What is a Bicolor Cat?
A bicolor cat is a feline with a primary fur color, and some degree of white spotting. The white spotting can range from minimal to almost complete white coverage. The primary fur color on a bicolor cat might be black, brown tabby, orange tabby, buff, or another solid color.
Bicolor cats have color “gradations” from minimal white spotting to full white fur coverage. A cat carrying the white spotting gene may actually not express it at all and have full color coverage. However, such a cat would not be considered bicolor and thus is not discussed here.
The most common bicolor fur combinations are black and white and gray/blue and white. One of the least common bicolor fur variations is cream and white.
What Breeds are Bicolor Cats?
Bicolor cat fur is a combination of colorful cat fur with a white spotting gene. It is not associated with any particular breed; many breeds of cat can have a bicolor fur coloration. Mixed breed cats can have bicolored fur as well. There are a few breeds in which a bicolor coat pattern is particularly common.
Turkish Van Bicolor Cats
Turkish Van cats are a medium-to-long haired breed of cat with splash of color on top of their heads and a colorful tail. Other than these two locations, the cat is all white. The van cat fur pattern is named after this breed. This breed is relatively rare and originates in Turkey.
Piebald is another term for bicolor, particularly when referring to a black and white animal. The word originates from a combination of the words “bald” meaning white, and “magpie”, referring to the black-and-white feathers of a magpie bird. Some call black and white cats “jellicle” cats, referencing T.S. Eliot’s famous poem.
The term piebald is frequently applied to horses, but can also be used to describe cats, bird, snakes, foxes, pigs, and other creatures.
Lockets and Buttons
A cat with minimal white spotting will express all colored fur, and a few small spots of white. This spot is called a locket when it’s positioned neatly in the center of the chest. These spots are referred to as button on other areas of the body.
When a bicolor cat’s white spotting is limited to the face, paws, throat, and chest, this is referred to as a tuxedo pattern in the US. Famous tuxedo cats of lore include Mr. Mistoffelees, the Cat in the Hat, and Sylvester of Looney Tunes fame. When a tuxedo cat has a spot of black in the center of the white patch on his chest, it’s called a bowtie!
Typically we think of tuxedo cats as being black and white, because that fur color combo lends itself to the kitty looking like it’s ready for a fancy dress ball in an actual tuxedo. However, a cat may display a tuxedo pattern with gray or blue fur, brown tabby fur, or ginger tabby fur.
Mitted cats have white paws, called “mitts”, “mittens”, or “gloves” if the white ends at the ankle. If the white coloration goes above the ankle but stays below the knee, the pattern is called “socks”. If the white covering includes paws, feet, and goes above the cat’s knees, it’s called “stockings”. Mitted cats may have small white spots on other parts of the body.
Mask and Mantle Cats
A cat is said to have a mask when colored fur covers her eyes, ears, and the top of her head. It is called a mantle when it appears that a cat is wearing a blanket draped over her torso, with a white tummy and white legs. A cat with both of these features is called a mask & mantle cat.
Cap and Saddle Cats
A cap & saddle cat fur pattern similar to a mask & mantle pattern, but with smaller patches of colored fur. A cap is a patch of color that covers the ears and top of the head, but not the eyes. A saddle is a patch of colored fur over the cat’s back like a saddle. A cat with both of these features is called a cap & saddle cat.
Harlequin Cats & Magpie Cats
Harlequins and Magpies are both names for predominantly white cats with apparently random spots of color. Traditionally, cats that fall into these categories have a high degree of white spotting – that is, more than 60% white fur. Cats with about 50% white spotting but without an identifiable coat pattern are simply referred to as standard bicolor or piebald cats. Magpie cats were originally just black and white, but today the term includes cats in a wide range of colors.
Moo Cats & Cow Cats
A Moo cat or a Cow cat is a predominantly white cat with any amount of large black spots. This coat pattern resembles a black and white cow. These colloquially terms can encompass cap & saddle cats, mask & mantle cats, and piebald cats. Some black and white Harlequin or Magpie cats may also fall into this category.
A cat with a van coat pattern has splashes of color between or around its ears, and a colored tail. The rest of a van cat is solid white, or has minimal colored spotting. This fur pattern is named after the Turkish Van breed, though it may be displayed in any number of breeds.
Tortoiseshell cats are a variant of calico cats without any white spotting. They are almost exclusively female cats with any mix of black fur and orange tabby fur. Their fur colors may be thoroughly mixed together, or appear in patches of black and orange tabby. Tortoiseshell cats are not typically placed in the bicolor category because they aren’t a mix of white fur and one other color/pattern. They are a special category of cats with two different colors of fur. Tortoiseshell cats may have minimal white spotting, but a significant amount of white fur will put them in the calico category instead.
Pointed cats are not considered to be bicolor cats due to the genetic differences behind the two coat patterns. A pointed cat’s fur darkens after birth as the cat’s extremities are exposed to cooler temperatures. The degree of fur darkening depends on the cat’s genetics. A bicolor cat’s coat coloration doesn’t change, and is a combination of the white-spotting gene and the other genetics contributing to its colored fur.
Snowshoe cats are a specific breed of cat originating in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Snowshoes are pointed cats that have been bred to incorporate the white spotting gene. These beautiful kitties were named snowshoe cats because the original breeder thought the white pattern on the kittens’ fur make it look as if they had just finished playing in the snow.
Snowshoe cats have darkened “points” – that is, their ears, eyes, cheeks, tail, and sometimes legs are a dark color. They have white spotting forming a diamond shape on their nose covering their mouth. Snowshoe cats also have white mittens on their feet. Their body is a lighted point color, but not white. The white spotting may cover the cats’ tummy.
Cats & Vitiligo
You may see a cat with a unique, spider-webby appearance similar to a tortoiseshell pattern but with white fur instead of orange. This fur pattern isn’t a bicolor variation, but is due to a condition called vitiligo.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin cells of humans, cats, dogs, and other animals. When cats are affected, skin cells slowly lose the ability to produce melanin over time. The affect area may be focal, or it may generalized and spread over the cat’s whole body. The effect of the disease is a slowly-spreading cobwebby appearance on the fur. As a patch-work of skin cells slowly increases in size and density, the cat’s fur will turn from its original color to white over time.
Vitiligo occurs more often in cats at a younger age, and other diseases can contribute to changing fur color especially as a kitty ages.. Be sure to see your vet to verify the cause of any unusual physical changes in your cat.