink-tinted colour called lilac. Chocolate is probably the most recognizable shade of colour, and makes a common appearance in tortie, calico, and tabby pelt patterns.
CINNAMON PIGMENT

Similar to the red and chocolate shades, cinnamon is a sort of red-brown color much like of a cinnamon stick. It’s diluted color is a fawn or sorrel color, and the color appears as mixture of the diluted versions of red and chocolate (cream and lilac, respectively).

WHITE PIGMENT

White cats are the fur that lacks color, and have several unique attributes. White cats have many variations of eye colors, and can have gold, green, or blue, and are the most common recipients of heterochromia, a condition resulting in different colored eyes; which may include a combination of blue, green, orange or yellow. Blue eyed cats with white fur have a high likelihood of being deaf.

DILUTION CHART

This chart outlines the first 15 basic colors which come about through ORIGINAL COLORS, DILUTES and the further dilution with the DILUTE MODIFIERS. These modifiers are pale and create lighter colors in the pigment they dilute. There are other types of modifiers, but these only appear in specific breeds.

 

color DILUTED DILUTE MODIFIER
white n/a n/a
black blue caramel
chocolate lavender taupe
cinnamon fawn fawn-based caramel
red cream apricot
amber light amber n/a

 

black, blue, chocolate, lilac, cinnamon, fawn, red, cream

SIMPLE COLORS

This list is a quick-glance list of colors that cats come in.

ALBINO white
AMBER Begins black, turns to bright apricot and cinnamon
APRICOT Pink-brown or bright cream with a shine
BEIGE Fawn
BLACK Ebony; jet black
BLUE Blue-gray
BROWN Chocolate
CARAMEL Cool toned bluish fawn: cool pale brown.
CHAMPAGNE Chocolate in certain breeds.
CHESTNUT Medium-dark brown
CHOCOLATE Medium-dark brown
CINNAMON Milk-chocolate reddish color.
CREAM Pale creamy color, dilute of red
EBONY Black
FAWN Bright cream, light lilac
LIGHT AMBER Born blue, brightens to pink-beige or fawn
FROST Lilac/lavender
GOLD Cinnamon
HONEY Chocolate
INDIGO Dark blue-gray
LAVENDER Pale gray, may be pink tinted
LILAC Lavender
LIGHT BROWN Cinnamon
LIGHT CHOCOLATE Milky chocolate
LIGHT LILAC Bright cream, light lavender
PEACH Pink-brown
PLATINUM Lilac
RED Rich ginger
RUDDY Very dark rusty black/red/brown
SABLE Dark brown or black
SEAL Dark brown or black
SORREL Cinnamon
TAUPE Lighter lilac
TAWNY Black
WHITE White

TABBY / BLOTCHED PATTERN

Tabby banding is thought to be the original, wild pattern of domesticated coats. They often have multi-colored or bi-colored pelts with many bands and “pencil lines”. The most common colors are mixtures of brown, which are common among feral cats and are natural camouflage. The pelt pattern is made more complex with “agouti” hairs, which are multiple stripes colors on each individual hair. There are four types of tabby cats, and they come in many different colors, being a generic pattern.

MACKEREL TABBY: Narrow stripes running parallel down the sides, a fish bone pattern, sometimes referred to as tiger cats.

CLASSIC TABBY: Most common tabby with darker swirling patterns over a lighter base coat comparable to a marble cake. Referred to as BLOTCHED TABBY in the UK.

SPOTTED TABBY: Tabby with various sized spots and loops, which can often appear as broken mackerel stripes.

TICKED TABBY: This tabby is not especially identifiable because it does not have stripes or spots on most of it’s body. It does have tabby markings on the face and has agouti hairs; striping on the individual hairs of the pelt, resulting in the appearance of darker “tick” marks.

 

SOLID / SELF PATTERN

Solid colors are fairly simple as far as cat coloring — they are one solid color, and have no agouti hairs, each hair is one color. This pattern (or lack there of) is referred to as solid, or in the UK as self. Solid pelts are caused by a recessive gene that suppresses tabby markings that would otherwise be there.

BLACK solids have black hair all over. There are some variations of black; coal or ebony black, a lighter black is a very smoky black and the third variation is a very dark brownish black. In sunlight black coats can go through “rusting” which turn them a lighter brown, similar to the ruddy coloring.

BLUE solids are a blue-gray color, commonly known as maltese. The also vary somewhat in shades from a dark slate to a pale ash, and a color that has a strong blue pigment in the gray fur.

WHITE solids are completely lacking in pigments, and have interestingly varied eye colors. Solid white cats are the most common cats to hae blue eyes, but can also have gold and green eyes. They also are the most common recipients of heterochromia, a condition resulting in different colored eyes; which may include a combination of blue, green, orange or yellow.

SMOKE PATTERN

Similar to solid patterning, the roots of the cat’s fur is white, and is called a smoke (it’s important for the roots to be white, gray is still considered solid). They are especially known for creating a “silver” color, and depending on the hair length the white roots can be seen beneath the top color.

 

PATCHED PATTERN

A bi-color patterned cat is one with two colors making patches or a spot, in contrast to the fading point patterns. One darker color over a white base is the most common bi-color, sometimes with ginger patches (much like the coloration of Brightheart in warriors) or black on white (Barley is warriors, as well as many others like Ravenpaw or Tallstar). A bi-color on white has many distinctive names for the patterns and amounts of white . . .

A MITTED cat has white paws.

A LOCKET shape is a white spot on the chest. (Ravenpaw has a locket).

A BUTTON shape is a white belly spot.

A BI-COLOR is nearly half white.

A HARLEQUIN is mostly white and has large patches of color.

A VAN pattered cat has small color patches on the head and tail.

A TUXEDO is a distinctive pattern with white paws, chest, belly and a black black and legs.

 

CALICO / TORTOISESHELL PATTERN

Calico cats, or tortoiseshell in the UK (the terms are both used in the US, but calico is usual in the UK) are a distinctive type of patched pattern. The most common tortoiseshell pattern for cats without white markings is a tortie patched with red, black and cream, the patches can be large and distinctive or dappled and varied.

The first with more distinctive patches is more commonly referred to as a calico in the US, while a tortoiseshell term is reserved for brindled cats and is also sometimes called calimanco. The second, less common pattern is a blue-cream tortie (blue tortie, dilute tortie) and is a patched blue and cream (the colors are less distinctive then normal tortie, and often appear as a pale color like a dappled gray on white and pale gray, sometimes including pale orange). A torbie is a calico with tabby stripes and can be both the diluted variety or regular. They often have white patches.

When a pelt has white fur included the terms can change. A “Tortoiseshell and white” pattern is a tortie (usually the mottled coat mentioned above) has a small amount of white and the spots and colors are closely mingled. A calico has more white, and the more white the more distinctive the colored patches become, and less dappled like the tortie. A calico is a tortoiseshell, but not all torties are calicos (because they do not have enough white).