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The Fashionable Feline: Fancy Genes and Unique Coats

Many people understandably assume that a cat's coat is determined by - or interchangeable with - its breed, but like everything pertaining to your favorite regal, furry beast, it's complicated. Remember the Human Genome Project, which brought scientists from around the globe together to map the entire genetic blueprint of the human race? Well, the cat genome sees the human genome and raises it to a new level of weird, fantastic, and just slightly crazy.

A Prince Harryesque Ginger or a Deaf Albino

Unlike basic humans with their lack of genetic intrigue and variety, cat coats do not consist of merely a color, but a pattern as well, which along with other features like hair length are determined by a kaleidoscopic interplay of a number of genes. Like people (but better, obviously), cats inherit their genetic traits from both parents, with a few twists.

Color Coat

color coat
Despite the grand variety of colors and patterns that cats display and how original they'd like us to believe they are, all cat hair comes in two basic colors: red and black. Think of white-haired cats as bottle bleached blondes, except that in this case nature does the bleaching for them, but at heart, every cat is really either a brunette or a ginger. Some just have better highlights and shading than others. Just like blending two colors can create unlimited shades when painting a work of art, so it goes with a cat's coat.

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Not surprisingly, lady cats inherit a significant array of beautiful colors and patterns thanks to the XX chromosome, just like their humans. Since certain traits like coat color are determined by sex-specific genes, lady cats can be both black and red, whereas male cats are stuck with one or the other. So, certain fur palettes, like calico and tortoise, only occur in female cats. However thanks to what is known as a dilute gene, a basic red or black coat can manifest into anything from a classic ginger (orange) to a blue or gray.

Pattern Genes

tabby cat
  • Pointed
  • Shading
  • Bicolor
  • Tricolor
Fun fact: all cats are technically tabbies because they all carry the gene, despite any protestations to the contrary.

Bonus: A cat's tongue is basically a built-in comb, containing special ridges that allow them to groom and style their coat to perfection at will, frizz, and static be damned.

Don't Judge a Cat By Its Coat

Except that people have done exactly that, and here's what they've come up with:
  • Torties and calicos - feisty and sassy as the day is long
  • Shorthairs - reach for the Ritalin
  • Longhairs - will (probably) not sass you that much
  • Gingers (orange) - friendly and fun
  • Tricolors - just don't even
  • White - aloof and just not here for your issues



Have you mapped out your cat's genome down to the last chromosome? Does your cat think she's a Charlotte when she is obviously a Miranda? Did you have to break it to your British Shorthair that he is not, in fact, a member of the Royal Family? Share your feline genetic sleuthing tips and results in the comments section!


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