Unlike in humans, redheads are pretty common in the cat world. You've probably seen the beauty of a red tabby and white, a mix of orange tabby accented with white spotting. There's something majestic about an orange tabby; he's like a pint-sized tiger you can cuddle in your lap.
An orange or ginger cat is considered to be red. A cream-colored cat is just a pale orange color. The gene that determines orange color, the O gene, is dominant. That means that if Kitty gets an O gene from one of his parents, it will appear over another color gene he may receive. Orange color can cover or “mask” another color, such as black. No matter what other color genes he may inherit, if he gets the O gene your kitty will have some orange color on him somewhere. Most cat colors are variations of red or black. Cats who are brown or gray have a variation of black coloration, while cats who are orange or cream have a variation of the red coloration.
You may have heard that all red tabbies are male. This isn't true, but there are more male red tabbies than female ones. The gene for orange coloration, O, is carried on the X chromosome. Male cats have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes. If a male cat gets just one O gene, he will be an orange tabby. A female would have to get two O genes to be an orange tabby. This is why tortoiseshell, a mixture of red and black colors, is common in female cats but only seen in males who carry a mutation that gives them an extra X chromosome. While most orange tabbies are male, females can be ginger kitties, too.
There is no solid “orange” color in cats. While some breeders have found ways to dilute the red color so that it appears solid, all cats with red fur carry the tabby gene. There is a gene that can suppress tabby markings, but it is ineffective on ginger kitties. Tabby refers to fur that has striations of color, called agouti. The most common tabby pattern is the mackerel, in which Kitty has alternating darker and lighter stripes all over his body. The classic ticked and spotted tabby patterns are recessive to the mackerel tabby pattern.
If your feline pal has white spots, he's considered piebald, which just means mottled. This gene, S, is an incomplete dominant. That means it can cover another dominant color, such as red, but it won't make Kitty a completely white cat. Instead, he'll have a mix of tabby and white patterns. Even if your cat is mostly white with only a little tabby color on his tail or face, he's still considered a tabby cat all over; the white spotting simply masks his tabby pattern. There is different terminology to describe white spotting, depending on where the pattern is located. A mitted cat has white feet. A kitty with a white spot on his chest is considered to have a locket. White spots on Kitty's tummy are called buttons. In any case, if your ginger beauty has spots of white, he'll be called a red or cream tabby and white.
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