Bicolor Cats

Caitlin Dempsey


A closeup of the face of a bicolor gray and white cat.

Bicolor cats are cats whose fur coat color consists of a combination of two colors. The first color is most commonly white with an additional color. This second color could be black, orange, red, grey, or brown. The prefix “bi” stems from the Latin and means “two”.

What makes some cats bicolor?

The bicolor pattern on cats is a result of the expression of the piebald or white spotting gene, which inhibits pigmentation in certain fur areas, leaving them white. The intensity and distribution of white patches can vary significantly, ranging from minimal white spots to almost entirely white coats.

The piebald gene is an example of incomplete dominance in genetics. Cats inheriting just one copy of this gene from either parent can exhibit a bicolor pattern. However, the exact distribution of white is unpredictable, making each bicolor cat unique. This gene doesn’t create new colors but instead restricts the development of color in specific areas.

A slightly dirty longhaired charcoal grey and white cat sits upright in the sun in front of a blurry yellow grained field.
A white and grey longhaired bicolor cat. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Fur patterns of bicolor cats

The fur patterns of bicolor cats is quite varied. Some cats are almost all white with just a patch or two of another color. On the other end of the spectrum, some cats are mostly a non-white color with just a very small patch of white, typically on the chest (known as a locket) or just at the tips of the paws and tail.

A diagram showing the ten common types of white spotting coat patterns in cats.
Common bi-color cat coat patterns. Diagram: Caitlin Dempsey.

Classic bicolor fur patterns include tuxedo, Van, and Harlequin. The tuxedo pattern, characterized by a predominantly black coat with white paws, chest, and belly, is among the most recognized. In contrast, Van-patterned cats are mostly white with color confined to the head and tail. Harlequin cats display more extensive white areas with few colored patches.

Types of bicolor fur patterns

Here’s a list of the different bicolor coat patterns and their explanations:

  1. Tuxedo
    • Appearance: Black with white paws, chest, and belly, resembling a formal tuxedo outfit.
    • Distinctive Feature: Often includes a white facial marking, sometimes resembling a mask.
A black and white tuxedo cat lying on a light blue rope rug.
A young tuxedo cat with white spotting on the chest, chin, belly, and feet. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.
  1. Van
    • Appearance: Mostly white with color on the head and tail only.
    • Distinctive Feature: Named after the Turkish Van cat, this pattern is known for its limited colored areas.
  2. Harlequin
    • Appearance: Primarily white with random colored patches.
    • Distinctive Feature: The colored patches are usually large and few, giving a splashed appearance.
  3. Cap and Saddle
    • Appearance: A colored ‘cap’ on the head and a ‘saddle’ on the back, with the rest of the body white.
    • Distinctive Feature: The ‘saddle’ may extend along the cat’s back and sides.
A bicolor tabby barn cat peering down from the wooden rafters.
This tabby barn cat has a mask and mantle coat pattern. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.
  1. Bicolor (Standard)
    • Appearance: Half-colored and half-white, but not in a specific pattern.
    • Distinctive Feature: Random distribution of color and white areas.
  2. Mitted
    • Appearance: Colored body with white ‘mittens’ on the paws, a white chin, and a white belly stripe.
    • Distinctive Feature: The ‘mittens’ on the front paws are a key characteristic.
  3. Cow
    • Appearance: Similar to the Holstein cow, with irregular black and white patches.
    • Distinctive Feature: The patches are more evenly distributed compared to Harlequin.
A black and white cat resting underneath a potted plant on a wooden deck.
A bicolor cat with the “cow cat” black and white pattern. Photo: © zzzdim /
  1. Mask-and-Mantle
    • Appearance: A colored ‘mask’ over the head with a ‘mantle’ of color over the back.
    • Distinctive Feature: Resembles a superhero mask and cape, with the sides and belly predominantly white.
  2. Bicolor with Spots
    • Appearance: White base with distinct colored spots or patches.
    • Distinctive Feature: The spots are usually round and well-defined.

Each bicolor pattern is a result of the unique genetic interplay in feline coat coloration. These patterns are not breed-specific but can occur in various cat breeds. The distribution and size of the colored and white areas can vary greatly, even among cats with the same general pattern.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.