UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Genetics Laboratory
SERVICES
Feline Coat Color Tests
Introduction

The modern-day domestic cat displays a wide variety of coat colors and patterns. Classification of these can be confusing sometimes because different registries or associations may name the same phenotype differently. Below is a table of the coat color genes and DNA tests offered by the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

Procedure for collecting a feline DNA sample

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Allow 2-6 business days for results.

GeneName Symbols Function Wild type
Agouti A, a Non-agouti, aa, cats are solid (self) in color.  Tabby patterns are difficult to identify. A
Amber E, e Gradual replacement of eumelanin with phaeomelanin, in Norwegian Forest cats. E
Brown B > b > bl Brown variants have reduced eumelanin and appear brownish in color. b/b and b/bl are chocolate, bl/bl are cinnamon (red). B
Colorpoint Restriction C > cb = cs> c Color controls production of melanin.  Temperature sensitive alleles create points and sepia.  Complete albinos have been identified. C
Dilution D, d Dilution causes uneven distribution of the pigment in the fur shaft, dilution of all colors. D
White Gloves G, N Birman white gloving pattern N

For additional information on the genetics of coat color/patterns in cats, please consult the references given below and visit Dr. Leslie Lyon’s web page The Lyons' Den

  1. Robinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders and Veterinarians. 1999. Fourth eddition. Eds. Vells, C.M., Shelton, L.M., McGonagle, J.J. and Stanglein, T.W. Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.
  2. Lyons, L.A., Imes, D.L., Rah, H.C. and Grahn, R.A. 2005. Tyrosinase mutations associated with Siamese and Burmese patterns in the domestic cat (Felis catus). Animal Genetics, 36:119-126. See additional references cited in this paper.
  3. Lyons, L.A., Foe I.T., Rah H.C. and Grahn R.A. 2005. Chocolate coated cats: TYRP1 mutations from brown color in domestic cats. Mammalian Genome 16:356-366
  4. Ishida Y, David VA, Eizirik E, Schäffer AA, Neelam BA, Roelke ME, Hannah SS, O'brien SJ, Menotti-Raymond M. 2006. A homozygous single-base deletion in MLPH causes the dilute coat color phenotype in the domestic cat. Genomics 88:698-705.
  5. Peterschmitt, M., Grain, F., Arnaud, B., Deleage, G. & Lambert, V.. Mutation in the melanocortin 1 receptor is associated with amber colour in the Norwegian Forest Cat. Animal Genetics doi:10.1111/j.1365-2052.2009/01864.x

Agouti

The Agouti (agouti signaling protein, ASIP) gene produces a protein that regulates the distribution of black pigment (eumelanin) within the hair shaft. The wild type allele A is dominant and produces hair shafts with alternating bands of yellow and black color, ending with black tips (similar to the coat of a wild mouse or rabbit). The recessive allele a produces a cat that is self-colored (solid) when 2 copies of a are present. Another system of pigmentation in cats produces the tabby patterns of dark stripes interspersed with the lighter agouti tipped hairs. Hairs in the darker stripes do not have the shift between black and yellow pigment production and remain uniformly dark. The effect of the agouti protein on orange pigment is limited, thus tabby striping may still be seen on cats that are a/a for agouti.

Results reported as:

A/A:  Homozygous for agouti. All offspring will have agouti banded hair.

A/a: Heterozygous for agouti. Offspring can be agouti or non-agouti depending on the genetics of the mating.

a/a: Homozygous for non-agouti (solid colored). If bred to a non-agouti, only non-agouti offspring will be produced.

Charcoal Pattern - Bengal Cat

The Bengal cat breed consists of hybrid animals originally developed from crosses between the domestic cat (Felis sylvestris catus) and the Asian Leopard Cat (ALC) (Prionailurus bengalensis). Although the original intention was to replicate the exotic spotted ALC coat in domestic cats, some hybrids sport an unusual coat marking of a darker face mask and dark thick dorsal stripe (cape).  This pattern has generated great interest among Bengal enthusiasts. Terra Sinclair, a Bengal Cat breeder, postulated from breeding outcomes that the “charcoal” pattern was produced by the combination of a domestic cat non-agouti allele (a) and an ALC agouti allele (APb), thus conferring the darker markings on their coat pattern. Research by Drs. Liza Gershony and Leslie Lyons has confirmed this mode of inheritance of the pattern. The VGL offers a test that helps breeders/owners determine the Charcoal status and breeding potential of their cats.

Results reported as:

A/A: No copies of ALC Agouti genes are present. Cannot have charcoal offspring.

A/A2*: No copies of ALC Agouti gene are present. Cannot have charcoal offspring.

A2/A2*: No copies of ALC Agouti gene are present. Cannot have charcoal offspring.

APb/ A: 1 copy of ALC Agouti gene is present. Offspring can be charcoal depending on the genetics of the mate.

APb/ A2*: 1 copy of ALC Agouti gene is present. Offspring can be charcoal depending on the genetics of the mate.

APb/APb: 2 copies of ALC Agouti gene are present. Offspring can be charcoal depending on the genetics of the mate.

A/a: 1 copy of non-Agouti gene is present. Offspring can be charcoal depending on the genetics of the mate.

APb/a: Charcoal Bengal cat. Carries 1 ALC Agouti and 1 non-Agouti genes.

A2*/a: 1 copy of non-Agouti gene is present.  Offspring can be charcoal depending on the genetics of the mate.

a/a: 2 copies of non-Agouti gene are present. Offspring can be charcoal depending on the genetics of the mate.

* A2 is an alternative Agouti variant found  in Bengal and Savannah cats. The phenotypic effect of A2 has not been established.

Albino

Two mutations in the Tyrosinase (TYR) gene produce the Burmese (sepia), Siamese and mink colorpoint coat and eye color phenotypes in cats. A rare mutation in TYR produces an albino phenotype of a white coat with blue eyes. The albino mutation is recessive to the sepia and Siamese mutations. The VGL offers a test for this albino mutation.

Results reported as:

N/N:   No copies of albino allele are present.

A/N:   1 copy of the albino allele is present

A/A:    2 copies of the albino allele are present. Cat is albino.

Amber – Norwegian Forest Cat

In cats, shades of red color are determined by the dominant Orange gene located on the X chromosome. However, in some Norwegian Forest Cats, there is a recessive mutation in the MC1R gene that results in kittens that are born with a black/brown tabby pattern (blue/apricot in dilute cats). As the kittens mature, the black/blue pigment is replaced by yellow resulting in the golden coat coloration seen in adult cats. This mutation traces back to a single female ancestor from Norway born in 1981 and the color, originally named X Colour, is now called Amber. Display of the Amber coloration depends on the presence/absence of dominant Orange. In the absence of Orange, males and females with genotype e/e will have the Amber coloration. Amber males that have the Orange gene will be red. Amber females that have one copy of the Orange gene will be amber/red tortoiseshell. Amber females with two copies of the Orange gene will be red.

Results reported as:

E/E:   No copies of the mutation for Amber.

E/e:   1 copy of the Amber mutation. If bred to another carrier, 25% of the kittens will be Amber (in the absence of Orange)

e/e:   2 copies of the Amber mutation. Cat will be Amber colored (in the absence of Orange)

Brown (chocolate and cinnamon)

The Brown (tyrosinase-related protein-1, TYRP1) gene affects the amount of black (eumelanin) pigment produced. Mutations responsible for brown and cinnamon colors in the cat have been identified in this gene. The wild-type B allele produces normal, black coloration. The b allele produces the brown (chocolate) phenotype and the bl allele produces a light brown or cinnamon phenotype. These form an "allelic series" with B dominant to b, and b dominant to bl.

Results reported as:

B/B: Full color, cat does not carry brown or cinnamon

B/b: Full color, carrier of brown

B/bl: Full color, carrier of cinnamon

b/b: Brown

b/bl: Brown, carrier of cinnamon

bl/bl: Cinnamon

Colorpoint Restriction (Color)

The Tyrosinase (TYR) gene, also known as the Color gene, produces an enzyme that is required for melanin production. Mutations in TYR have been associated with temperature-sensitive pigment production that results in colors known as Burmese and Siamese. The wild type phenotype is full color. The Burmese phenotype results from reduced pigment production changing black pigment to sepia and orange to yellow. The Burmese points are darker than the body and the eyes are yellow-gray or yellow-green. The Siamese phenotype reduces pigment production to the points and the eyes are blue. The wild type (C) allele is dominant to Burmese (cb). Burmese is incompletely dominant to Siamese (cs); Burmese and Siamese heterozygotes (cb/cs) are intermediate in color (mink).These tests identify carriers of Burmese (also called sepia) and Siamese pointed coloration.

A very rare allele of TYR produces an albino phenotype with white coat and blue eyes. The current tests do not detect this rare form.

Results reported as:

C/C: Full color, cat does not carry Burmese (sepia) or Siamese alleles

C/cb: Carrier of Burmese (sepia) color

C/cs: Carrier of Siamese colorpoint restriction

cb/cb: Burmese (sepia)

cs/cs: Siamese

cb/cs: Mink, intermediate color between Burmese (sepia) color and Siamese pointed phenotypes

NOTE: Colorpoint Restriction Test for Bengal and Savannah Cats
A Colorpoint Restriction Gene test specific for domestic/wild hybrid cats has been developed by VGL. African Serval and Asian Leopard Cat DNA sequences can interfere with our standard Colorpoint Restriction Gene test for domestic cats. Please allow 10-15 working days for results of Colorpoint testing in hybrid cats. There is no additional cost for this test.

Dilute

The dilute gene (Melanophilin or MLPH) causes clumping and uneven distribution of pigment granules in the hair shaft, producing dilution of all coat colors. Dilute is an autosomal recessive trait which means that two copies of the dilute allele are needed to produce the phenotype. Black pigment is diluted to gray (blue is the term used by cat breeders), and red is diluted to cream. The wild type allele is non-dilute. Some cat breeds are fixed for the wild type, such as Egyptian Mau and Singapura, while others are fixed for dilute such as Chartreux, Korat and Russian Blue. Most other breeds have both wild type and dilute alleles.

VGL offers a test for the dilute gene. This test is useful to identify carriers of dilute and to determine the genetic type for young animals that may have yet to develop their adult coloration.

Results reported as:

d/d Two copies of dilute allele. Coat color is diluted.
D/d One copy of dilute allele. Cat is a carrier of dilute.
D/D Full color. Cat does not have the dilute allele.

Sections reprinted with permission of: Leslie A. Lyons Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Population Health and Reproduction, University of California, Davis.

White Gloves – Birman Pattern

Birman cats must have clearly defined white feet as part of their breed standard. Recent research by Dr. Barbara Gandolfi in the Lyons’ feline genetics laboratory at UC Davis has identified a variant in the KIT gene that is associated with the gloving pattern characteristic of Birman cats. Gloving is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, thus a cat must have two copies of the mutation in order to have the gloved white feet. This mutation is virtually fixed in Birman cats, implying that all Birmans must have two copies of it. The variant is found at lower frequencies in other cats such as Ragdoll, Egyptian Mau, Exotic Shorthair, Maine Coon, Manx, Seychellois, Siamese, Siberian, Sphynx and Turkish Van, but is not associated with gloving in breeds other than Birmans.

Purebred Birmans must have two copies of the variant which can be verified by means of a genetic test. The VGL has developed a genetic test for the Birman gloving pattern mutation. The tests use DNA collected from buccal swabs thus avoiding invasive blood collection.

Results reported as:

N/N:   Normal, cat does not have Birman gloving mutation.*

N/G:  Carrier, cat has one copy of Birman gloving mutation.

G/G: Two copies of Birman gloving mutation are present.

* This test is specific for the KIT mutation found to be associated with the gloved white pattern of Birman cats. It does not detect other mutations that also cause gloving but which have not yet been identified.

Reference:

B Gandolfi, LH Bach, et al. Off with the gloves: Mutation in KIT for the unique white spotting phenotype of Birman cats. Submitted for publication.

 

 
Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, Tel 530-752-2211, Email VGL