The tuxedo cat
All cats are elegant. But the tuxedo cat, outfitted by nature in a dinner jacket, white bib, and spats, seems to have an added flair.
There’s a lot to learn about how tuxedo cats have come to their unusual markings, but there are also myths to dispel. Let’s talk first about what is true about a tuxedo cat, and then, what it is not.
What is a tuxedo cat?
A tuxedo cat is not a breed of cat. It is a cat with a particular coat pattern.
A tuxedo cat is, first and foremost, a bi-color cat.
“Bi-color” means an animal sports two colors, specifically, white plus a color. Another name for this trait is "piebald." In addition to cats, there are piebald dogs, cows, pigs, deer, horses, and mice. There are also piebald humans, but this is relatively rare. Humans with this trait often have a shock of white hair that stands out amidst a head of otherwise darker locks.
Not all bi-color cats are tuxedos
A tuxedo is a bi-color cat, but not all bi-color cats are tuxedos. This is because bi-color means any color plus white, and it also means that a cat can have any amount of color. For example, a bi-color cat can be gray and white, tabby and white, or orange and white. Tuxedo cats, by definition, are only black and white.
But, not all black-and-white cats are tuxedos
Not all black-and-white cats are tuxedo cats, however. The amount of white in a cat is graded on a scale of one to 10, with one being completely black, and 10 being completely white. “High-grade” bi-color black-and-white cats typically have what is called Van patterning, named after the Turkish Van cat. This means the cat is nearly all white, except for black on the crown of the head and tail.
Other kinds of black-and-white markings that are not tuxedo markings include:
Cow pattern (also called magpie or harlequin): a mostly white cat with random black spots or patches on the body.
Mask-and-mantle pattern: A cat with a black back, shoulders, and head, but with a white underside.
Cap-and-saddle pattern: A cat with black fur on the top of the head, and a big black patch on the lower back (and possibly the tail), but white everywhere else.
Locket pattern: A black cat with one tiny white patch on the chest or belly.
A tuxedo has very particular markings
A tuxedo is considered to have low-to-medium grade white spotting, meaning there may be white on the paws, face, throat, and chest of an otherwise black cat. There may be a bit of white on the tail, too. A white muzzle or a vertical stripe on the bridge of the nose, or even just the tip, is common. Sometimes a tuxedo cat will have what appears to be a black goatee.
Paw pads may be black or pink, and often match the color of the coat in that area. A tuxedo can have long hair or short.
Note that the term “tuxedo cat” is commonly used in the United States. If you’re in the United Kingdom, you’re more likely to refer to a cat with this coat pattern as a Jellicle cat, after the black-and-white cats in T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Cats with this color pattern are also sometimes referred to as Felix cats or Julius cats, after the cartoon animal characters which were drawn with tuxedo patterning.
What cat breeds allow tuxedo coloring?
Tuxedo coloring is not allowed in certain breed standards, however.
What are the genetics behind a tuxedo's unusual coat pattern?
Scientist have only recently begun to understand why some animals, including cats, have patches of white fur amidst another color.
Tuxedo cats have the genes to be all black. But they also have a mutation in a gene called KIT that prevents coat-color cells, called melanocytes, from getting into all the hair follicles when a kitten embryo is developing in her mother's womb. This mutation is often described as “white spotting.”
Some very recent studies have shed light on how this mutation causes patches of white fur to form on otherwise colorfully-furred animals.
During the development of a typical kitten embryo, pigment cells spread through the developing skin, multiplying as they go along. Some pigment cells stay behind to make sure that the skin gets color, while the rest creep along the body in a random pattern.
The KIT mutation seems to make the dark pigment cells move along the body more quickly, but divide less frequently. Because the pigment cells aren't reproducing well, there aren’t enough pigment cells to go around. Some areas of the cat don’t get any and these areas end up as white.
Tuxedo cat myths
Surprise, surprise: everything you read on the Internet isn’t true. If you go looking for information on tuxedo cats on the web, you will most certainly come across these fun falsehoods:
Myth #1: Ancient Egyptians worshipped tuxedo cats, or believed that tuxedo cats brought good luck.
Actually, there were two main breeds of cat in ancient Egypt and neither of them were our domestic cat. Nor were they black or white. Both the African Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) and the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) have both been found buried in the tombs of their ancient Egyptian owners. Later, domesticated cats began to evolve from their wild ancestors, but these were likely tabby cats.
Some Egyptian gods, including the famous cat deity, Bast, are associated with cats, and depicted as cats, but that does not mean that cats themselves were considered divine. The gods were worshipped, but not the living cats.
And finally, you might also read on the internet that "70% of cats depicted in ancient Egyptian art are tuxedo cats." In fact, ancient domesticated cats’ coats are typically depicted as tabby and cats didn’t really get their fancy coat colors until humans got into the business of creating cat breeds in the 1800s.
It’s likely that people got the idea that there were black cats in ancient Egypt because leaded-bronze Egyptian statues of cats, which are dark in color, have managed to survive the ages. They certainly give the impression that cats in ancient Egypt were all black.
Myth #2: Since they are properly "dressed," tuxedo cats are permitted to attend the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
This is my favorite fake “fact” about tuxedo cats. Since it sounded preposterous to me, I reached out to the Metropolitan Opera to confirm their policy on cats in the opera house.
In response, the Met said, “We are tickled about the tuxedo cat as well.” They pointed out that, in fact, there is no dress code to attend the Opera. “Art is for everyone,” they explained, “whether you dress formally or not.”
The Metropolitan Opera does adhere to all ADA and New York laws regarding service animals, however, and yours may attend a performance with you regardless of coat color.
Myth #3: Tuxedo cats have magical powers.
It’s said that during the equinox, tuxedo cats become practically invisible.
I don't have to be a physicist to know that this so-called fact is false. Just because yours disappears when it’s time to go to the vet, doesn’t mean he’s invisible.
Myth #4: Tuxedo cats have a certain personality, size, weight, or lifespan.
One scientific study showed that people do associate certain cat colors with particular personality traits. Orange cats, for example, are considered friendly, while calico cats are thought to be aloof. But this study also concluded that it’s more likely that we perceive differences based on our own biases about coat color, than really exist.
Importantly, as mentioned above, tuxedo cats are not a breed of cat. Many cat breed standards allow tuxedo markings, and your tuxedo cat is more likely to share physical and personality traits with his underlying breed or combination of breeds, rather than with cats of similar coloring.
And yet, all cats, ultimately, are individuals. Your cat will be who she is, based on her particular combination of genes, her upbringing and personal history, and whatever magic makes all of us who we are.
Famous tuxedo cats
Tuxedo cats have wormed their way into our imaginations and our hearts. There are some very famous fictional cats who are depicted as tuxies (in addition to Felix and Julius), and some very famous in-the-flesh tuxedo cats.
Sylvester the Cat. Sylvester is a Looney Tunes character who is black with white jowls, a white belly, white feet, white tip on on his tail – most definitely a tuxedo cat.
Cat in the Hat. The 1957 children’s book written by Dr. Seuss featured a tuxedo cat who convinces two children to do some naughty things in their mother’s absence.
Mr. Mistoffelees. Mr. Mistoffellees is a Jellicle cat featured in T.S. Eliot’s poetry book and its musical stage adaptation, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Cats."
Tom Cat. Tom Cat of Tom-and-Jerry fame is a tuxedo cat.
Socks. Socks was First Cat in the Clinton White House.
Sparky. Sparky is likely the wealthiest tuxedo cat to have ever lived. He inherited $6.3 million in 1998.
Tuxedo Stan. This politically minded tuxedo from Halifax, Canada ran for mayor of his city in 2012 to raise awareness about the growing feral cat population problem in his home town. (He was unable to formally run because regulations required that he have a birth certificate.)
Simon. Simon was a ship’s cat who served on the Royal Navy HMS Amethyst during the 1949 Chinese Civil War. He protected the ship’s food supplies from pests, and won several medals for his contribution to the war effort.
Interested in learning more about cat coat patterns? Read:
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
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