Just like the tortoiseshell cat, black and white cats are not a breed unto themselves. Instead, this coloring is found across about a dozen different breed of cats, as well as mixed breed cats.
Black and white cats may also be known as tuxedo cats because their coloring makes them look as though they are wearing tuxedos. They can even have a little black ‘bow tie’ spot on their neck!
Black and white cats are usually very cute or elegant looking and since they cross many different breeds, you can get all kinds of temperaments to go along with their coloring. What else should you know about black and white cats?
What is a Black and White Cat?
Black and white cats, also known as a bi-color pattern, are a coat pattern that features a good balance of black and white fur. Typically, the white fur is on the chest, paws, and face while the black fur is on the legs, body, the rest of the face, and tail, but this pattern can vary a lot.
Many black and white cats don’t even look as though they are wearing tuxedos and instead have the black just on select parts of their body. The tail and face are very common. If the pattern looks like a tuxedo, then the cat is known as a Tuxedo; if not, they are just black and white or piebald.
Black and white cats were first domesticated thousands of years ago; the shorthair one originated likely in ancient Egypt. In fact, 70% of all cats found in the royal tombs were tuxedos! The cat made its way to North America on the Mayflower and spread from there.
Black and white cats can also be known as: tuxedo, bi-color, or piebald. The difference will lie in how much black there is and where the white fur is located. Both longhair and shorthair (and even hairless) cats can be black and white, and the tuxedo pattern can be found across over a dozen breeds.
Technically speaking, black and white can also be given to cats with a dark grey and white coloring and even a dark tabby and white coloring, but most aficionados would state that a cat should be ‘truly’ black and white and certainly to be tuxedo, the patterning is fairly specific.
What are the Characteristics of a Black and White Cat?
There are no particular characteristics for a black and white cat since they can be found across many breeds. But there are some things to keep in mind when it comes to balancing the black and white to differentiate the different types.
- “True” tuxedo cats should have a solid black coat with white fur only found on the paws, chest, throat, belly, and chin. Some tuxedo cats may have a black ‘goatee’ or ‘bow tie’. They also often have a bicolor nose.
- Piebald or bicolor black and white cats can have the black and white all over the cat. This can include colorings where there is only a tiny bit of black on the ears and tail, or conversely, only a tiny bit of white on the paws and face.
- Cats with white fur that have another color like gray or dark tabby may also be considered black and white, but it depends on who you talk to.
- Most black and white cats have white whiskers that stand out quite obviously against their black masks.
Black and white cats can be hairless, short hair, or long hair because the fur length is determined by the breed. They can also vary on their eye color (gold to blue and green or even two different colors) and body type, though the ‘traditional’ tuxedo cat is usually muscular and heavy with very nice proportions.
Tuxedo cats usually have a life span of up to twenty years for indoor cats and don’t have any particular health conditions outside those that are found in their breed.
Unlike other color patterns like calico, black and white cats can be either male or female and the genetics that control the coloring don’t have much of an impact on anything outside of the coloring. This means that you don’t have to worry about sterility or other issues in black and white cats.
Black and white cats are actually the most common color of cats in the world, though they come in a huge variety of patterns. They may also be one of the harder ones to re-home as many people find them boring compared to tortoiseshells and orange cats.
But the record for the world’s loudest purr belongs to a black and white cat and there have been many famous black and white cats such as Palmerston in the Foreign Office in London, Sylvester in Looney Tunes, and black and white cats have been owned by people like Shakespeare, Bill Clinton, and Beethoven.
A black and white cat even received in a medal in World War Two for protecting the food supply on the HMS Amethyst from rats.
Black and White Cat Genetics
For a long time, it was thought that the black and white coloring was caused by “inactive” genes that did not move quickly enough to cover the coat in a solid color.
But this isn’t quite true – two-toned cats are formed by a defective version of “kit” genes and well, they are ‘slower’ because they don’t propagate at the usual speed of properly working kit genes.
But this genetic defect doesn’t harm the cat at all – it merely controls how much white there would be on what would have been a black cat. It is also linked to the white spotting gene – the white spotting is what gives these cats their bicolor appearance.
More specifically, cats with less white in their coat have inherited a single copy of the white spotting gene from a parent. Cats with 40% or less white in their coat fall in this area.
Cats that are more than 40% white have inherited two copies of this gene. They probably aren’t tuxedo variants at that point, but they are still awfully beautiful to look at. And ‘tuxedo’ itself isn’t strictly black and white anyway; orange and white or grey and white cats can also be tuxedos since one is looking for the tuxedo pattern, not the coloring.
So, a black and white cat can have either one or two of the white spotting gene with two spotting genes causing a lot more of the white coloration!
Breeds of Cat That Tend to be Black and White?
There are about a dozen breeds of cat that show the black and white coloring (and tens of thousands of mixed breeds, again, making this the most common coloration in the feline kingdom):
- British Shorthair
- Cornish Rex
- Domestic longhair
- Domestic shorthair
- Japanese bobtail
- Maine Coon
- Oriental Shorthair
- Persian (probably the early black and white cats that came to the Americas were Persians or a relative of that breed)
- Scottish Fold
- Siberian Cat
- Turkish Angora
- Norwegian forest cat
Of course, you can find this coloration in other breeds, but these are the most common ones to see the most common coloring! And most mixed breeds are perfectly capable of producing black and white cats.
Interestingly, a male and female tuxedo cat are more likely to produce entire litters of tuxedo kittens, assuming that the female-only breeds with one male. This is because of the genes that control coloring the balance of pie-balding. But of course, this is not a guarantee- you could end up with a few more kittens that have more white or more black.
Black and white cats have a reputation for being friendly, affectionate, very smart, and bond well with their families. As you can see though, this is probably largely due to the breed(s) that went into the cat.
Maine Coons for example are extremely affectionate, while oriental shorthairs cats bond tightly to their owner and are smart. Norwegian forest cats give them a reputation for being independent and of course, the tuxedo versions, in particular, look so regal that it’s hard not to think of them as being graceful, elegant, and attractive.
The coat color is not what is giving these cats the reputation for their high intelligence and affection, it’s the breed(s).
Of course, this doesn’t stop proud owners from claiming that their black and white cat is the smartest, most affectionate, and most loyal cat around. We’re not here to argue the point!
Interesting Myths and Facts Around Black and White Cats
Black and white cats have been around for a long time, so it makes sense that they have stacked up the mythology. Most of the cats that ancient Egyptians owned were black and white and they were found all over towns, villages, ships, and spreading all over the world. So, what are some interesting myths and facts about this coloration?
- Tuxedo cats are rumored to go invisible on the vernal equinox. Goodness knows how that got started, but it’s a persistent enough myth about this color of cat.
- Tuxedo cats in particular are thought to bring in luck with many lottery owners owning a black and white cat. And a tuxedo named Sparky inherited six million dollars in 1998! So, they can even bring that financial luck to themselves.
- Black and white cats often have their eyes open at birth, unlike their siblings. When do have closed eyes, owners have noticed that they open them, on average, twenty-four hours earlier than other color cats.
- Black and white cats are generally quite good swimmers. But don’t test the theory – they still hate water with a passion! The reason for this is that many breeds which produce black and white cats have strong hindquarters and are able to swim quite well.
- Most owners claim that their black and white cats are far smarter (200x!) than other indoor cats. But since we don’t have a standardized IQ test for cats, there’s no way to know if this is true or not. This may be more of a breed thing again – Maine Coons and Oriental short/long hairs are quite intelligent, for example.
- Tuxedo cats are the only cats allowed to participate in some shows (such as at the Metropolitan Area) because they always wear a suit. Silly, but there it is.
- Unlike pure black cats, black and white cats are considered lucky
- Roderick the tuxedo cat, is the only cat to climb Mt. Everest.
- Tuxedo cats are the most popular variation on black and white and the most Googled cat color.
Variations of Black and White Coloring
There are about a dozen variations on this coloring which are all dependent on where the black and white are on the body. And being that we are human, many of them had cute names! So, the most famous is definitely the tuxedo where the cat is all black except for white on the belly, chest, paws, and a black mask on the face. B
ut there is also the ‘masked tuxedo’ variant where the entire face is black except for white around the chin and nose, and the “kitler” which is cat with a tiny black ‘mustache’ on their face.
Many black and white cats have white socks and black leggings, while the most ‘lucky’ coloration is thought to be a tuxedo with a patch of black on their upper chest and throat that looks like a bow tie. But of course, you can also have a huge range of small black patches on white, pure black with only a bit of white, and everything in between.
Black and white cats, despite their striking coloring, often have a harder time getting adopted and stay, on average, ten days longer in shelters. Even tuxedo coloring can be found staying longer in shelters. If you’re looking for a new cat, consider bringing a black and white home and prove that these cats are far from ordinary!
Have you ever had a black and white cat? (Surprisingly, I have not! I have had a calico, two tortie-whites and a white cat, but never a black and white!) Was it the smartest cat you’ve ever owned? Let us know in the comments below!
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.