The Rarest Shade of Cat. The Search for the Elusive Feline Hue


Cats come in a variety of beautiful colors, from the classic black and tabby to more unusual shades like chocolate, lilac, and cinnamon. While some coat colors are exceptionally common in cats, other more unusual or distinct colors and patterns are quite rare and special. But what exactly makes a cat color rare? Generally, a rare cat color refers to any shade or pattern that is not commonly seen. This may be due to unique genetics, a mutation, or because the coloration only naturally occurs in a limited number of breeds. Cats with rare colors often command greater attention, interest, and value than their more common counterparts. However, all cats are special and their rarity does not make them any more or less lovable than a classic tabby. In this article, we will explore some of the rarest natural cat colors as well as take a look at how genetics and selective breeding play a role in producing unusual feline coat patterns and hues.

The Most Common Cat Colors

When it comes to cat coat colors, some shades are far more prevalent than others. According to surveys, the most popular cat colors include tabby, black, white, and orange.

Tabby cats, with their distinctive striped coat pattern, are one of the most common. They make up approximately 80 percent of the cat population. Tabbies can have gray, brown, orange, or yellow fur but always with the classic tabby patterning of lines, whorls, or spots. Surveys indicate tabby is the most popular coat color for cats.

Solid black cats are also very common, representing about 15% of house cats according to surveys. Their jet black coats provide an eye-catching contrast to their vibrant yellow or green eyes.

White cats make up around 5-10% of the general cat population. Their coats can be pure snow white or have small amounts of color patching. The brilliant white coat shows off their eye color and facial features.

Orange tabby cats account for about 5% of cats. Their coats range from pale apricot to a deep burnt orange. They are energetic, playful, and affectionate.

The Rarest Natural Cat Colors

When it comes to rare natural cat colors, some of the rarest include chocolate, lilac, and cinnamon.

Chocolate cats have a rich brownish coat color similar to the hue of chocolate candy. This color results from a recessive gene mutation that dilutes black pigment into shades of brown. True chocolate cats are extremely rare, though some brown tabby cats may appear chocolate in certain lighting. According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association, there are less than 50 true chocolate pedigreed cats worldwide. To be considered a chocolate cat, the cat’s nose leather, paw pads, and eye color must also be brown.


Lilac is a pale, frosty lavender hue that results from a dilution of the black pigment. Cats with this dilution gene have greyish-pink paw pads and noses. Though lilac cats may occasionally occur naturally, the mutation became more common through selective breeding. Still, lilac remains a rare coat color. Russian Blues and British Shorthairs sometimes express the lilac coat.

Cinnamon cats have a warm, reddish-brown coat color. Like chocolate and lilac cats, the cinnamon coat results from a recessive dilution gene that modifies black pigment. Cinnamon coats are extremely rare except in certain pedigreed breeds like the Abyssinian where the gene mutation has become more concentrated. However, it remains a very unusual color in random bred cats.

The Rarest Patterned Cat Colors

Some of the rarest and most interesting cat coat patterns and colors are chimera, calico, and tortoiseshell cats.

Chimera cats have a patchwork of two different colored coats. This is caused by the cat having two different sets of DNA, caused when two embryos fuse together. Chimera cats may have sections of tabby, calico, tortoiseshell, or other patterns. Their colors are distinctly separated, with a clear line between them, almost looking like two cats fused together. Chimeras are extremely rare, with less than 100 documented cases. [1]

Calico and tortoiseshell cats have coats with distinct patches of red, black, and orange. The difference lies in the pattern of distribution. Calicos have large solid blocks of color, while tortoiseshells have the colors swirled together. The red and black colors are caused by two different X chromosomes being expressed. This is why calicos are nearly always female. Only 1 in 3000 calicos are male. [2]

These special coat patterns are the result of unique genetics. They showcase the wonderful diversity in the feline world. While common coat colors like tabby or tuxedo may be familiar, these rare patterns offer some extra vibrant flair.



The Genetics Behind Rare Colors

The genetics behind cat coat colors and patterns are complex. Each coat color is associated with different genes that code for the production and distribution of pigments. Some genes are dominant while others are recessive. For a cat to display a recessive trait, it must inherit two copies of the recessive allele.

For example, the gene for black pigment is dominant. The gene for orange pigment is on the X chromosome and is also dominant. However, albino coloration results from two recessive alleles of the tyrosinase gene, which blocks all pigment production. This results in a white coat and pale blue eyes (Wikipedia).

The white spotting gene, which produces color patches, is incompletely dominant. The more copies of the S allele a cat inherits, the more white spotting it will have. Two alleles produce a van or harlequin pattern. The tabby pattern gene is also incompletely dominant. Swirled tabby patterns result from two dominant Ta alleles, while distinct stripes require the recessive ta allele.

Overall, variations in just a few genes can produce the diverse palette of colors and patterns seen in cats. Breeders combine selective breeding with genetic knowledge to develop and reproduce new colors and patterns in pedigreed cats. However, random mutations also give rise to striking coat variations in non-pedigreed cats.

Breeds Prone to Rare Colors

Certain cat breeds are more likely to exhibit rare coat colors and patterns due to their genetics. Some breeds that are prone to having rare colored coats include:

The Turkish Van is known for producing cats with white coats and red, cream or black patches. The breed’s defining markings are the color on the tail and head, with the body remaining mostly white. This unique color pattern is the signature of the Turkish Van breed.

The British Shorthair is one of the few breeds that produces the rare blue coat color. Their coats range from pale to deep blue or gray. Blue British Shorthairs with copper eyes are especially prized for competitions. The breed is genetically prone to producing the uncommon blue fur color.

Ragdolls are also known for their rare color patterns like chocolate, lilac and cinnamon. These colors are found in the points on the Ragdoll’s body. The body is typically a lighter cream or white. The contrast between the point colors and body make the Ragdoll’s patterns quite striking.

There are certain breeds where rare colors are more likely to occur due to their genetics. The Turkish Van, British Shorthair and Ragdoll are all prone to producing uncommon coat colors and patterns.


The Controversy Over Designer Cat Colors

In recent years there has been controversy over so-called “designer” cat colors created through genetic modifications. Some examples include glitter cats, with a sparkling appearance caused by a modified SPARC gene, and folded ear cats like the Scottish Fold breed. While proponents argue these modifications simply expand the diversity of cat colors and patterns available, critics raise ethical concerns.

One major criticism is that genetic modifications often lead to health problems in cats. For example, the folded ears of the Scottish Fold can cause painful bone deformities and arthritis. Modifying the SPARC gene for glitter coloring can also cause health issues like skin fragility. Ethicists argue needlessly sacrificing animal welfare for aesthetic preferences is morally questionable at best. There are also concerns about perpetuating the commodification of animals.[1]

More extreme modifications like “twisty cats” with abnormally short legs have faced immense backlash, with many calling the breeding unethical and cruel. However, even less extreme modifications remain hotly debated. Proponents believe new colors merely expand options for cat lovers, while critics see an industry profiting off unhealthy practices with little regard for animal welfare.[2] The controversy highlights the delicate balance between diversity and ethics in cat breeding.

Show Cats and Rare Colors

Rare and unique cat colors often fetch high prices at cat shows and among breeders. Certain colors like the chocolate or lilac variations are highly coveted for their rarity and stand out in the show ring. Winning show cats with rare colors can build prestige and reputation for their breeders.

For example, a breed like the Oriental Shorthair comes in hundreds of color combinations, but ones like the lilac or chocolate are harder to produce and achieve Championship status. A Grand Champion lilac Oriental Shorthair can be worth over $10,000 according to some breeders (Source).

Certain associations like The International Cat Association (TICA) have many progressive color classes that highlight unique patterns and combinations. Exotic colors and patterns in pedigreed cats are highly sought after by breeders looking to diversify the gene pool and create distinctive new looks.

That said, a cat’s value is determined by more than just its color. Health, temperament, bloodlines, and conformation to the breed standard are also extremely important. But a rare color cat that ticks all other boxes can certainly command a premium price among breed fanciers.

Caring for Rare-Colored Cats

Caring for a rare-colored cat generally does not require anything different than caring for any other cat. Though their colors make them stand out, most rare-colored cats are just as healthy and have the same basic needs as cats with more common coat patterns.

There are, however, a few things to keep in mind when caring for certain rare-colored cats:

  • Solid white cats, like those with complete albinism, require extra care in sunny environments as they are prone to sunburn and skin cancer. Keeping them indoors during peak sun hours and applying cat-safe sunscreen can help protect their skin (Source).
  • Hairless cats like sphinxes require diligent skincare routines, including regular moisturizing, bathing, and sun protection for their sensitive skin (Source).
  • Cats with folded ears like Scottish Folds can be prone to ear infections and need regular ear cleanings.
  • Longhaired cats require regular grooming to prevent matting and hairballs.

Following basic preventative care guidelines tailored to your cat’s specific needs can help keep rare-colored cats happy and healthy.

Appreciating the Diversity of Cat Colors

While many cats come in the classic colors like black, white, orange and gray, the world of feline coat colors is far more diverse. From deep blue to bright pink, cats can display a rainbow of exotic hues. Though common coat colors dominate the general cat population, the rarer colors are equally beautiful and fascinating. Rarity makes these unusual cat colors special, and their uniqueness should be celebrated.

There is importance in variation when it comes to cat colors. Appreciating the full spectrum of potential feline coats allows us to marvel at the wonders of genetics and natural diversity. No two cats are exactly alike, and their subtly different patterns and colors contribute to their individual charm. Even among endless tabbies and calicos, no two cats share the exact same swirls and spots. We should embrace and protect this diversity. From the deep orange glow of a red tabby to the striking contrast of a tortoiseshell’s patches, each cat color tells a story.

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