The question of whether purple cats exist is an intriguing one. At first glance, it may seem that purple cats are the stuff of imagination and fantasy. After all, the vast majority of domestic cats have fur colors like tabby, black, white, ginger, or various combinations of these. However, while uncommon, it turns out that purple cats do in fact exist.
The key to understanding purple cats lies in cat genetics. Like all mammalian fur color, cat coat color is determined by two pigments: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin produces black and brown shades, while pheomelanin produces red and yellow shades. The relative levels of these two pigments establish the base coat color.
Additional genetic factors influence whether the fur has tabby striping, is solid colored, or has spotting like a calico. Other genes impact fur length and texture. Finally, genetics can cause dilution of coat color, lightening black pigment to gray and red pigment to creamy tones. It is this dilution that creates the possibility for purple cats.
Genetic Conditions That Cause Fur Dilution
There are two main feline genetic conditions that can lead to fur dilution and therefore the potential for purple-tinted fur: melanism and leucism.
Melanism refers to a mutation that causes excessive deposition of dark pigment, resulting in extremely dark fur. The opposite condition is albinism, which inhibits pigment production. There are various forms of melanism that occur in cats, some rarer than others. Two types that can produce purple fur are:
- Blue smoke: Causes black fur to dilute to silvery gray, taking on a lavender or purple cast in certain light.
- Violet: Causes black pigment to dilute to a warm, pinkish tone, appearing distinctly purple.
So kittens born with melanism that involves these dilution traits can manifest as purple cats.
Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation. With complete leucism, animals have pure white coats and pink skin, eyes, and paws due to total lack of melanin. But with partial leucism, pigment cells are only reduced in number and functionality. As a result, black fur is diluted to pale gray or even a distinctive lavender hue.
Many cat breeds prone to melanism mutations may also exhibit leucism and carry the diluted color traits. When conditions align, kittens are born exhibiting purple fur.
Cat Breeds Known to Have Purple Tones
While potential for fur dilution exists across cat breeds, some breeds demonstrate higher incidence of melanistic and leucistic traits. Breeds where purple cats appear most frequently include:
|British Shorthair||Silver coat with lavender tint|
|Cornish Rex||Lilac/lavender coat|
|Devon Rex||Plum and lavender coats|
|Siamese||Lilac and blue point coats|
|Oriental Shorthair||Lavender coat|
Breeders will sometimes intentionally breed cats expressing these diluted pigments. But even among these predisposed breeds, visibly purple cats occur infrequently and serendipitously.
Notable Examples of Purple Cats
While still quite rare, several purple cats have gained public attention in recent years. Some famous examples include:
- Issy the Purple Kitten – Born in Wales in 2009, Issy has a lavender coat due to partial leucism.
- Strawberry – A Cornish Rex born in Italy in 2013 with bright pinkish-purple fur.
- Viggo – A British Shorthair with a unique lilac silver coat from Russia.
- Bella – A British Shorthair bred in the United States with a distinctive plum-colored coat.
- Poldi – Born in Germany in 2020, Poldi has a pale lilac coat that makes him a social media sensation.
These and other adorable examples show that while exceedingly rare, purple cats do crop up now and then thanks to the magic of genetics!
Scientific Explanation for Purple Cat Fur
So how exactly does genetic dilution physically transform black fur to purple? The key is how pigment concentration and structure interacts with light.
There are two types of melanin produced by melanocytes in the skin and hair follicles:
- Eumelanin – Made up of larger, more complex melanin polymers that absorb all wavelengths of light. Thus eumelanin appears black or brown.
- Pheomelanin – Made up of smaller red/yellow melanin polymers that only absorb short wavelengths of light. Thus pheomelanin appears red or yellow.
Mutations that inhibit melanin production cause pheomelanin and eumelanin dilution. With less pigment present, more light is reflected back rather than absorbed.
Importantly, eumelanin dilutes in a non-uniform way. The larger eumelanin polymers dilute to smaller fragments first. These fragments reflect back longer wavelengths of light in the red-violet range, creating lavender or pink hues. With more extreme dilution, the remaining smaller polymers reflect all light equally, appearing fully desaturated or gray.
This is the mechanism that causes black fur to take on purple tones. Melanism and leucism inhibit melanocytes, reduce overall pigment, and lead to fragmented eumelanin remnants that selectively reflect back the longer wavelengths along the rainbow.
Myth or Reality?
So in summary, while exceedingly rare, purple domestic cats do exist! Their unique fur color results from:
- Genetic mutations leading to melanin dilution, especially melanism and leucism
- Breed predispositions for these mutations
- The interaction between diluted eumelanin pigment and light physics
While easily dismissed as an urban legend or photoshopped hoax, science confirms that purple cats, though highly unusual, are in fact real. So if you come across a cat with a curious lavender, lilac, or violet coat, it is likely the result of a serendipitous genetic anomaly rather than a vivid imagination. Give that unique purple kitty some extra affection!
Do purple cats exist? As we have seen, while exceedingly rare, felines with lavender, lilac, violet, and other diluted fur colors certainly do occur thanks to genetic conditions like melanism and leucism. These conditions alter the normal pigment production of the cat, leading to changes in color and reflection of light off their fur. So the next time you come across a picture of a mesmerizing purple cat, rest assured it is likely real, and not just Photoshop sorcery! Though these cosmic kitties are few and far between, their unique and beautiful coats remind us of the wonder of biological diversity.