Categories: dilution

What is a dilute coat color in cats?

Dilute tortoiseshell. Photo in public domain. You can see in her facial expression that she is female (nearly all torties are female).

The term ‘dilute’ refers to the weakening of the colours of a cat’s coat as if watered down. The colours are paler. Cat breeders can deliberately create this colour by selective breeding of pedigree cats.

Dilute Calico cat (Tortie-and-white). Photo: public domain now.

When the cat coat’s color is diluted it is due to the presence of two mutant recessive d alleles in the place of the dominant gene D (dd – called ‘maltese dilution’ after cats imported from Malta in the early years of the cat fancy).

These alleles have an affect on the production of pigment granules in the hair. The granules become enlarged and uneven. This creates a dilute appearance.

Diluted black produces grey (gray) as we know and in the cat world the colour is called blue as it is a blue/grey. Perhaps the best know blue cat is the blue British Shorthair.

‘Tawny’ a dilute torbie cat. Photo: Mark Swartz.

Below is a chart showing the diluted colours.

Solid color
double dilution


Dilute cat coats can be further modified by the dilute modifier gene (Dm). This could be called double dilution. This gene only affects dilute cats coats. The diluted black that became blue takes on a brownish colour and is called caramel (hence the term that this gene “caramelizes the colour). Lilac becomes taupe and cream becomes apricot.

Blue British Shorthair TYBA. Photo copyright Helmi Flick

Some examples of the use of the term ‘dilute are: dilute cameo, dilute cameo tabby, dilute tortoiseshell, dilute calico (tortoiseshell-and-white), dilute tricolour (blue + cream + white). The word ‘dilute’ is used when describing a coat with a pattern which is paler as opposed to a solid colour when the new colour only becomes the description as follows:

Diluted chocolate becomes lilac, cinnamon becomes fawn and red becomes cream. The color of the cat’s eyes remain unaltered.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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