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A bicolor cat: Black and white

A bicolor cat has white fur combined with fur of some other color, for example black or tabby. There are various patterns of bicolor cat. These range from Van pattern (color on the crown of the head and the tail only) through to solid color with a throat locket. The tuxedo pattern is one of many possible bicolor patterns.

Where there is low-to-medium grade white spotting limited to the face, paws, throat and chest of an otherwise black cat, they are known in the United States as a tuxedo cat or Billicat. High grade bicolor results in Van-pattern cats. There are many patterns between, such as "cap-and-saddle", "mask-and-mantle" and "magpie" (more randomly splashed). Bicolors are found in many breeds, as well as being common in domestic longhair cats and domestic shorthair cats.

Black & white

Black and white mother and kittens

Solid color bicolor cats occur because there is a white spotting gene present along with a recessive allele of the agouti gene, which evens out the usual striped pattern of the colors of the coat. In contrast, tabby cats have an agouti gene that produces striping of the coat. The abyssinian has agouti (ticked tabby) fur, giving the appearance of even color with color-banded hairs.

White spotting can also occur with any of the tabby patterns, resulting in tabby-and-white bicolors. Colorpoint (Himalayan pattern) cats can have bicolor points, although this variation is not recognized for showing. The body markings of bicolor colorpoints become clearer with age, as the body fur of colorpoint cats darkens as the cats grow older and the white patches become more visible.

Grades 1 - 10 of bicolor in cats[]

There are 10 identifiable grades of bicolor in cats, plus several patterns with their own names. The cat labelled "bicolor" is the preferred pattern in show-quality bicolor purebred cats.

A low-grade spotting black-and-white bicolor cat is often known as a "tuxedo cat" or a "Billicat". To be considered a tuxedo cat, its black coloring should be solid throughout, with white limited to the paws, belly, chest, throat, face, and possibly the chin: it should appear as if the cat were wearing a tuxedo.

Another type of black-and-white bicolor cat is nicknamed "cow cat" or "moo cat" (for a perceived resemblance to Holstein cattle) and includes the magpie, cap-and-saddle and mask-and-mantle patterns. A cow cat does not have the solid black "jacket" of the tuxedo cat. Instead, it has big black patches over a mostly white body, often with a black mask over the head. Some owners attribute characteristics such as a love of water, big personalities and a playful nature to cow cats.

"Black Mask Cats" are so called because they look like they are wearing a black mask over their head. Likewise, "Kitlers" get their name from a black moustache-like marking over their faces, [1] as shown in the cow-patterned cat to the right.

The Turkish Van (white and red) is one good example of a bicolor breed. Van pattern is known to animal geneticists as the Seychelles (Seychellois) Pattern and is classified into 3 variants: [2]

Genetics Information
Seychellois Neuvieme White with colored tail and head splashes (classic Van Pattern)
Seychellois Huitieme White with colored tail and head splashes plus additional splashes of color on the legs
Seychellois Septieme White with splashes of color on the legs and body in addition to those on the head and the colored tail.

This is high grade white spotting of types 9, 8 and 7 on the bicolor chart above.

Frequency in different breeds[]

Cat Bed

This coloration is not restricted to a specific breed of cat, as it can be found in many different types of pure-breed as well as mixed-breed domestic cats. [3]

However, some breeds of cats are especially noted for having bicolor coats in their breed standards. These include the Turkish Van, American Shorthair, Manx, British Shorthair, Turkish Angora, and Bombay. [4]

In contrast, other common breeds of cat have specific coat patterns specified in their breed standards. These cats are therefore never seen in the bicolor pattern. Cats with such specific coat patterns such as the Russian Blue which has a coat of one solid color.

Genetics of coat patterns[]

Main article: Cat Coat Genetics

The basic colors and patterns of cat fur are defined by fewer than ten genes.[5] Cats with white color in their coats are thought to have a mutant white-spotting gene that prevents the formation of coat color in patches over the cat's body. This gene has been investigated in several species, particularly mice, and is co-dominant to normal coat color as it prevents the migration of melanocytes into the developing hair follicles. [6]

The source of white spotting in cats is known to be on the KIT gene, alongside epistatic (also known as dominant) white.[7]

Three genotypes possible with the Ws (white spotting) gene, with capital Ws standing for a mutated form and lower-case w standing for the wild-type.[5]

  • WsWs (two dominant alleles) results in medium to high grades of white spotting (from a bicolour to a van or even completely white cat)
  • Wsw (one dominant, one recessive allele) results in low to medium white spotting (from sometimes a solid coloured cat with just a few white hairs to a bicolour)
  • ww (two recessive alleles) results in solid color with no white spotting.

The lack of tabby striping in bicolor cats is controlled by the agouti protein, which inhibits the production of melanin and thus prevents the formation of dark hair colors. [8] In agouti cats the gene is turned on and off as the hair grows, producing hairs with alternating stripes yellow and black.

In domestic cats, inactivation of the agouti gene by a deletion mutation causes all-black coat color.[9]

Tuxedo cats[]

A tuxedo cat is a bicolor cat with a white and black coat. They are called, "tuxedo" cats, because the animal appears to be wearing the type of black tie formal wear commonly known in the United States and Canada as a tuxedo. Most tuxedo cats are also black mask cats, a common name for felines who, due to their facial coloration, look as if they are wearing a black mask over their eyes, and often over their entire head. To be considered a true tuxedo cat, the feline's coloring should consist of a solid black coat, with white fur limited to the paws, belly, chest, throat, and often the chin, although many tuxedo cats appear to sport goatees, due to the black coloration of their mandible—that is, the lower jaw and chin. Bicolor may also appear in the skin color. paw pads may be black or pink. Bicoloring of the nose and mouth are also common.

In popular culture[]

In the United Kingdom, the tuxedo cat is sometimes known as the "Jellicle cat", after the fictional tribe of black and white cats described by T. S. Eliot in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which was first published in 1939.[10] In its derivative musical, Cats, the tuxedo cat is exemplified by the character of the magical Mr. Mistoffelees, who is portrayed as a stage magician wearing a lacy ruff and bow tie. The musical differed from the book in that the characters included cats with many different coat colors, rather than just bicolor cats, but it retains the repeated assertion that "Jellicle cats are black and white." Cats with these markings also played a starring role in the drawings illustrating The Unadulterated Cat, a book written by Terry Pratchett, with cartoons by Joliffe Gray.[11]

Other well known cartoon bicolor cats include Felix the Cat, Tom from Tom and Jerry, Figaro and Sylvester. A bicolor cat named Mittens is one of the main characters in the 2008 Disney animated film "Bolt".

See also[]

Main article: Cat


  1. Cats That Look Like Hitler. Retrieved on 2010-02-09.
  2. Seychellois. Fanciers Breeder Referral List. Retrieved on 2007-08-05.
  3. Cat Breed Descriptions. Laura Gilbreath. Retrieved on 2007-08-05.
  4. CFA Breeds. The Cat Fanciers' Association. Retrieved on 2007-08-05.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Coat Colors & Fur Types. Feline Genome project. Retrieved on 2007-08-05. Template:Dead link
  6. Journal / Book Citation
  7. UC Davis page on white spotting and dominant white
  8. Journal / Book Citation
  9. Journal / Book Citation
  10. Journal / Book Citation
  11. Terry Pratchett and Joliffe Gray The Unadulterated Cat Orion; New Ed edition (26 September 2002) ISBN 0-752-85369-4
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