This section is primarily intended to answer the question, "What color is my cat?"
It also explains basic color terminology and gives some information about how
the colors and patterns work together. There are many colors and patterns that
are genetically possible in the cat, so this section only covers the colors that you
are most likely to see. There are additional color mutations that are seen only in
certain breeds; these colors are covered in the color genetics section.
Note: Cat fanciers use the term "red" for the color that is commonly called
"orange," "marmalade," or "ginger". We also use the term "blue" for the color
that is commonly called "gray" or "maltese."
If your cat has stripes, it is a "tabby." (Some people call these "tiger cats.") All
tabbies have thin pencil lines on the face, expressive markings around the eyes,
and a tabby "M" on the forehead. If you look up close at the light parts of a
tabby's coat, you will see that the individual hairs are striped with alternating light
and dark bands, like the fur of a rabbit or a squirrel. This banding is called
"agouti." Tabby is thought to be the "wild type" (the original color) of
There are four different tabby patterns:
A "mackerel tabby" has narrow stripes that run in parallel down its sides.
This is what some people refer to as a "tiger."
A "classic tabby" cat has bold, swirling patterns on its sides like marble
cake. This color is called "blotched tabby" in the UK.
A "spotted tabby" has spots all over its sides. Sometimes these are large
spots, sometimes small spots, and sometimes they appear to be broken
A "ticked tabby" (sometimes called "Abyssinian tabby" or "agouti tabby")
does not have stripes or spots on its body. However, like all tabbies, it has
tabby markings on the face and agouti hairs on the body. This is the color
of the Abyssinian cat, but it also appears in non-purebreds and does not
mean the cat is Abyssinian.
Tabbies come in many different colors. You can tell what color a tabby is by
looking at the color of its stripes and its tail tip. The color of the agouti hairs (the
"ground color") may vary tremendously from cat to cat, some cats may have a
washed out gray ground color and others will have rich orange tones.
A "brown tabby" has black stripes on a brownish or grayish ground color.
The black stripes may be coal black, or a little bit brownish.
A "blue tabby" has gray stripes on a grayish or buff ground color. The gray
stripes may be a dark slate gray, or a lighter blue-gray.
A "red tabby" has orange stripes on a cream ground color. The orange
stripes may be dark reddish orange, or light "marmalade" orange.
A "cream tabby" has cream stripes on a pale cream ground color. These
stripes look sand-colored or peach-colored rather than orange.
A "silver tabby" has black stripes on a white ground color. The roots of the
hairs are white. You can also have a blue silver, cream silver, or red silver
tabby (red silver is also known as "cameo tabby") depending on the color
of the stripes. In all cases, silver tabbies have a pale ground color and white
roots. To make sure, part the hairs and look at the roots.
2. Solids and Smokes
If your cat is pretty much the same color all over, it is a "solid." Some people,
especially in the UK, use the word "self" instead of "solid."
A "solid black" is just that: black all over. It may be coal black, grayish
black, or brownish black. Black cats can "rust" in the sunlight, the coat
turning a lighter brownish shade.
A "solid blue" is blue-gray all over. It may be a dark slate gray, a medium
gray, or a pale ash gray. This color is also sometimes called "maltese." This
is the color of the Russian Blue, Chartreux, and Korat, but it can appear in
almost any other breed as well, and is also seen in non-purebreds. Solid
blue does not indicate that a cat is related to any of these breeds.
A "solid white" is white all over. Sometimes white cats have blue eyes,
sometimes they have green or gold eyes, and sometimes one eye is blue
and one eye is green or gold! This last color is called "odd-eyed white."
Most solid colored cats are the result of a recessive gene that suppresses the
tabby pattern. Sometimes the tabby pattern is not totally suppressed, so you
might see indistinct "shadow" tabby markings in certain lights even on a solid
black cat. If you look at a black leopard in a zoo, you might also see these
shadow markings, because the black leopard has a similar spot-suppressing
The tabby-suppressing gene is not effective on red or cream cats, so you won't
see red or cream cats without tabby markings.
Solid white cats are the result of a different gene that suppresses color
completely. Young white cats often have vague smudges of color on the top of
the head where the color is not completely suppressed. Sometimes this persists
even in an older white cat.
If your cat is pretty much solid black or gray, but the roots of the hairs are
distinctly white, it is a "smoke." (It's normal for the roots on a solid cat to be
grayish; true smokes, on the other hand, have definite white roots.) Smokes
are the solid version of silver tabbies. These cats are very dramatic because
when they move, the hair parts and the white undercoat can be seen.
A "black smoke" is a solid black cat with white roots.
A "blue smoke" is a solid blue (gray) cat with white roots.
3. Cats with white markings
Clearly delineated white markings (as opposed to shaded points, like the
Siamese) can appear on any color. Just add "and white" to the cat's basic color
to describe the cat. So for example your cat might be a "black and white" or a
"cream tabby and white."
Cats with white markings might have larger or smaller areas of white. If you
want to describe your cat's color more precisely, there are different names for
the different amounts of white:
A "mitted" cat just has white paws.
A cat with a white spot on its chest has a "locket."
A cat with one or more little white belly spots has "buttons."
A "bi-color" is about half white.
A "harlequin" is mostly white with several large patches of color.
A "van" is almost all white with color patches only on the head and tail.
There are a couple of affectionate, informal terms used for black and white cats:
A "tuxedo cat" is a black and white cat with white paws, chest, and belly. It
might have some white on the face as well.
Some people call black and white cats "jellicle cats" (after T.S.Eliot)
4. Torties, patched tabbies, and calicos
If your cat is randomly patched with different colors, you probably have a tortie,
patched tabby, or calico.
For cats without white markings:
A "tortoiseshell" or "tortie" is randomly patched all over with red, black,
and cream. The patches may be very mingled, or they may be more
A "blue-cream" (also called "blue tortie" or or "dilute tortie") is randomly
patched all over with blue and cream. This is a soft, pastel color.
A "brown patched tabby" looks almost like autumn leaves, with patches of
brown tabby and patches of red tabby. This color is also known as "torbie"
because it is a tabby tortie.
A "blue patched tabby" is a soft color with patches of blue tabby and
patches of cream tabby.
There is special terminology for tortoiseshells with white markings, depending on
how much white they have:
A "tortoiseshell and white" or "blue-cream and white" has only small white
areas. The body has mingled colors.
A "calico" has more white. As a rule, the more white there is on the cat,
the larger and more distinct the red and black patches will be. You'll notice
that the large black patches are solid black, and the large red patches are
actually red tabby.
A "dilute calico" has the same amount of white as a calico, but instead of
red and black patches, it has blue and cream patches. The blue patches are
solid blue, and the cream patches are cream tabby.
A "patched tabby and white" or "torbie and white" may have any amount
of white. A patched tabby with a lot of white, like a calico, has large distinct
patches of color, and is sometimes called a "patterned calico," "calico
tabby," or "caliby."
5. Pointed ("Siamese") pattern
If your cat has dark "points" (face, paws, and tail) shading to a much lighter
color on the body, it is a "pointed" cat. This is the pattern of the Siamese cat,
but many other breeds as well as non-purebreds also come in this pattern, so it
does not mean that the cat is a Siamese. This pattern is also sometimes called
the "colorpoint" pattern (not to be confused with the Colorpoint Shorthair
breed) or the "himalayan" pattern (not to be confused with the Himalayan
Pointed cats are born white and gradually darken with age. A young pointed cat
will have a much lighter body color than an older pointed cat.
Pointed cats can come in many different colors:
A "seal point" has dark brown points and a body color anywhere between
light brown and ivory.
A "blue point" has gray points and a light gray or beige body.
A "lynx point" has tabby points! It might have any of the colors described in
the tabby section. For example, you could have a "blue lynx point" or "red
lynx point." The body color may show some shadow tabby markings,
especially as the cat gets older.
A "tortie point" has tortoiseshell points, and a "blue-cream point" has
blue-cream points. Patched tabby points are also possible.
You can even have a pointed cat with white markings! If the cat has a lot of
white, however, it can be hard to see the pointed pattern (especially on the
feet). White markings will cover up any other color where they appear.
6. Frequently Asked Questions
Are tortoiseshell cats always female?
Tortoiseshell and related colors (blue-cream, patched tabby, calico etc.)
are the result of a sex-linked gene and require two X chromosomes to
appear. Generally speaking, these colors will only appear in females. Very
rarely, these colors may appear in male cats, but these males are
genetically abnormal (they have XXY instead of the normal XY) and are
almost always infertile.
What eye colors are possible?
Eye color is genetically related to coat color.
Pointed cats always have blue eyes.
White cats, and cats with a lot of white markings, can have:
green, gold, or copper eyes
or "odd-eyes" (one blue eye and one green or gold eye)!
Other cats can only have green, gold, or copper eyes, not blue eyes.
The most common eye colors are in the middle of the eye color
spectrum (greenish-yellow to gold). The colors at the ends of the eye
color spectrum (deep green or brilliant copper) are usually seen only
in purebreeds who have been selectively bred for extreme eye color,
but they may sometimes appear in non-purebreeds.
Are white cats always deaf?
No. Some white cats are deaf, and some are not. If a white cat has blue
eyes, it is more likely to be deaf than a white cat with gold or green eyes.
Deaf cats make perfectly good house pets, although they should not be
allowed outside because they can't hear cars coming.