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.
In self-colored 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.
- Cream is the dilute of red
- Blue (which approximates closely to gray) is a dilute form of black
- Lavender is a dilute od chestnut
- Fawn is the dilute form of cinnamon and resembles pale shades of lilac
- Cinnamon 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. The smoke coloration is variable, and some cats will, therefore, appear lighter than others.
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.