The Story Behind that Tuxedo Your Cat Is Wearing

Though a rare occurrence in humans, piebaldism is common in many domestic and farm animals.

Tuxedo cats get their coloring due to piebaldism. Via Tarheelson/iStock/Thinkstock

I had a tuxedo cat when I was little. She had kittens so we always called her Mother Cat. I have no idea what her real name was. At that age, I also had no idea why her fur was an interesting pattern of black and white (or that she’d even be considered a “tuxedo cat,” for that matter). However, as an adult, I can’t help wondering what made her and other black and white cats “tuxedo cats.”

Luckily, I didn’t have to seek it out on my own. University researchers in Bath, Edinburgh and Oxford studied the condition, known as piebald. Piebaldism “manifests as white areas of fur… due to the absence of pigment-producing cells in those regions. These areas usually arise on the front of an animal, commonly on the belly and the forehead,” according to Popular Science.

The researchers’ goal was to find out how the tuxedo cat pattern is formed. It turns out that how these “pigment patterns form is far more random than originally thought,” Popular Science reports. “Animals acquire piebald pigmentation patterns on their skin when they are still developing embryos.

Piebaldism arises when the precursors of pigment-producing cells spread incorrectly through the embryo [and] the darkly colored pigment cells don’t make it as far as the belly in time to pigment the hair and skin. This results in distinctive white patches of fur and skin, usually around the belly of the animal, the furthest point from where they started.” In other words, tuxedo cats don’t have enough cells to pigment their entire body. They’re still terribly cute, though.

Click here to read the study in its entirety.

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