What does ‘agouti’ mean in cats?

We see the word ‘agouti’ used a lot in the world of cats, particularly the world of cat breeders. This is because it is a word that indirectly refers to a very common type of coat; those with the tabby pattern. These are ticked, classic (blotched), striped (mackerel) and spotted.

Ticked cat hair strand
Ticked cat hair strand. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

In the cat world ‘agouti’ refers to a gene which, as I understand it, encodes the agouti-signalling protein which controls how colour pigment is deposited in the hair strand as it grows from the follicle.

As hair grows in its follicle, the pigment ‘eumelanin’ (melanin) is created in cells called melanocytes. As the amount of agouti-signalling protein is increased, melanin (dark brown colour) production is decreased (inhibited) which results in a shift to the production of phaeomelanin (yellow colour). The agouti gene also slows production of phaeomelanin but less so.

This results in banding along the hair strand and the tabby pattern which is black or very dark brown at the tip and yellow at the base or lower down on the hair strand.

The process gave rise to the wild-type tabby appearance of many wild animals as it is good camouflage which aids survival. Nature through evolution created this process.

Ticked Coat of Abyssinian Cat
Ticked Coat of Abyssinian Cat

It seems that the origin of the word ‘agouti’ comes from the species of rodent called the ‘agouti’ which has the ‘ticked’ tabby coat (in cat breeder language). And the agouti animal got its name from one of two South American indigenous languages: Guarani or Tupi in which the name is aguti, agouti or acuti.

Common agouti
Common agouti. Photo: Wikipedia.

Perhaps the best-known cat to have the wild-type ticked tabby coat is the jaguarundi while the best-known domestic cat to have this coat is the Abyssinian. The domestic cat’s tabby coat is inherited from the North African wildcat, the ancestor to the domestic cat. For the first few thousand years of cat domestication the only coat available was the faint spotted tabby. All the illustrations of domestic cats from Ancient Egypt are mackerel tabbies.

Dutch Ringtail Cat
Dutch Ringtail Cat. He is a classic (blotched) tabby cat too. Picture in public domain.

Through domestic cat evolution the mackerel (joined spots) and blotched tabbies developed. The latter emerged in the 19th century (blotched tabby gene tb combined with modifier genes). Throughout, the agouti gene was at work. Other modifier genes create the differences in tabby pattern by varying the way the dark bands of pigment are presented at the tip of each strand.

Ginger tabby Maine Coon kitten

Your chance to watch a ginger tabby Maine Coon kitten grow up from 2 to 16 weeks of age in a 17 second video

I always like these short videos showing a charming Maine Coon kitten growing up. This breed grows up slowly; still ...
Silver classic tabby Scottish Fold kitten with a WOW appearance

The classic blotched tabby (infographic)

Scroll down for an infographic on the classic tabby cat coat which is also referred to as the blotched tabby ...
Dexter the 24.3-pound F6 Savannah cat

Enormous F6 Savannah cat weighing 24 pounds

Sixth filial (F6) Savannah cats are meant to be similar to an 'ordinary' domestic cat. But I reckon hybrid vigour ...
Stunning black mackerel tabby male cat

Are all domestic cats tabbies?

When you look at domestic cats today, you see a very wide range of coat types and colours. You would ...
Ace a red tabby Maine Coon

What percentage of orange tabby cats are female?

About 25% of orange tabby cats are females, which means that 75% of orange tabby cats are males. I say ...
Tabby domestic shorthair

Difference between tabby and domestic shorthair?

As a tabby cat is frequently a domestic shorthair cat, the question doesn't make sense as it is trying to ...
Stunning black mackerel tabby male cat

Picture of an unusual, large, dark mackerel tabby male cat

This cat is described as a Maine Coon but the coat and ears are all wrong. The coat should be ...
Cat embryo developing its coat pattern thanks to the Dkk4 gene

New research into the domestic cat tabby pattern does not fully explain how the pattern is created

The news media is having a field day in declaring to the world that we now know how tabby cats ...

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

follow it link and logo

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

I welcome and value comments. Please share your thoughts. All comments are currently unmoderated.

This blog is seen in 199 of the world's country's according to Google Analytics which is pretty much the entire world.

Scroll to Top