top of page

Basic cat color genetics

Cats have many colors but there are only 2 types of pigment

Black: Eumelanin

Red: Phaeomelanin

The gene for pigment is situated on the X chromosome. Males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes. This means that males inherit the Y chromosome from their dad and the X (color) chromosome from their mom. Males will usually be one of their moms colors or the dilute form, unless they have a genetic deformity causing them to be two colors, this is not very common. Because females have two X chromosomes they get one color from each parent.

The pigment gene (D/d) is responsible for the transportation and deposition of pigment into a growing hair. When a cat is dd the coat will be diluted changing black to blue and red to cream. This gene is recessive meaning you need two copies (dd) to be dilute. DD and Dd will not produce dilute so both parents have to have the dilute gene to produce it in offspring.

Solid Colors

-Solid (aa) is recessive to tabby (AA), two parents have to carry the solid gene to produce it. Solid is speaking of colors but tabby is a pattern to go along with a color.

All Maine coons will be one of these colors:

  • Black

       -or the dilute form is blue, cannot be both.

  • Red

       -or the dilute form is cream, cannot be both.

  • Black & Red tortoiseshell (tortie)

       -the dilute form is Blue & Cream tortoiseshell (tortie)

  • Maine coons can be white but the white is not a color, it only masks one of the colors above.

cat color genetics
cat color genetics

Tabby patterns

Tabbies are either AA or Aa

-Tabby (AA) is dominant over solid (aa) meaning if one parent is tabby (AA) all kittens will also be tabby.

-If the tabby parent has a solid gene (Aa) and bred to a solid (aa), 50% of kittens will be solid.

-A kittens pattern can come from either parent.

-All red cats have a tabby pattern even when they are genetically solid because the non tabby gene does not work when the red pigment is expressed.

Maine coons can be 1 of 3 different types of tabby patterns to go along with any of the above colors.

  • Classic tabby

  • Ticked tabby

  • Mackerel tabby

cat color genetics
cat color genetics


Smoke is a solid colored cat with a inhibitor gene which inhibits pigment at the base of the hair follicle, turning the base white.

Smoke is not a color on it's own and will be paired with any solid color above. Tabby cats cannot be smoke.

What people are calling "high smoke" is becoming more popular which is a smoke cat with a higher degree of a white base.

silver, Shaded, Shell

Silver is a tabby cat with an inhibitor gene which inhibits the yellow coloring in a tabby changing it to white (silver).

Shaded and shell is a higher degree of white on the hair follicle. Shaded has 1/3 of the hair colored while shell has 1/8 of the hair colored, these cats almost appear white and seem to not have a very visible tabby pattern.

solid cats cannot be silver, shaded or shell.

White & with white

The white gene is dominant, it only takes one copy of it to be white meaning a parent must be white to produce it. White is not a color it only masks one of the above colors.

White spotting (ws) and non white spotting (w) is co dominant with each other meaning a cat with one copy of white spotting (ws) will have less white spotting than a cat with 2 copies (ws/ws).

Here is how Maine coons with white are classified:

  • Van - the cat has only the tail colored and there is one color spot

  • Harlequin - the cat has only the tail painted and there are 2-3 color spots.

  • Bicolor - the cat has a white triangle on the face, white solid belly, may have white spots on the body.

  • Nonspecific white spotting - there are several white spots, usually in the groin or armpits, white locket on his chest, white socks or gloves on the legs

bottom of page