Many people understandably assume that a cat's coat is determined by - or interchangeable with - its breed, but like everything pertaining to your favorite regal, furry beast, it's complicated. Remember the Human Genome Project, which brought scientists from around the globe together to map the entire genetic blueprint of the human race? Well, the cat genome sees the human genome and raises it to a new level of weird, fantastic, and just slightly crazy.
Watch the Fur: The Science Behind Why Your Cat is a Prince Harryesque Ginger or a Deaf Albino
Unlike basic humans with their lack of genetic intrigue and variety, cat coats do not consist of merely a color, but a pattern as well, which along with other features like hair length are determined by a kaleidoscopic interplay of a number of genes. Like people (but better, obviously), cats inherit their genetic traits from both parents, with a few twists.
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Despite the grand variety of colors and patterns that cats display and how original they'd like us to believe they are,all cat hair comes in two basic colors: red and black. Think of white-haired cats as bottle bleached blondes, except that in this case nature does the bleaching for them, but at heart, every cat is really either a brunette or a ginger. Some just have better highlights and shading than others. Just like blending two colors can create unlimited shades when painting a work of art, so it goes with a cat's coat.
Not surprisingly, lady cats inherit a significant array of beautiful colors and patterns thanks to the XX chromosome, just like their humans. Since certain traits like coat color are determined by sex-specific genes, lady cats can be both black and red, whereas male cats are stuck with one or the other. So, certain fur palettes, like calico and tortoise, only occur in female cats. However thanks to what is known as a dilute gene, a basic red or black coat can manifest into anything from a classic ginger (orange) to a blue or gray.
Have you mapped out your cat's genome down to the last chromosome? Does your cat think she's a Charlotte when she is obviously a Miranda? Did you have to break it to your British Shorthair that he is not, in fact, a member of the Royal Family? Share your feline genetic sleuthing tips and results in the comments section!