Feline genetics are now more clearly understood than in the early days of the cat fancy, and this has enabled breeders to develop programs that are more specifically aimed at producing new colors or patterned forms. Because of the random way in which chromosomes carrying the genes combine, however, there is no guarantee of the color of the kittens resulting from a given mating. Although a number of pure colors are now well established within the cat fancy, the basic underlying coloration of the domestic cat is tabby. Actual coloration results from the presence of color pigments in the hairs, but it is also influenced by light, which may act to dilute the color of the hairs, so that they appear lighter than usual. There are also natural variations of the same color, so that even littermates may differ in the exact depth of their coloration. In particular, some creams may appear much redder than others.
Some of the basic colors of the cat are simply called black, white, cream and silver, but others are more obscure. Blue, for example, refers to any shade of cold-toned gray. Lilac is a very pale warm-toned gray. Brown can refer to any shade of dark brown. Chocolate refers to a rich warm brown. Red refers to all shades of ginger, although the deeper coppery tones are most desired. Tortoiseshell are actually patches of black and red. The name is often shortened to Tortie, or if the cat has white patches, it is called a Tortie-and-White. The diluted version of Tortoiseshell is called Blue-Cream.
Tabby is the oldest and original pattern of the cat. It consists of dark markings, spots or stripes on a pale background. The term covers a range of patterns, including the mackerel-striped, the spotted and blotched pattern, each of which has a set of standards.
In selfcolored cats, the coloration should be solid from the tips to the roots. None of the striping that occurs in tabbies, is visible along the length of the individual hairs of a self-colored cat. Examples of dense self colors are red, chestnut, and black. The cream color is the dilute of red; the blue (which approximates closely to gray) is a dilute form of black; lavender is a dilute od chestnut. The fawn color is the dilute form of cinnamon and resembles pale shades of lilac. The cinnamon color is a form of brown produced by another mutation of the "black" gene.
In tipped colors, the base of the hair is near-white; the middle part is mainly white, and the tip is colored. The extent of the tipping on the guard hairs, and also on the awn hairs in some cases, will have a significant effect on the overall appearance of the coat. In Chinchilla Persians, the lightest of the silver forms, the black tipping creates a sparkling effect.
With shaded colors, the base of the hair is whitish; the middle part is of a darker appearance, and the tip has more pigment. In this case, the undercoat is hardly affected, being largely white; the tipping extends much farther down the length of the guard hairs from their tips, creating a noticeable darker appearance. It is possible to see the lighter undercoat when the cat is moving, or simply by parting the fur to reveal the underlying contrasting color.
This is the darkest form of tipping, most of the guard hair being pigmented. The undercoat still remains lighter, and the contrast is most apparent when the cat walks. The smoke characteristic is now widely distributed. Smoke coloration is variable, and some cats will therefore appear lighter than others. Smoke cats often look plain colored, but when the fur is parted, the undercoat is white, each hair being white at the roots and colored at the ends.
Ticking provides a useful means or camouflage for cats. With the coloration broken into bands along the length of the individual hairs, the cat's coat becomes less visible. Where the tabby markings are solid, there are hairs with no banding, and this creates further contrast in the coat, sometimes known as disruptive coloration.