Cat Coat Colors And Patterns

Cat Colors and Patterns. Learn all about the terms used by the pros to describe cats

As a species, cats manage to be so magnificently gorgeous in a huge variety of coat colors and patterns. Calicos, tabbies, bicolors and colorpints – feeling confused yet?

If you’re wondering about the right names and classifications, you’ve reached the right page.

By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll know what these terms actually mean and be able to show off your new expertise!

Don’t forget to test yourself with the Cat Color & Breed Quiz (we’ll link to this one again in the end of the article, so feel free to just keep on reading now).

Cat Colors and Patterns: Let’s dive right in!

Careful breeding programs and the introduction of new breeds from all over the world have brought about a multitude of coat colors and patterns that adorn modern-day cats.

In order to discuss these differences and varieties, it is necessary to understand the terms used to describe them. Let us first make a distinction between color and pattern.

Cat Coat Patterns

Patterns are combinations of colors in a specific layout.There are six basic varieties : Solid, Tabby, Bicolor, Tortoiseshell, Tricolor, and Colorpoint.

Solid coat pattern in cats


The easiest one to recognize is a coat of one color that is evenly distributed all over the body. Interestingly, when they are very young kittens, some solids may display a few hairs of a secondary color. As the cat matures, the odd hairs disappear and the cat becomes solid colored all over.

If the cat retains any spot of another color on the coat, he is no longer considered a solid. In the UK, solids are known as “self-colored” or “selfs.”

Cat colors and patterns: White cat
Solid white cat

Tabby coat pattern in cats

This is the most common coat pattern in the wild and it has four varieties: Striped (Mackerel), blotched (marbled), spotted, and ticked (agouti).

Tabby cat - one of the common cat coat patterns

There’s so much more to be said about tabby cats! You can read more about the variations of the tabby coat pattern and see them in pictures in the full guide: Tabby Cats.

Bicolor coat patterns in cats

The term bicolor refers to a coat of white and one other color. The other color can be a solid or show a tabby pattern.

The Bicolor pattern is common among mixed-breed cats but it is also acceptable in many breeds.

The term Harlequin is sometimes used to describe a cat with a mostly white coat.

Van is the term for a specific variation, in which the cat is mostly white, with patches of color on the head and tail only.
Cat with Van coat pattern
Cat with Van coat pattern

When a bicolor cat is mostly colored, the patches of white may have names that describe their location: locket (chest), mittens (paws) and buttons (patches on the abdomen). A black cat with white paws, belly and sometimes face, is often referred to as “Tuxedo”.

Tricolor or calico cats

The tricolor pattern comes in white, black and red (orange), or their diluted versions of cream and blue. Basically, the ratio between white and color determines the number and distribution of the patches of the other two colors.
Calico cat coat pattern

Where there is little white, the other two colors will be intermixed – a pattern that can also be referred to as a “tortoiseshell and white.” As the amount of white increases, the patches of red and black become more clearly defined – this patched pattern is known as calico.

You can read more about calico coat and the genetics of these cats in our article: Calico Cats Guide.

Tortoiseshell pattern in cats

A consistent mix of orange and black (or their diluted versions of cream and blue) creates this unique coat pattern. Being a mix of black and orange, this coat pattern (like the tricolor) can be seen almost exclusively in females.

tortoiseshell cat

Tortoiseshell males are rare and probably always sterile. Torties (a favorite abbreviation) can also display an underlying tabby pattern – this is sometimes referred to as “torbie.”

Colorpoint patterns

In this pattern, the face, paws and tail (tips/points) are of a darker color than the rest of the body. This pattern is actually temperature-related – the cooler parts of the body develop a darker color.

Dark chocolate colorpointed cat

The contrast between the points and the main body color can vary, but this is usually one of the most easily recognized coat patterns.

Colorpoint kittens

The points can be in various colors and shades, including dark brown (seal), red (flame), blue, and lilac. In fact, in some breeds, the points can be in a tricolor pattern or in a tabby pattern in any of these colors (tabby colorpoints are sometimes called “lynx”).

Cat Coat Colors

So much for the patterns. Now let’s have a look at the various colors that create them. Remember that most of these colors can be either solid or in a tabby pattern. They can also be part of a bicolor combination. There are often differences between different professional cat associations regarding color definitions and terminology. Different breeds can also have different terms for similar colors.

White – This is the only color that is always solid without any underlying tabby markings. There are several genetic varieties of white, some of which create an all-over solid white cat, others bicolor or tricolor cats. One genetic variety of solid white can sometimes cause deafness; however, not all white cats are deaf (just as not all deaf cats are necessarily white).

Black – Although true solid black is often desired in breeding programs, black cats sometimes have underlying tabby markings. When exposed to sunshine, some black coats develop a rusty tinge. In the colorpoint pattern, the black gene is manifested as dark brown and is referred to as seal-point.

Red – Red is the professional term for the coat color otherwise known as orange or ginger. The gene for red color is sex- linked, which is why red cats are usually males. This color is strongly connected with the tabby pattern, so a true solid red is very hard to achieve. In the colorpoint pattern, red is often referred to as flame-point.

Blue – The blue color is a dilute version of black and is in fact deep bluish-gray. Some breeds are more associated with this color, but it can be seen in many breeds or with mixed-breed cats.

Blue cat

Cream – The cream color is a dilute version of the red. In combination with the blue, it can create dilute calicos and tortoiseshells.

Brown – Solid brown cats are not very common. The breed associated with this color is the Havana Brown. In some breeds, brown variations are also called chocolate. Lavender/Lilac – Lilac or Lavender are interchangeable names for a shade of light gray-brown with pink overtones. Some associations and breed clubs use one while others use the other. In the colorpoint pattern, lilac is referred to as frost- point.

Cinnamon – A variety of solid light brown with distinct red overtones. Fawn – A dilute version of cinnamon.

Special Effects

Some cats’ coats present quite spectacular “special effects,” achieved by a change from light color to dark color along the shaft of each hair. The lighter shade is usually white or cream and the darker can be of various colors. These can come in one of three versions:

Tipped – only the tips of the hair are dark. This gives the effect of the Chinchilla coat, where the cat appears almost white, with an all over silvery shimmer. This is sometimes referred to as “Shell.”

Shaded – Roughly half of the hair is light and half is dark.

Smoked – Most of the hair is dark, with a light undercoat that shows through as the cat is moving.

What are the most common cat colors and patterns

With such a wide array of coat colors in cats, you may wonder which is the most common. Technically all cats are colored with a variation of black, red, or white.

Since there are so many different colors, patterns and shades made created by these colors, it is hard to pinpoint which one is most common. There are no overall Kitty Census listing all cats in the world in a single database, so the exact actual numbers are anyone’s guess.

A while ago, we looked for data regarding black cats in shelters. The only organization that tracked cats by color and could help us out was the RSPCA in Britain. According to their data, most of the cats that end up in shelters are actually black and white kitties, followed closely by black cats. Tabbies are in third place with about half as many cats as black ones.

What are some of the most rare cat colors?

Some breeders of cats strive towards creating unique coat colors and patterns. As described above, Smoked cats have fur strands that are darker at the tips and lighter at the base. This color effect makes the cat appear hazy as the lighter undercoat is seen when the cat is in motion. When half of the hair shaft is dark and the other light – the cat is considered “shaded”.

On the opposite spectrum, a cat with lighter tips and darker shafts is considered chinchilla in color.

Here’s a sweet cat color:

Chocolate colored cats are usually pedigree species such as the Havana Brown or Persian varieties. These cats have black color genes that were genetically mutated to achieve the chocolate hue.

Cat coat length

The length of the cat’s hair and its shape can affect how colors and patterns look. Some coat effects can show up best – or even only – in longhair cats.

Cat fur length varies tremendously, from completely hairless to several inches of fur that requires constant grooming. Cat fur length however is broken down as either short-hair or long-hair.

According to some experts, a quick look at the area between the toes is an indicative measure to determine whether a cat is short or long-hair. If fur is seen protruding from between the toes, the cat is most likely of a long-haired type. Short-hairs have uniform fur length in this area, without any visible patches growing.

Persians, Ragdolls, and Maine Coons are all long-haired cats. Cats with fur length over an inch and a half upwards to over five inches belong to this category. These cats require frequent grooming as failure to keep fur combed and brushed can easily lead to matted and snarled portions.

Domestic Short-haired cats have strands of fur shorter than an inch and a half in length. These cats do not require a lot of grooming as their fur is short enough for them to maintain it well themselves. This is the most common type of cat, in both domestic and purebred varieties. Some short-hair types include the Manx, Savannah, and Burmese.

What about bald cats?

Bambinos, Sphynxes, and Peterbalds are all cats that are considered “bald”. They are actually a variation of short-haired cats as they have a very fine coat of barely visible fur on their bodies. The lack of thicker fur allows all their skin’s wrinkles, lumps, and bumps to show.

Bald cats come in the same variety of cat colors and patterns. They can be black, white, blue, calico, bi-colors, tabby or even colorpointed. The difference is that the overall pink skin tone is mixed into the cat’s “coat” color, creating a very unique look. This is why white sphynx cats usually look pink.

These cats require frequent grooming since they do not have the benefit of thick fur to soak up oils that form on the skin naturally. In addition, the lack of fur puts them at risk for extreme temperature exposure, making them feel very cold during freezing times of the year. When warmer temperatures arise, these bald cats need protection against sunburn since their skin is not covered.

And some cats actually have curls!

Some cats have strands of fur that twist and curl. They are missing one of the three genes present in a standard strand of fur, giving them a curious appearance. While their fur may seem unruly, they don’t shed all that much. In addition, curly varieties like the Selkirk Rex, Devon Rex, Cornish Rex, and LaPerm often have whiskers that curl as well.

Curly cats come in all patterns and coat colors, including colorpoints. The exact “allowed” look varies by breed.

Want to learn more about cat colors and patterns?

First, as promised, here’s the link to the Cat Colors quiz –
The Cat Color & Breed Quiz

And a few more resources here on the site that we think you’ll enjoy reading next –
Black Cat Facts And Myths
Tabby Cats
Calico Cats Guide (including A Quiz!)


Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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33 comments on “Cat Coat Colors And Patterns

Furballsmom May 30, 2019
Shinobi's playmate said:
Not sure if anyone can help but I have a 5 month old male kitten who was left under a bush in front of my house when he was 7 weeks old. We decided to keep him. He was in excellent condition, no dirt, no fleas, not dehydrated or malnutished. He was solid black. Several weeks later he started getting white hairs in what I will call a bikini line. He has like 6 on his chest and about 20 under his "armpits". And an occasional single white hair here and there. As I said, he's now 5 months and his once solid black paw pads are changing color? I also have now seen his hair on his belly right above the white bikini line, has turned a brownish color. He's long slender, v face, slanted almond eyes, hind legs longer than front, ears barely have any hair and hes shiny/silky. And he likes to sit on our shoulders, lol. Is that a normal cat thing? I'm trying to figure out what kind he might be but am concerned about the paw pads changing color. Everything I've read says black cats have black pads? You can see in the 3rd pic that his pad is maybe more like a brownish pink color instead of the all black it was. Anyone have any insight on this? Thanks
Hi! If you would like to get more responses or have more questions, please feel free to post in this Site forum: Describing Cats - What Does My Cat Look Like?
Furballsmom May 30, 2019
Terri0777 said:
I was wondering what breed my new kitty is.
Hi! If you would like to get more responses or have more questions, please feel free to post in this Site forum: Describing Cats - What Does My Cat Look Like?
    Ryan Lecky February 9, 2020
    Tabby cat. She has an M on her forehead.
Furballsmom May 30, 2019
Timmyj4756 said:
 can anyone help me out in determining what breed my new kitten is ive never seen a color like hers before on a cat, she is a chocolate broen color
Hi! If you would like to get more responses or have more questions, please feel free to post in this Site forum: Describing Cats - What Does My Cat Look Like?
Timmyj4756 March 8, 2019
 can anyone help me out in determining what breed my new kitten is ive never seen a color like hers before on a cat, she is a chocolate broen color
Terri0777 February 4, 2019
I was wondering what breed my new kitty is.
Shinobi's playmate January 8, 2019
Not sure if anyone can help but I have a 5 month old male kitten who was left under a bush in front of my house when he was 7 weeks old. We decided to keep him. He was in excellent condition, no dirt, no fleas, not dehydrated or malnutished. He was solid black. Several weeks later he started getting white hairs in what I will call a bikini line. He has like 6 on his chest and about 20 under his "armpits". And an occasional single white hair here and there. As I said, he's now 5 months and his once solid black paw pads are changing color? I also have now seen his hair on his belly right above the white bikini line, has turned a brownish color. He's long slender, v face, slanted almond eyes, hind legs longer than front, ears barely have any hair and hes shiny/silky. And he likes to sit on our shoulders, lol. Is that a normal cat thing? I'm trying to figure out what kind he might be but am concerned about the paw pads changing color. Everything I've read says black cats have black pads? You can see in the 3rd pic that his pad is maybe more like a brownish pink color instead of the all black it was. Anyone have any insight on this? Thanks
Bully07 October 15, 2018
  Hello, my apologies this probably isn't the proper place to ask but I keep getting told my kitten Zoe has rare colours and I was hoping someone could tell me more as to why they are special. Zoe is my first cat and im not very knowledgeable I've looked online but cannot find any other cats that remotely look like her any info would be much appreciated.
    Kim Weston January 11, 2020
    I do hope someone has replied to you You have a very beautiful tortoise shell cat which is mix of all the colour genes that the mom Carries so feel lucky she’s a stunner
    Anita February 20, 2020
    She appears to be a calico with marble coat pattern. She is really a pretty cat.
Frankophile Feline Fan September 7, 2018
My black smoke has a single white hair between her shoulder blades - BAM! Not a solid lol Also, you can see a seal point pattern on her face and legs. There's no evidence of tabby.
furmonster mom September 2, 2018
So... according to this article, spotted cats (Ocicat, Savannah, Bengal, etc.,) fall under "Tabby"? That seems... odd.
Phyllisneace31 June 23, 2018
 if anyone could help i got Big Worm over a yr ago i paid 25 dollars not much but the ppl said she was half blue russian either way idc but i would still love to known and learn
    Kim Weston January 11, 2020
    She’s a very beautiful Russian blue mix with her chiselled features and large ears. 😻
Phyllisneace31 June 23, 2018
I been trying to figure out the breed of my cat
Sashawr2242 March 27, 2018
Hey there I have been trying to figure out what bread my cat is for months now, any help would be much appreciated! thanks!:)
Mag123 March 5, 2018
Nice article
spazcat65 April 8, 2017
I do love the article though, lots of great information!
spazcat65 April 8, 2017
The 'underlying tabby markings' on a black cat are called ghost stripes and is caused by a white undercoat. (my cat has those)
ferretbabe October 5, 2016
I have a Torti and a Calico they are both completely different natures, not related as far as I know but Toffee the Calico had a lovely ginger tabby patch on her head and black and ginger designes on her back
Sa'ida Maryam September 5, 2016
The info bout cats' color, and details is nice to know.
posiepurrs July 31, 2016
This silver photo is MUCH better! Thank you for changing it to the correct coloring.
zandi July 31, 2016
This was a great article.
peterbald love August 7, 2015
Kiki is a mackerel tabby!!!
hearingmomo March 3, 2015
I have a cat whose hair is tricolored, on a single hair the tip can be dark red, the middle cream, and the base white.  What makes their hair change like that?
posiepurrs February 16, 2015
Your photo in the silver section is a silver tabby not a shaded silver or chinchilla silver. A true silver should not have any tabby markings, which this cat clearly has.
cyndilaupurrr February 13, 2015
Really good blog but still not sure how to describe Cyndi  I think from reading this will just say a Silver Gray Torbie
leopordnose1 October 31, 2014
amazing!!!
caralian September 9, 2014
Great article! Now I know that I have a striped tabby and a blotched tabby. :)
pamela derouen May 26, 2014
I just love this SITE.. So much info here!
cute cats May 24, 2014
WOW!!!! now i know 100% more about cats yeah i love learning more and more YES oh and thanks
StefanZ May 21, 2014
Blotched / marbled tabby, is also known as Classic tabby.
taty caty May 9, 2014
Great article!

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