Cat Breed Characteristics
Older cat breeds have naturally adapted to their environment and possess certain innate characteristics that were selected for survival. However, many of the newer breeds have different characteristics because they were bred specifically to produce desired traits.
Tabby CatCoat Colors
When cats lived in the wild, their survival depended upon their ability to blend in with their environment.
Whether used for hiding or hunting, the coat was typically a banded pattern like that of a tabby, with few colors outside those of their environment. However, the variation in coat color in domesticated cats is more a result of genetic mutation rather than survival.
Today, there are many variations in a cat’s coat, although all the colors are derived from only two pigments: black and red.
Black was probably the first color mutation, followed by red and white. Tabby stripes became mutated into black and blue colors and black was transformed into orange. The dominant white gene contains no pigment, masking other colors, or combining with them to create a pattern. The white gene is also associated with the deafness found in some blue-eyed white-haired cats.
Some coats are more dense and vibrant in color than others. This occurs because the cat possesses a “density” gene, which means that each hair strand is more densely packed with pigment. “Bi-color” cats have white on their bellies and legs, but with color on their heads and backs. The “Van” pattern is similar but with coloring on the head and tail only.
One of the most striking coats is the tortoiseshell pattern. When combined with white, the tortoiseshell or “tortie” pattern is referred to as “calico,” with the colored hairs occurring in large distinct patches of red and black.
Different coat colors are often assigned to breeds from different parts of the world, and although some breeds are now showing different colors, they are not all accepted by cat associations. A common breeding standard for certain felines requires the color and shape of their lips, nose, and paw pads to correlate with coat color.
Underneath every cat’s coat, even those that appear to be solid colored is the original camouflage pattern of a tabby. All other coat patterns are the result of genetic mutations.
Agouti refers to the fur style of the tabby, which, like other wild animals, is lighter at the base and darker towards the tip. These markings are often more apparent on kittens and gradually fade with maturity.
Shading is the result of the “I,” or inhibitor gene. The I gene permits only the ends of the cat hair to retain pigment, resulting in different coat patterns that are more visible as the cat moves. This is often referred to by cat enthusiasts as “smoke” or “frost,” and is often seen in longhair cats like the Persian.
The unique coat pattern of the Siamese cat is referred to as “pointed.” The coat is light colored with dark areas or “points” on the muzzle, ears, feet, and tail. Strangely enough, the coloring is temperature sensitive: If skin temperature is lower, a special enzyme is activated that darkens coat color.