Coats of Many Colors

Once again, I return to one of my favorite topics – cats.

I was inspired to write about cats again by a post that showed a picture of a friend’s new cat, which was all black, except for a few white hairs that appeared on the cat’s chest. I commented, “All black cats are required to have at least ten black hairs somewhere on their body. It’s a rule.” I do believe that, and nobody’s going to convince me otherwise.

Dan a never owned an all-black cat, but we have had one that was what’s called a “tuxedo cat,” all black except for a white bib and, in this case, little white feet and magnificent white whiskers.

As befits a cat wearing a tuxedo, she was very dignified and hated it when anything happened to offend her dignity. You could see that she was appalled.

(By the way, it’s not true that black cats are more likely to suffer human predation around Halloween, despite the rumors. It’s an Urban Legend. Shelters will let you adopt a black cat at any time of year, too. But I digress.)

We have owned black-and-white and gray-and-white cats, a couple of gray tabbies and a couple of orange tabbies, plus assorted calicos and tortoiseshells (calicos are actually a variety of tortoiseshell, with white added to the orange and black). I’m generally the one responsible for inviting the calicos and torties into our home, as I’ve always been attracted to their colors. Dan is partial to the orange-striped cats.

Calicos are particularly interesting because they are almost invariably females. Their tricolored fur is a result of genetics. The calico pattern is determined by two X chromosomes. An XY cat is a male and can’t have two copies of the calico gene required to express those colors of fur. Technically, a male cat can be calico if it has two X chromosomes and a Y, but this is very rare and a male calico is almost always sterile.

Another genetic trick that some cats have is heterochromia, or one eye a different color from the other. (Technically, lots of other animals can have heterochromia, including dogs and humans). We have a cat with one green eye and one gold (a calico), but even more striking are all-white cats that have one blue eye and one of another color.

All-white cats have a greater chance than other cats of being born deaf, but how many are or become deaf varies, partly with eye color. White cats with non-blue eyes have around a 20% chance of deafness. White cats with one blue eye are twice as likely to be deaf, and a white cat with two blue eyes has more than an 80% chance of being deaf. Interestingly, a cat with heterochromia (also called an”odd-eyed” cat) who is deaf in only one ear, is usually deaf on the side with the blue eye.

Another fascinating genetic fact (at least to those of us who are fascinated by this sort of thing) is that orange tabbies are most likely male, by a ratio of about 75%. Tabbies don’t have to be orange, though. There are also gray tabbies with darker gray or black stripes. (We’ve had two of these, and both had tan tummies with spots on them. Don’t ask me why. They’re silly-looking, but kind of endearing. But I digress again.)

There are a couple of different varieties of tabbies. The most common one, called the “mackerel” tabby, has vertical stripes that run from its spine down its sides. The “classic” tabby has thicker horizontal stripes that swirl over the cat’s side parallel to the spine. (I always thought it was the other way around. Goes to show what I know, I guess.) All tabbies have a marking like the letter M on their foreheads.

Nose leather (or rhinarium, as it is technically called) is a thing I didn’t even know was a thing until fairly recently. Apparently, nose leather is a touch-based sense organ, which may be why cats insist on sticking them in our faces. Cats also have “nose prints,” analogous to human fingerprints. The color of a cat’s nose leather doesn’t matter, but some of the various colors are pink, black, gray, and even ones called “red,” “coral,” “liver-colored,” “rose,” and “copper.” (I once had a cat whose nose leather I could only describe as “burnt terra cotta.” But I digress. Again.)

The only cat coat I don’t really care for is no coat at all. I understand that the Sphinx cat is highly prized by many and a breed that is often featured in cat shows. They just look disturbingly naked to me.

More salted caramels, please!

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1 thought on “Coats of Many Colors

  1. I have no liking for the sphynx either. I have an orange tabby and a patched tabby, similar to a tortoiseshell, but it has white paws. Both are beautiful! Of course, the orange tabby Is a male and the patched tabby is a female.

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