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Are Brown Cats Rare? Vet Reviewed Feline Color Genetics Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are known for their diverse range of colors and coat patterns. From the classic black and white tuxedo to the exotic Bengal’s rosettes, the feline world offers a variety of colors to choose from. However, one color that remains particularly rare is brown. Brown cats are rare, but have you ever wondered why brown cats seem to be so uncommon?

Well, it turns out that understanding the complexities of cat color genetics can help unravel this mystery. In this article, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of feline genetics and explore why brown cats are such a rarity. From the role of genes to the impact of breeding practices and environmental factors, we’ll examine the various factors that contribute to the coloration of cats.

Basic Principles of Inheritance in Cats

Before we dive into the genetics of cat coloration, it helps to understand the basic principles of inheritance. Like all living things, cats inherit traits from their parents. These traits are determined by a complex set of genetic instructions that dictate everything from eye color to coat pattern. In cats, these instructions are carried on chromosomes, which are long, coiled strands of DNA. There are 38 chromosomes in the domestic cat genome, each of which contains thousands of genes.

Cats inherit one chromosome from their mother and one from their father, for a total of two, which makes a set. Each set of chromosomes contains two copies of each gene, one from each parent. These copies can be either the same (homozygous) or different (heterozygous). The combination of genes that a cat inherits determines its physical traits, including its coat color and pattern.

Inheritance can be either dominant or recessive. Dominant genes are expressed even if the cat only inherits one copy, while recessive genes are expressed only if the cat inherits two copies. For example, the gene for black fur (B) is dominant, while the gene for white fur (w) is recessive. This means that a cat with one copy of the black dominant gene and one copy of the white recessive gene will have black fur, as the black gene is dominant.

Portrait of a brown British Shorthair Cat
Image Credit: Heidi Bollich, Shutterstock

The Role of Melanin in Cat Coloration

Melanin is the pigment responsible for the coloration of a cat’s fur. It is produced by specialized cells called melanocytes, which are located in the skin and hair follicles. There are two types of melanin: pheomelanin, which creates orange and red hues, and eumelanin, which creates brown and black hues.

The amount of melanin a cat produces is determined by its genes. Some genes increase melanin production, while others decrease it. The specific combination of genes that a cat inherits determines the amount and distribution of melanin in the fur, which in turn, determines its color and pattern.

The Genetics of Brown Cats

The reason brown cats are rare is that the gene that produces brown fur is recessive. This means that a cat must inherit two copies of the gene in order to have brown fur. If a cat inherits only one copy of the gene, it will have black fur, because the gene for black fur is dominant.

The gene for black or brown fur is called the “B” gene. There are two versions of this gene: B, which produces black fur, and b, which produces brown fur. A cat that inherits two copies of the B gene (BB) will have black fur, while a cat that inherits two copies of the b gene (bb) will have brown fur. A cat that inherits one copy of each gene (Bb) will have black fur, because the gene for black fur is dominant.

The gene for brown fur is relatively uncommon in domestic cats, because it is recessive and therefore less likely to be expressed. However, there are certain breeds of cat that are more likely to have brown fur, such as the Burmese and Havana Brown. These breeds were selectively bred for their brown coloration, which means that they have a higher frequency of the b gene in their gene pool.

Havanna Brown Cat
Image Credit: Yuriy Shurchkov,Shutterstock

More Reasons Why Brown Cats Are Rare

In addition to the genetic factors that contribute to the rarity of brown cats, there are also environmental factors that can impact cat coloration. For example, exposure to sunlight can cause a cat’s fur to lighten or darken, depending on its melanin production. This is why black cats that spend a lot of time outdoors often have reddish-brown fur, while indoor black cats remain black.

Breeding practices can also play a role in the rarity of brown cats. Breeders who are focused on producing cats with specific colors or patterns may intentionally avoid breeding for brown fur, because it is less desirable or less profitable than other colors. This can result in a smaller population of cats with the b gene, which makes brown cats even rarer.

Other Rare Cat Colors

Brown cats are not the only rare color in the feline world. Cats can also have rare colors such as lilac, cinnamon, and fawn. These colors are produced by different combinations of genes and are often the result of selective breeding.

Lilac cats, for example, have a diluted version of the gene for chocolate fur. This gene is recessive, which means that a cat must inherit two copies of the gene in order to have lilac fur. Cinnamon cats, on the other hand, have a different gene that produces a reddish-brown color. Like the gene for brown fur, the gene for cinnamon fur is recessive, which means that a cat must inherit two copies of the gene in order to have cinnamon fur.

Fawn-colored cats have a combination of the genes for cinnamon and dilute, which produces a pale, creamy color. This color is extremely rare, and is only found in a few breeds of cat, such as the Somali and Abyssinian.

a fawn somali cat
Image Credit: nelik, Shutterstock

Breeding for Specific Cat Colors

Breeding for specific cat colors is a controversial practice. Some breeders believe that it’s necessary in order to produce cats with desirable traits, while others believe that it’s pretty unethical to breed animals for their physical appearance. There are also concerns about the health and welfare of cats that have been selectively bred for certain colors or patterns.

Selective breeding can result in a smaller gene pool, which can increase the risk of genetic diseases and health problems. For example, the dominant gene for white fur (W) is linked to deafness in cats, because it affects the development of the inner ear. Breeding for white fur can therefore increase the likelihood of deafness in a cat’s offspring.

The Ethics of Breeding for Rare Colors

As you can probably imagine, the ethics of breeding for rare colors are complex, and there are valid arguments on both sides of the debate. Some breeders argue that breeding for rare colors is necessary in order to preserve certain breeds of cat, while others believe that it’s more important to prioritize the health and welfare of the animals.

Perhaps one feasible compromise is to focus on breeding for genetic diversity, rather than specific colors or patterns. This can help to maintain a healthy gene pool, while still allowing for a diverse range of coat colors and patterns.

lilac burmese cat in purple background
Image Credit: Linn Currie, Shutterstock

Cat Color and Adoption Rates

Believe it or not, the color of a cat’s fur can also impact its chances of being adopted. Studies have shown that cats with certain colors, such as black and brown, are less likely to be adopted than cats with more unusual colors, such as orange, all white, or calico. This is known as the black cat bias, and it’s thought to be due to a number of factors, including superstition and cultural stereotypes.

However, remember that a cat’s personality and behavior are much more important than its color when it comes to your furry friend being a good fit for your home. It’s best to focus on finding a cat that is a good fit for their lifestyle and personality, rather than simply choosing a cat based on its color. But, to each his own.

Wrapping Things Up

So yes, brown cats are fairly rare compared to other cat colors like black, rust and white, blue, or cream. The rarity of brown cats is due to a combination of both genetic and environmental factors, including the recessive nature of the gene for brown fur and selective breeding practices. While breeding for specific colors and patterns is controversial, there are ways to maintain a healthy gene pool while still allowing for a diverse range of coat colors and patterns.

Featured Image Credit: CrisMC, Shutterstock

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