Calico and Bi-Color Persians

by Carissa Altschul
From Cat Fanciers' Yearbook, 2011


Like any other division, bi-colors have their own issues that today’s breeders must address to decide the future of the bi-color. Perhaps the most controversial of those issues can be best called “breeding the color off the cat.”

To understand this dilemma, one must first appreciate the diversity of bi-color patterns. Bobara Pendergrast (Olde Calico) created a diagram (see right and below) that is used to this day to describe the eight most common variations of the bi-color pattern.


GC, RW Candirand’s Blast From The Past, van blue and white male.
Gulf Shore Region's 8th Best Kitten, 2001.
Br/Ow: Christy Miller.

For decades, the CFA bi-color standard called for a particular pattern of bi-color, that described in number four of Pendergrast’s drawing. White feet, legs, shoulders, hips, “collar,” and the inverted “V” on the face. The second pattern most favored since its acceptance in 1977 is the “Van” pattern described in number eight. As the years progressed, bi-color breeders decided to break away from the prescribed pattern of number four and re-wrote the standard to only describe the minimum amount of white preferred on a bi-color cat. Since the standard only called for a minimum of white, but not a minimum of color, bi-color breeders began actively breeding for as much white as they could get on a bi-color. As far as most bi-color breeders are concerned, “the more white, the better.”

Bi-Color and Calico kitten litter, from Kittiary Cattery

Additionally, when breeding with high white or “van” pattern cats, bi-color breeders could be virtually assured of producing all bi-color kittens in their litters. Since most bi-color breeders only wanted to work with bi-colors, high white and “van” pattern has become very desirable in breeding programs. This breeding philosophy has produced some strikingly marked bi-colors – similar to the numbers five, six, and seven on Pendergrast’s diagram, nevertheless, it has produced several dilemmas both inside and outside of the Calico and Bi-Color Division.

The first is the afore-mentioned “breeding off the color.” I have added a 9th pattern to Pendergrast’s diagram, a bi-color pattern that has been appearing in bi-color programs with increasing frequency. This 9th pattern is essentially an all-white cat with a colored tail. The question remains is this pattern the penultimate desired pattern for bi- colors, or is it pushing the white too far? Some breeders are concerned with breeding for too much white and not enough color. Indeed, the term “bi-color” seems to lead one to believe the cat is to be ideally about half color and half white.

GC Budmar’s Rain Runner of Kittiary, black and white male.
Br: Maurice D. Ruble, Jr. Ow. Liza Newton.

This breeding for “high white” has had other unexpected side effects to the breeding programs for both solid and tabby breeders. For decades, solid breeders focused on “color” breeding programs – that is, breeding for soundness of color. By carefully selecting for color, solid breeders were able to establish incredible lines of stunning and dramatic colors. Likewise, tabby breeders spent years carefully selecting for clear and distinct patterns with warm color. However, with the advent of bi-color breeding programs, most of this color breeding philosophy was cheerfully disregarded and preference was instead given to selecting for white (piebald) markings over color. Since bi-color breeding programs were based heavily on the solid breeding programs, they initially did not struggle with the clarity of color. As time has passed and breeders have escalated their selection for white in preference of color, the clarity and depth of color on the bi-colors has decreased over the years. In part, this can be attributed to the bi-color standard. In all other Persian divisions, 20 points are allocated to color. In the Bi-Color and Calico Division, the 20 points are divided: 10 points for “white” pattern, and 10 points on color. Thus, a “high white” bi-color tabby with poor tabby pattern would not be penalized as heavily as a poorly marked specimen from the tabby division. The same goes for a faded black and white, or a dark blue and white, and is especially true for the bi-color cats with very little color. A cat marked with the 9th bi-color pattern can only be judged by the color on the tail. How is a judge able to accurately award or penalize those 10 points based solely on the color present on the tail of such a cat?

Solid breeders in recent years have lamented about the lack of availability of solids from programs breeding exclusively for solids. When looking for dilute solids, breeders find it even more difficult to find a program dedicated to truly breeding for color. While the bi-color breeders are able to fully utilize cats from solid breeding programs, the reverse is not always possible due to the lack of selection for color in most bi-color breeding programs.

GC, RW TNT Purrfect Dazzle Me, brown tabby and white female.
Southwest Region's 25th Best Kitten, 2006.
Br: Diana Heinzen. Ow: Tina Heigl.

Breeders of tabby Persians find themselves in the same predicament. It is impossible to see what the tabby pattern looks like with most “high white” bi-color Persians. In fact, some of these tabby bi-colors appear to be “brown and white” with very little or no striping present in their colored pattern. Since the bi-color standard favors the higher white cats, these poorly marked tabby bi-colors are often quite successful in the show ring and are used in many breeding programs. Perhaps it would be best if the breeders of tabby bi-colors remembered the words of Bobara Pendergrast concerning the breeding of tabby and whites:

“This may be one of the hardest colors and patterns to breed. One not only has to keep the proper amount of white, but at the same time keep the intricate tabby pattern and color.”

GC Cacao Firestarter, calico female.
Br/Ow: Janet and Carissa Altschul.

Another dilemma facing bi-color breeders today is whether or not to pursue a “tortie and white” color class. For the best answer to this situation, I refer once again to Bobara Pendergrast’s 1978 article: “I would like to comment on the term “tortie and white.” The word “calico” is exclusively American and denotes a cat which is white with red and black patches, similar to No. 4 or No. 5 on our chart. The term “tortie and white” is English or European and denotes a cat which is white with red and black patches, also similar to No. 4 or No. 5 on our chart. The American calico standard and the English tortie and white standard are virtually identical. Some members of the cat fancy have suggested a new class called “tortie and white” which would be composed of calicos with insufficient amounts of white similar to No. I or No. 2 on the chart. There is no reason to make a different class for these cats since they are genetically identical to other calicos. Solid color Persians are genetically denoted as ss. Standard bi-color and calicos are denoted Ss. The so-called “tortie and white” is still Ss. The only difference is an improper amount of white in relation to our standard. One of the reasons some people feel the so-called “tortie and white” is genetically different is the addition of cream to the coat. However, I would point out that whenever red appears on the undersides of a cat it will be many shades lighter or cream. It would be absurd to call a solid red “red and cream” simply because it’s underside hair was many shades lighter. So, on an improperly marked calico, in the absence of sufficient white, there will naturally be more black and red and where this red appears on the undersides it will appear as cream. In no way does this suggest a genetic difference. It is also strikingly apparent that a single cat cannot phenotypically express both dilute and dominant colors. Their second contention is that the more brindled coat pattern as opposed to well defined patches proves genetic differences. The fact is the amount of white determines the degree of patching. Naturally, a cat with insufficient white would display more brindling. Again, no genetic difference.

GC Parti Wai Lollypop, calico female.
Br: Gloria Busselman and Peter Rogers. Ow: Gloria Busselman.

If a class should be formed for mismarked calicos and be called “tortie and whites," I would assume they would be marked as No. I and No. 2 degrees. What would we do with our bi-color litter mates marked as No. I and No. 2? Should we form yet another class for mismarked bi-colors? All standards are written as the perfect example for the breed and color described. I would suggest that instead of forming a class for mismarked calicos, that breeders strive to improve pattern and produce as close to the standard as possible. All bi-color breeders will at one time or another have a kitten born with excellent type and improper color. I feel this cat should be shown and, if the judge sees fit, faulted for color pattern just the same as that same judge would fault a blue-cream, etc., whose patching was not correct. This would only be fair to all.”

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