The causes of the seemingly random colouring of black and white cats has long been a mystery - especially the internet's infamous "Hitler cats". But new scientific research has suggested their unique fur patterns are determined by a faulty gene.
A cat's two-tone or "piebald" fur colour forms when pigment cells fail to follow genetic instructions when they are in the womb, according to the results of a study by researchers at the Universities of Bath and Edinburgh. If there are too few cells to populate the whole of the cat's skin, the result is white patches.
Cats which are largely coloured black but have white faces and chests are sometimes described as "tuxedo cats". Some unfortunate felines have also been named "Hitler cats" or "kitlers" due to markings under their nose which resemble the German dictator's pencil moustache.
It is hoped the research could enhance human understanding of serious medical conditions such as holes in the heart, which are also caused by problems with cell movements in the womb.
The results were published in Nature Communications.