By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 22 March 2011)
Bicolour cats are not a unique breed. Black and white cats can be found among a number of breeds, ranging from American Shorthairs to Turkish Vans. Black and white cat patterns include:
- Tuxedo cat: A black cat with white markings on the chest, belly, and paws (and in some cases chin and/or nose), giving the appearance of wearing a tuxedo
- Cow cat: A white cat with black spots or patches on the torso
- Van patterned cat: A white cat with black markings on the head and tail only
- Magpie cat/mask-and-mantle cat: A cat with a black back, shoulders, and head and a white underside
- Cap-and-saddle cat: A cat with black fur over the top of the head, white shoulders, and a large black patch on the lower back, near their tail
- Locket cat: A black cat with one small white patch on the chest or belly
Bicolour cats get their white fur from the piebald (white spotting) gene, which adds varying amounts of white to an otherwise black coat. Although it’s not known for sure why the piebald gene more often produces white fur on the underside (chest and belly) and paws rather than the back, it has been theorized that the piebald gene disrupts the migration of melanoblasts (which trigger colour production).
Melanoblasts are released from the neural crest area of the embryo and migrate around the developing body. The piebald gene (and other genes that modify its expression) interfere with this process, so melanoblasts may not reach certain destinations by the time the skin has developed, leaving some patches of skin without any colour.
Since the paws, belly and chest of the cat are farther from the neural crest, they are the areas most likely to be left white. However, there are critics of this theory, and alternative theories have been developed, including selective die-out of colour cells after they have reached certain destinations and biochemical signals that turn colour cells off in some areas.
Black and White Cat Personality
Is there a bicolour or tuxedo cat personality? While studies have suggested that black cats tend to be particularly good-natured, bicolour cats have rarely been studied individually, although there was one notable Bavarian study which found that black and white felines were more likely to wander far from home than cats of other coat types (Hartwell, 2010).
Rush Shippen Huidekoper wrote unfavourably about black and white cats in his 1895 book, The Cat, noting that they tended “…more than any other cat to become fat and indolent, or ragged and wretched, as the case may be.” He did go on to say that “the Black-and-White Cat is affectionate and cleanly,” but then qualified this statement by asserting that it is “…a selfish animal, and is not one for children to play with.”
Despite this unpromising historical description, there are plenty of anecdotal reports from owners and veterinarians ascribing good temperament and friendliness to black and whites. Cattery owner George Ware (cited in Hartwell 2010) praises black and white cats as “true lap cats” that are “very loyal to their family,” though he does note that they are “liable to be moody.”
There have been many famous black and white cats, including:
- Socks, a cat owned by U.S. president Bill Clinton
- Humphrey, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street (official residence of the UK Prime Minister), 1988-2006
- Lewis, a polydactyl cat that made headlines after he was placed under house arrest for attacking a number of people, including an Avon lady
- Simon, a wartime hero who served aboard the HMS Amethyst protecting food stores from rats (Simon was awarded the rank “Able Seacat,” injured in the line of duty, presented with the Dickin Medal for bravery, and given full military honours at burial)
- Oscar (a.k.a. Unsinkable Sam), who survived the sinking of three different warships and eventually retired to a home for sailors
There are also a number of famous fictional black and white cats, including the cartoon cats Sylvester and Fritz, and Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat.
A popular and controversial website, Cats That Look Like Hitler, features photos of bicolour cats whose markings cause them to resemble Adolf Hitler. The majority of these cats are black and whites with facial features such as a black “moustache” set in a white face or nose area.
The site is loved by many, but hated by more than a few, and has pages featuring both fan mail and hate mail. It’s worth noting that the site is not meant to glorify Hitler, but rather, to mock him. Owners of “Kitlers” are invited to send in their photos to be featured on the site.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Associated Press. (29 March 2006). “Psycho Kitty Terrorizes Connecticut Neighbors.” MSNBC.MSN.com.
- BBC News. (1 November 2007). “Wartime Hero Cat Simon Remembered.” News.BBC.co.uk.
- Hartwell, S. (2010). “Beautiful Bicolours – Tuxedo and Magpie Cats” and “Is Coat Colour Linked to Temperament?” MessyBeast.com.
- Huidekoper, R.S. (1895). The Cat: A Guide to the Classification and Varieties of Cats and a Short Treatise upon Their Cares, Diseases, and Treatment. Chestofbooks.com.
- Shelton, L., Featherland Cattery. (30 January 2001). “The Pigment Parade.” Home.Earthlink.net/~Featherland.
- Stall, S. (2007). 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books.