The first point that I would like to address on the subject of “the selfs” is where the hell the term “the selfs” comes from! The terminology is mysterious to me. Initially you can’t see any connection between the word “self” and “solid colours”. And that is what it means. We’re talking about cat coats of a solid, single colour. People in the cat fancy (cat breeders and those who show their cats) refer to solid colours as “selfs”.
I couldn’t find an answer on the internet or in books as to where this terminology comes from and therefore, I decided myself. And in a strange way the answer is in that statement. You will find the use of the term “self-coloured” in many occupations and businesses. The dictionary definition is “of a single uniform colour”. Another definition is “having the natural or original colour”. I think the word “original” is important in that definition.
It seems to me to point to the fact that the word “self” comes from the fact that the individual cat has produced the colour themselves and is the original colour of the cat before cat breeders selectively breed from the cat to produce variations such as diluted or bi-colour cats. That is my interpretation which may be incorrect and if you think it is incorrect, please leave a comment.
Robinson’s Genetics for Cat Breeders and Veterinarians, the ‘go-to’ book about cat genetics, states that there are six basic colours for cats: black, blue, chocolate, lilac, cinnamon and fawn. They say that they exist as the “uncomplicated non-agouti, self-phenotype”. The reference to non-agouti is a reference to not being tabby. And the word ‘phenotype’ means the appearance. And self-colours are ‘uncomplicated’ because there is no pattern. It gets complicated doesn’t it!
Sarah Hartwell on her website messybeast.com states that “genetically speaking, there are four basic self (or solid) colours of cats: black, chocolate, cinnamon and red”. She states that all other solid colours are modifications of these. She also says that red is a form of tabby and that it is impossible to eliminate tabby markings in red cats. The red tabby is a well-known domestic cat type. I remember Martha Kane, a cat rescuer in Malta, telling me that red tabbies have a certain character which is pleasant and they tend to be slightly dominant. I don’t know whether it’s true but I think it is. Red or ginger tabbies are normally male because of sex linkage.
White by the way is not counted as a colour by the cat fancy despite the fact that it is a mixture of all the colours. I think this is because in terms of colours white is indeed a mixture of red, green and blue but in terms of the cat fancy and cat coats, white is a lack of pigmentation in the hair strands and therefore technically there is no colour because there is no melanin.
An outsider might be confused by the different names for the solid colours because different registries and different breeds have different names for some basic colours. For example, jet-black can be called black or “ebony” and in terms of colour point cats is called “seal”. In Burmese cats it is called “sable” or “seal sepia”.
One way to modify a self-colour is to wash it out with the dilution gene. You see quite a lot of this in the cat fancy. The most common is turning black into blue. Blue or grey cats are diluted black cats. And chocolate dilutes to lavender or lilac. While red becomes cream and cinnamon becomes fawn.
A very common cat coat type is the black-and-white cat which is a bicolour cat and often a tuxedo cat. And you see lots of bicolour domestic cats which describes a solid colour plus white. This is the effect of the white spotting gene otherwise known as the piebald gene. Sarah Hartwell on her website generously shows us the self-colours and the range of bi-coloured cats in her charts. You can see the latter by clicking on this link and the former I have reproduced on this page with thanks.
Robinson’s have an interesting discourse on black cats. They say that sunlight combined with saliva deposited on the cat’s coat to create an oxidative chemical reaction which results in the rusting of the fur. They say that all self-colours can be adversely affected by sunlight some more than others. Environmental influences can have an effect on solid colours. I wrote about the rusting up of black coats some time ago. I decided that it was caused by a medical condition which can read about by clicking on this link if you wish.
Often termed blue in the cat fancy because the colour has a slight blue tinge, it is produced at the dilution of Maltese gene locus by the allele d in the formula aaB-dd. Chemically speaking it is black pigment (eumelanin) but the colour is diluted. Within the hair strands the melanin granules clump which I presume leaves spaces in between them and it is these spaces which create the diluted effect. The colourless areas allow more light to pass through the hair which lightens the colour. Selective breeding can alter the depth of colour. There are four cat breeds which have this solid colour: Chartreux (an exclusively French breed), British Blue, Russian Blue and Korat. You can read about these cats on this site – please search.
This is a mutation of black coloration. The Havana Brown is a “self-chocolate foreign type cat with the genotype of aabbD-. Apparently, in America, the Havana Brown has dense colouring with oval, chocolate pigment granules replacing the spherical black granules according to Robinson’s Genetics.
As mentioned, this is a diluted brown. It is a softer and often rosier shade of blue. It has been developed by many breeds including the Persian, Oriental and Rex breeds.
These colours have been known in the cat fancy for 50-100 years.
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