The Mysterious Rarity of White Cats


White cats are felines that have a predominantly white coat. Unlike some other animals, a completely white coat is very rare in domestic cats. Most cats, even those referred to as “white cats”, will have some small patches of color on their body. True white coats without any other color are quite uncommon in the feline population.

The purpose of this article is to explore why white cat coats are so rare compared to other coat colors. We’ll look at the genetics behind white fur, statistics on the percentage of white cats, white cat breeds, health considerations, and more. By the end, you’ll understand why these striking snowy felines stand out.

Genetics of Coat Color

A cat’s coat color is determined by genetics. Several genes are involved in producing white coats in cats.

The dense color gene (D/d) controls whether a cat’s hair will be completely white or have some color. The dominant D allele results in full color while the recessive d allele dilutes the coat color. Two recessive d alleles (dd) remove most or all of the coat color, resulting in a white coat.

The white spotting gene (S/s) controls the distribution of color across the body. The dominant S allele produces solid color while the recessive s allele results in white spotting or patches. Two recessive s alleles (ss) cause almost complete white coat color.

The albino gene (C/c) inhibits pigment production completely when two recessive alleles (cc) are present, resulting in a white coat. This type of white is associated with blue eyes, pink skin/nose/paw pads, and deafness.

So in summary, genetics involving the dense color, white spotting, and albino genes are responsible for producing white coat color in cats 1.

Exact Percentage of White Cats

White cats make up a small percentage of the overall cat population. According to surveys from veterinarians and breeders, only around 5% of cats are completely white. Some sources estimate the percentage to be even lower, at around 2-3%. This rarity is due to the genetics behind white fur color.

The white coat gene masks the expression of other coat colors. For a cat to be completely white, it must inherit two copies of the white masking gene, one from each parent. If a cat inherits only one copy, it will express other coat colors like black, orange, or tabby. Since both parents must carry the white gene for a white kitten to be born, the odds are stacked against white coats emerging in the general cat population.

While the majority of cats sport more common colors like black, brown, orange, and mixed tabby patterns, white coats stand out due to their comparative rarity. Careful breeding is required to produce litters with multiple white kittens. The uniqueness of their bright white fur makes these cats eye-catching and desirable to many pet owners and breeders.

Why White Coats are Uncommon

White coats are uncommon in cats for a few key reasons. One theory has to do with protective coloration. Cats with coloring, tabby stripes, spots, etc. blend into their surroundings better and are less visible to predators. White coats stand out, which could make them more vulnerable in the wild.

Another factor is that until recent decades, white cats were often euthanized at birth. There was a cultural bias against white cats, seeing them as less desirable. This reduced their numbers significantly.

There are also theories around reproductive success. Some research indicates white male cats may have lower fertility rates compared to colored cats. So white coats were passed down less often. The genetics around the white coloration are not fully understood.[1]

Overall, the rarity of white coats stems from a mix of survival disadvantages, cultural biases, and reproductive factors. But today, white cats are prized for their beautiful and striking appearance.

Breeds with White Coats

Although white cats can occur in many different breeds, some breeds are known for having all-white coats or a high percentage of white-coated individuals. Some of the most popular cat breeds that frequently have white coats include:

Turkish Van – This ancient cat breed originating from Turkey often has a distinctive white coat with color restricted to the head and tail. They are known for their love of water.

Turkish Angora – Elegant, long-haired cats that come in many colors including all-white. Their silky coats give them a shimmery appearance.

Persian – The quintessential long-haired cat breed often appears in a pure white coat. Their round faces and fluffy fur are hallmarks of the breed.

Ragdoll – A pointed breed meaning they have darker color on the face, ears, legs and tail. But the body is a bright white. They are known for being relaxed and cuddly.

Cornish Rex – This curly coated cat can be found with a sleek short white coat. Their big ears and egg-shaped heads give them a unique look.

Sphynx – Although hairless, this breed’s skin can be pure white. Don’t let their wrinkled appearance fool you, they are energetic and mischievous.

White Cat Health

White cats can be predisposed to certain health conditions, especially related to their lack of pigment and sensitivity to sunlight. One of the most common issues affecting white cats is deafness, with studies showing that around 65-85% of white cats with blue eyes are deaf in one or both ears. The lack of pigment cells in the inner ear is believed to contribute to this high rate of deafness.

Another health concern for white cats is sunburn and skin cancer. Without protective pigment in their skin, white cats are at a higher risk of developing sunburns, skin irritation, and melanoma when overexposed to UV light from the sun. Care should be taken to limit their time outdoors during peak sun hours. Their sensitive skin may also be prone to irritation and conditions like dermatitis.

White cats can also potentially suffer from vision issues over time due to UV damage to their retina and eyes from excessive sun exposure. So proper shade and eye protection is important for their long-term eye health.

With extra care taken to protect their skin and eyes from the sun, and early screening for deafness, white cats can live long and healthy lives. But their lack of pigment does require vigilant monitoring and preventative measures from their owners.

Care for White Cats

White cats require some special care and considerations from their owners due to their light coloring. One of the most important aspects of caring for a white cat is protecting them from the sun. As the Rover article explains, white cats are prone to sunburn on their ears and nose. To prevent this, keep cats indoors during peak sun hours between 10am-4pm. When going outside, apply pet-safe sunscreen to vulnerable areas 30 minutes before sun exposure. Provide shade and limit direct sunlight.

Frequent grooming and bathing is also important for white cats. Comb and brush regularly to remove dead hair and prevent matting, as advised by CatBandit. Bathe as needed with a gentle, pet-safe shampoo. Bathing helps keep the white coat clean and bright. Check for fleas and parasites during grooming.

In addition to sun protection and grooming, AnimalWised recommends providing a balanced diet and regular vet checkups. Monitor white cats closely for any changes or issues. Be prepared to clean stains from the light fur. Overall, white cats can thrive with attentive owners providing proper preventative care and grooming.

History and Folklore

White cats have a long and interesting history laden with mythology and folklore. In ancient Egypt, white cats were considered sacred and revered. The goddess Bastet was often depicted as a white cat, and cats were associated with the moon and fertility [1][2]. Killing a white cat in Egypt was punishable by death. White cats were mummified after dying and buried alongside pharaohs in sacred tombs.

In other parts of the world like China and Japan, white cats were believed to bring good luck, fortune and prosperity. This is why the Maneki Neko figurine, depicting a white beckoning cat, became a popular symbol in Asian cultures [3]. Originating some time around 1870, these figurines are placed near the entrances of homes and businesses to bring in good luck.

Sailors once believed that seeing a white cat before embarking on a ship was a sign of safe travels ahead. But spotting a black cat was considered an omen of rough waters or even shipwreck. This folklore led to white cats becoming associated with safety and good fortune.

While black cats are typically associated with witches, spells and the supernatural, white cats have their own links to magic and the mystical world. Their bright coats allow them to be more visible at night, giving rise to beliefs that white cats could see and travel between spiritual realms.

Throughout history and in different cultures, white cats have taken on symbolic meaning related to the afterlife, the moon, purity, and good luck. Their mystical allure lives on even today.


Famous White Cats

White cats have captured our hearts and imaginations in movies, cartoons, books, and real life. Here are some of the most famous white cat characters and pets:

In the 1994 animated movie The Lion King, Simba’s best friend Nala is a playful white lion cub.

Marie from the 1970 Disney classic The Aristocats is a flirty white kitten. Marie and her aristocratic family end up lost in Paris until they find their way back home.

In real life, Socks Clinton was the beloved pet of U.S. President Bill Clinton and his family during his presidency in the 1990s. Socks lived in the White House and became a celebrity cat. The Clintons even made an official Christmas card featuring Socks one year!

Snowbell from the Stuart Little books and movies is a white cat who is sometimes a friend and sometimes a foe to the titular mouse, Stuart. Despite their ups and downs, Snowbell does care for Stuart and helps him on his adventures.

Overall, white cats hold a special place in pop culture thanks to their unique appearance and endearing personalities.


In summary, white cat coats are quite rare, occurring in only about 5% of the overall cat population. This is due to the genetics behind coat color, where the gene for white fur is recessive. For a cat to have a pure white coat, it must inherit two copies of the white gene, one from each parent. Even in breeds where white coats are accepted, such as Turkish Vans or British Shorthairs, the white coat is still considered uncommon compared to other coat patterns.

While beautiful, the white coat does come with some health considerations. Deafness is more common in white cats, as well as sensitivity to sunlight and skin cancer. With proper care and precautions, however, white cats can live long and healthy lives. Their striking appearance has made them stand out in history, mythology, and popular culture over the centuries.

In the end, the pristine white coat remains one of the rarest and most eye-catching in the feline world. White cats make up a small but beloved percentage of cat companions. Their unique looks and occasionally feisty personalities will likely continue to fascinate cat lovers for years to come.

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