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Tuxedo, Ginger, Calico…Is That Kitten Male or Female?

Can you tell if a cat or a kitten is male or female just by looking at the color of the fur? Pet experts can determine the answer, even with a kitten once it’s a few weeks old. Rely on some rules of thumb about the kitten’s coloring that is essentially accurate (with one important exception) and easy to follow.

Genetics and Chromosomes

There is a connection between the color of a cats’ fur that’s primarily determined by their genetic makeup. The gender-linked coloring in cats is due to the location of the gene that controls their dominant black and red (orange) color. Because it is on the X chromosome—the female is XX and the male is XY—tortoiseshell and calico coloring is generally restricted to females. Female cats will take one color gene from each parent, so their coloring will always be a combination or a diluted combination of those colors.

Basics About the Color of a Cat’s Coat

Cats basically come in black, red, white, or some combination, dilution, or mixture of these. Dr. Jerold Bell, an adjunct professor at Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine explains further. A cat’s fur is based on two dominant colorations: black and red. Variations based on these dominant color families can appear as different shades. Black can mutate into a chocolate or cinnamon appearance, even lilac, blue and fawn. The red and orange gene can wash out to cream, which is actually a diluted orange.

Here’s your cheat sheet on determining the gender of a cat or a kitten, with one major exception…black cats, of course. It’s not 100 percent reliable. Nevertheless, it’s more reliable than guessing a kitten’s gender based on its size.

Black Cats

One of the most common color coats for felines, the entire population of black cats is about half male and half female.

Gray Cats

The gray in a cat’s coat is actually a diluted black. So, gray cats, with or without an underlying stripe in their coat, are equally male and female.

Tuxedo Cats

Black and white cats are fairly common. With their blaze of white down the center of the nose or little white paws, they often attract names like Mittens or Socks.

Orange Cats

It’s quite common to see orange cats with either some white or a good deal of white in their coats, a combination that’s known as bi-color or piebald. It is rare for a female cat to have any orange or ginger-colored fur, although it can happen. It’s estimated that about 80 percent of reddish or orange cats, also known as ginger, are male.

Tortoiseshell Cats

A mixed blend of black and orange in a cat’s coat is known as tortoiseshell and they’re female. There’s also a diluted version of tortie that’s gray and buff or tan…again, they’re primarily female felines. It’s rare for a male cat to have orange-and-black tortoiseshell fur.

Calico Cats

Female again. Calico cats are black and orange, not dissimilar to a tortie but not blended together. The difference is that calicos fur will have more patches of white and the coat has a more distinct pattern than torties. A diluted version of calico coloring may be buff, gray and white. Statistically, fewer than one calico cat in 3,000 is a male.

White Cats

Hello, Snowball. While white is commonly found with other colors in both males and females, only five percent of cats are all white. To be white, a cat must have the gene that hides every other possible coat color and pattern in their genetic makeup. So, a true white cat is defined by the lack of melanin pigmentation, so light-colored eyes are usual. White cats may be male or female.

Alley Cat Allies has a resourceful pamphlet, “A Visual Guide to Identifying Cats.”

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