My cat is a what-what-what?

(Especially if you’ve adopted your cat) I bet you were likely stumped when you were at the vet’s for the first time and getting your kitty registered. You’re floundering, holding up the queue. But before you start buying season parking on the counter-top for your elbows, the vet tech/asst takes a look at your kitt and scribble something on your behalf.

It looks cryptic: DSH/tabby-white

What does that mean? You don’t want to antagonise the already peeved tech, so you sit and stew with the mystery in your head.

DSH… huh? Tabby-white? A white tabby? How is there tabby if the cat’s white? Then you sneak a peek and there’s apparently calico, ginger, tuxedo… DOH! Just what do these terms mean and how do they describe your cat?

Well, let us count the ways.

They Are Not Interchangable Terms

Cat lovers who are not actively involved in the cat fancy, often are confused about identifying terms of cats, such as purebred, DSH, and tabby. Hardly a day passes that I don’t receive at least one email with an attached photo, asking me to help identify the “breed” of cat. The correspondant is often disappointed when my reply is, “Your cat is a beautiful example of a tuxedo DSH,” or “What a lovely dilute calico domestic shorthair cat.”

Because there seems to be such a general fixation on breeds, the purpose of this article is to clarify the difference in semantics, so that the uninitiated cat lover will have a better understanding of these terms.
(Source. Read on for more info to decipher “DSH”)


By this time, you may be wondering: What in Bast’ name is DSH?! Well…

Domestic Cats

Your every-day non-pedigreed cat may be described by various terms:

  • Domestic cat
    This is the term used in veterinary offices on charts to identify cats not known to be of any particular breed. It is usually broken down as

    • DSH – Domestic Shorthair
    • DLH – Domestic Longhair
    • DMH – Domestic Medium length hair

    Some breed registries include a class in some of their shows for Domestic Cats, so that you and I can show off our beautiful kitties, and perhaps bring home a ribbon.

  • House cat, which is self-explanatory
  • Moggie
    This term was first used in the U.K. as an affectionate description, and many cat lovers in the U.S. and Canada now use it to refer to their cats. It’s one of my favorites.
  • Alley cat
    Thanks to the educational efforts of groups such as ACA (Alley Cat Allies), this term has fallen out of use, as cats are taken out of alleys and brought into loving, permanent homes.
  • Mixed Breed
    This term is most often used when a cat has identifiable features which might indicate a “purebred” cat is somewhere in its background. Commonly seen mixed breeds in shelters include Maine Coon mix, Persian mix, and Siamese mix.


Sometimes DSH is also written as LSH, L for local.

These terms cover the local moggies without a birth cert. Not that it makes them any less cat than a cat with a piece paper declaring it a cat of good breeding. (What on earth does a cat need a birth cert for, anyway?)

Call it a commiseration of the plebian-class if you want, but I find moggies have distinctive character and have so much more to give because they are not “privileged”.

Anyway, interestingly, from the same source:

Polydactyl Cats

Polydactyl cats, also called “Hemingway Cats,” are sometimes confused as a “breed.” Truthfully, most registries do not accept polydact cats in their standards. Polydactyl means “many toes,” and is considered a genetic defect. Ernest Hemingway had a number of polydact cats at his estate, and he allowed them to breed indiscriminately, so, many years after his death, the descendants of his original cats still live there.

Ok, now that the question of breed, or what I prefer to say look, is out of the way, let’s mix it up with the tricky stuff.

Patterns & Colours

What’s in a name? When it comes to cat coat colours, plenty. I’m not a colourist, but apparently some people out there put great store by what’s called the colour of a cat’s coat.

So here’s some terms you might need to know:

There are basically 4 cat furcoat patterns: solids, tabbies, tri-colours and tortoiseshells.

From here on out, I’ll also be providing pictures of our cats, maybe a clannie, a homeslacker, or a homeseeker, just to frame all this mambo jumbo in the local, ie Singapore, context. I’m not qualified to do any of this, so don’t sue me if any of the moggies are wrongly attributed. If you really must, then all I can say is: talk to the paw.

As the term suggest, solids refer to monochromatic cats. (Photos and reference links mine)

Non-agouti, or self-colored cats can also be called “solid” cats. When the cat’s body and fur are entirely one color, with no flecks of another color, we can refer to them as “solid” colored cats. Solid cats come in seven colors: black, chocolate, cinnamon, white, blue, lavender and fawn. Only the first four colors listed are the true solid colors, and the latter three are referred to as “dilute colors”, which means that they are lighter versions of the solid. Blue is the dilute of black; lavender is the dilute of chocolate, fawn is the dilute of cinnamon.

BLACK: With black cats, the hairs are solid black from base to tip. A black cat, which has long been associated with witches and bad luck, has black or dark slate grey toe pads and a black nose. A true black cat has orange eyes, but many will have gold to green eyes as well. If these black cats are exposed to sunlight, many will experience a brownish tinge to the fur, referred to as “rust”. By trimming the black cat’s coat during the warmer months, the glossy black color can easily be restored in most cases.

CHOCOLATE: Brown, or chocolate, is often seen as a base color, but rarely as a solid color cat (except in breeds like the Burmese). The toepads and nose leather of the brown/chocolate cat range from pink to dark brown. The Havana Brown is the only purebred feline that is primarily chocolate colored, although this color is now being carefully selected in breeding programs for the Oriental Shorthairs and Persians. This color appears as a rich, warm brown.

CINNAMON: Sometimes called “red”, this color is extremely rare in purebreds with the exception of some Abyssinians and Somalis. The toepads and nose leather of an orante cat are pink, and the hairs are again one solid color from base to tip UNLESS marked with tabby markings. Sometimes, this color is referred to as “ginger” (or, in the case of Bengals, “sorrel”).

WHITE: White cats are true phenomena, in so many ways. White is actually the ABSENCE of color in cats. White cats often have blue eyes, and blue-eyed white cats may be deaf and/or blind in many cases. Occasionally, a white cat may have one green eye and one blue eye. These cats are often deaf in the ear which corresponds to the blue eye. The white cat cannot make the pigment which causes the coat color. White is sometimes referred to as “dominant white”, as the white coloration gene masks or covers up all other colors! Underneath each and every white cat is a different color cat with all the genes necessary for other coat colors and patterns; however, the white gene has suppressed them (dominated them). (source)

Albino animals are characterised by pink/red eyes. White animals with eyes of other colours are not albino since their colour prove they are not absolutely pigment-less. The condition for differently coloured eyes or odd-eyed is called heterochromia.

Snowball – pure white mix-breed cat with one blue eye and 1 copper eye (adopted out in Dec 06)

Teddy (home slacker) – pure white DSH whose eyes were blue only until he was 3 months old, like most kittens. They’ve been green/yellow ever since.

(Also see The White Tiger Fraud)

Tri-colors & Tortoiseshells
Tri-colors are not to be confused with tortoiseshells, which they often are!

“Some people believe that calico cats are a breed, or that calico refers to a color of a cat. Since all cats are colored, calico refers to the pattern of how the coloring appears on the cat’s coat.”

“”Early in its inception, a calico/tortie kitty is formed by a gene known as the white spotting factor. The white spotting factor effectively slows down the migration of cells across the kitten’s body. One X-chromosome in every cell is switched off.

This is a random happenstance, and when a tortoiseshell kitten appears in the litter, you will see a mix of two colors of hair on the kitten. ”

Tri-colours are cats with distinct patches of colours – red/orange/marmalade, black and white.

Tri-color cats include: Calico
Separate solid blocks of color, which must include red (orange), black, and white. They also may have blocks of tabby pattern, which produces an extremely colorful and beautiful cat. Dilute calicos, have the same separate blocks of color, only the colors are “diluted,” i.e. “faded” shades of the original, which gives them an ethereal appearance. A dilute calico will have pale orange or buff for the red, and gray (or “blue”) for the black.

Calico – this cat is being fostered by Foster Mum.

A DSH calico-tortie (I think, given the slight mix of colours amidst the solid blocks), a female amputee/dog-attack victim boarded at Foster-Mum’s.

A dilute calico seen once in Area 2. Dilutes are less common than the non-dilutes, but this kitty is doubly special because calicos tend to be female – not only is he male, he has beautiful light blue eyes.

Like tri-colours, tortoiseshells, or torties, are multi-coloured. But unlike tri-colours, they may be 2-toned (red/orange/marmalade, and black) or 3-toned (with white).

Another big difference is that a tortie’s colours are like a palette of colours swirling and almost mingling into each other.

Debbie, a 3-colour DSH tortie paralysed through hit-and-run. She’s being cared for by Foster Mum.

Henna, a 2-colour DSH tortie. She’s a tec pioneer in Area 1.

More info to help distinguish between torties, tri-colours and calicos: Cat Fanciers’ FAQ

Tabbies are the most common, and the most varied in terms of pattern.

Basic tabby patterns

  • Classic: This pattern usually has whorls ending in a “target” on the side of the cat. Many American Shorthair cats demonstrate this pattern. The cat pictured in this chart has very high color contrast, which shows his whorls clearly.
  • Mackerel (striped): This is by far the most common pattern, so much so that some people think it should have received the title “Classic.” Mackerel tabbies have striped rings around their tail and legs, a “necklace” of stripes on the front of their chests, and bands of solid or broken stripes running down the sides of their bodies. They will have the darker color in spots running in two lines across their tummies (called “vest buttons.”) The ginger kitten in the chart shows an example of broken stripes. You can click on the image to see a larger version. The same cat (our Jaspurr) is shown above as an adult.
  • Spotted: The Ocicat and the American Bobtail are good examples of spotted tabby pattern, although some Moggies will also demonstrate this color pattern. The American Bobtail in the chart illustrates the spotted tabby pattern to perfection. (This cat also illustrates the American Bobtail section of my Breeds Snapshots.)
  • Agouti (Ticked): Most tabby cats will have agouti hairs as part of their pattern. If you look closely, you’ll see different bands of color down the length of the cat’s individual hairs. Cats with an all-ticked pattern almost shimmer in the sunlight, because of the color variation. The Abyssinian in the chart is a classic example of a ticked tabby or agouti pattern.


More on tabbies:

The word TABBY, is thought to be derived from the word ATABI, which is a type of silk manufactured in the Attabiah region of Baghdad. They exported quantities of this fabric to England, where the striped pattern was compared to the striping on the ‘tiger’ cat. This type of cat then became known as the TABBI, which was later modified to TABBY.

The history of the tabby pattern is complicated. The modern domestic cat appears to have developed from the African Wild Cat in Egypt. It was taken to ancient Greece and Rome by traders, and from there spread across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. In the progress, it bred with other wild cats, and eventually, the modern tabby is a dilution of what it was at the beginning. When looking at painting done at about that time, the patterns depicted on the cats were much darker, and clearer.

The first cats described, are the mackerel tabbies, which are covered with thin dark lines. Some of these break up into dashes or spots, but the overall effect is of a tigerish striping. Next, a blotched tabby arrived on the scene. On this cat, the striping was darker, but over time became confined more to special areas. It is believed that blotched tabbies originated in England around the Elizabethan era. They became mousers on the many trade ships that plied ware to the world, and so they continued to spread, gaining momentum right up to the Victorian era. For some reason, the Blotched tabby was a winner, leading to questions of whether this pattern was linked to an aggressive gene. They could, of course, have just been more fertile. Whatever the reason, this type of tabby became the one usually seen, and the Mackerel tabby fell into decline.
(Source. Also has details and pictures of different tabby patterns and colours)

For a quickie primer on tabby patterns and colours:

Tabbies come in many different colors. You can tell what color a tabby is by looking at the color of its stripes and its tail tip. The color of the agouti hairs (the “ground color”) may vary tremendously from cat to cat, some cats may have a washed out gray ground color and others will have rich orange tones.

  • A “brown tabby” has black stripes on a brownish or grayish ground color. The black stripes may be coal black, or a little bit brownish.
  • A “blue tabby” has gray stripes on a grayish or buff ground color. The gray stripes may be a dark slate gray, or a lighter blue-gray.
  • A “red tabby” has orange stripes on a cream ground color. The orange stripes may be dark reddish orange, or light “marmalade” orange.
  • A “cream tabby” has cream stripes on a pale cream ground color. These stripes look sand-colored or peach-colored rather than orange.
  • A “silver tabby” has black stripes on a white ground color. The roots of the hairs are white. You can also have a blue silver, cream silver, or red silver tabby (red silver is also known as “cameo tabby”) depending on the color of the stripes. In all cases, silver tabbies have a pale ground color and white roots. To make sure, part the hairs and look at the roots.


Another distinctive trademark of a tabby:

The Magnificent “M”

Probably the most distinctive feature seen in common on all tabby cats is the “M” on their foreheads. You will also see this M on many of the big jungle cats, such as tigers, cheetahs, and ocelots.From the ancient Egyptian days came the first legend about this unique marking. Cats were called Mau, most likely a reflection of their conversational sound. The word Mau also translated to seeing, or light. Since cats’ eyes appear so luminous at night, it was only a couple of steps further to associate these glorious animals with the moon, and their marking to reflect that relationship. The Egyptian Mau is a direct descendant of those ancient Egyptian cats; domesticated as an offspring of the African Wild Cat, it carries the M to this day.
(Source. Read on for legends about this marking)

Marty, a DSH agouti/ticked brown tabby. See the magnificence of the “M” on his forehead? (Pioneer tec member in Area 1)

Here’s a closeup of that fur-lined “M”

Philly, a DSH spotted brown tabby. Homeslacker.

Izzy– a mixed-breed classic brown tabby. Adopted out Nov 06.

Benny – a brown mackerel tabby DSH/mixed-breed. Elusive cat still hanging on to his mojo in area 2.

Other Patterns
To add to the info overload, here’s more cat coat patterns

Tuxedo cats were so named for their glossy black coats, enhanced with white bibs and “spats,” less esoterically described as white feet. Columbus is a nice example of a tuxedo cat; he is also one of our forum kitties.

Bi-colored cats may include tuxedos, as well as other configurations on one color plus white. A black and white cat might be better described as bi-color if the colors are present in large blocks on the cat’s body rather than the “bib and boots” pattern. Other bi-colors might include gray and white, brown and white, or red and white.

Points or Pointed Markings
“Points,” or darker shades of the body color, generally include the ears, muzzle, tail, and feet of the cat. The original pointed cat was the Siamese, and many years later, the Himalayan was developed by crossing Siamese with Persian cats. Many other breeds of pointed cats are now accepted by cat registries, including Ragdoll, Ragamuffin, Birman, Exotic, Balinese, and Javanese. Breed registries disallow pointed patterns in most other breeds. Many mixed breed cats display these distinctive points, which may be found in various colors.

Booties, a DSH classic b&w tuxedo girl. (Adopted out Dec 06)

Cassie, a DSH classic b&w bi-colour cat. She’s one of our homeseekers looking for a home

Corrie – a mixed-breed brown colourpoint and a newbie clannie. We found her in June, emaciated, and she is now in Foster Mum’s tender care.

The Torbie

Torbie is short for tortoiseshell-tabby. When you add tabby stripes a tortie becomes a torbie. They are also called patched tabbies since they are a tabby with patches of red or cream. Adding stripes also tends to make the red harder to see. Most torbies will have some red on their feet, even if you don’t see it anywhere else.
(Source. Also has pictures of torties and torbies)

Mocha, a DSH torbie tuxedo looking for a home. She’s with Foster Mum’s crew.

More examples of coat patterns

Joey, a DSH agouti/ticked red tabby bi-colour. Homeslacker.

Frankie, a DSH cream agouti tabby tuxedo. He’s one of ours homeseekers, hoping for a home.

Kheilly, a mixed-breed semi-longhair spotted brown tabby tuxedo. Clannie turned Homeslacker.

Joe Yeti, a DSH/Mixed-breed cream calico. He’s a honorary clannie and a semi-pet living on the clan borders of Area 1

Salvi, a DSH silver agouti tabby. She’s a semi-pet living in Area 1.

Sasha – a mixed-breed brown agouti tabby colourpoint. She’s a semi-pet living in Area 2. We’re open to adopting her out.

Well, these are just some of the breed/pattern/colour combos you might find in a cat. So what’s your cat?

You may also be interested to know about sex and the kitty.

(Dedicated to Lynn: hope this helps separate the torties from the calicos)


11 responses to “My cat is a what-what-what?

  1. good lord calsifer, i was just lapping up info on cat ‘breeds’ thru the link from your blog yesterday, and even took the quiz for good measure! and here you are providing us with a wonderful thesis! are you telepathic or what? 😀

  2. hee, I think it’s your deck of tarot cards, Mama Piggy. Glad you like it.

  3. Wow this is very informative. Thanks heap!

  4. I love cats, and appreciate the amount of research which is evident in the descriptions. My cat is a chocolate-point siamese mix, named Shao-Khan. He is 11 years old tomorrow.

  5. nicole wilson

    i have no clue what kind of breed my cat abbie is and i wish i did because every body asks what kind she is but i have no clue. she looks like a acalico but who knows. i wish i could describe her and then you guys could tell me what she is or i could go to a different web site and find where i could describe her and then somebody will tell me what she is.

  6. Nicole,
    That’s ok. 🙂 It doesn’t really matter what breed Abbie is, because ultimately Abbie and you belong to each other, and that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?

  7. Hey you guys , i’ve just knew your webpages like this and very touch what you’re doing for those kittes and dogs . I also love them very much and I got 9 kitties till now . I also want to do something for poor life of another kitties and dogs in Vietnam also . It seem cat are not willing to feed up than dogs . Hope we can expand our “love”to kitties / dogs to oversea and get the suppose from other friends … Pls share with me if I can help you in this lovely job .

  8. Blue cat,

    Have you tried contacting your local animal rescue/welfare groups about helping out with their work etc?

  9. My cat is chocolate color and is DEFINITELY NOT a
    Havana Brown Cat. He is all baker’s chocoate brown with some faint tracing of orange toy tiger cat on the legs and belly.

    What kind of cat do you think my cat “Chocolate” is?


    Andrea Stevens

  10. Andrea Stevens,
    As you can see, this is merely about cat colours and patterns, not breed, and I’m no cat breed expert either. Can’t help you there.

  11. Pingback: Area1: New baby on the block « Tipped Ear Clan