Why do so many cats have white socks?

Hangai Lilla

2024. June 2 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

If you meet a domestic cat, you won't be surprised if they walk in front of you in white socks. It is so common that many people probably forget to ask why this is so. Hah, good thing we're here!


The question only gets more interesting when we realise that this is exclusive to domesticated cats, not to feral cats. Well, it may come as no surprise to you that to unravel this story, we have to go back in time. Some 10,000 years to a time when our whiskered friends and humans silently vowed that together everything would be easier and better. This is how the white paw evolved in cats.

Beautiful calico girl.

A matter of taste

“As humans became farmers and started staying in one place, they had grain stores and refuse piles.” Which attracted critters, explained Leslie Lyons, professor emerita and head of the Cat Genetics Laboratory at the Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine to Live Science. The cats recognised the abundant food source in the pests. The humans were happy not to have to worry about the rodents. Everybody wins.

The domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus in its wild ancestral species – the Felis silvestris, i.e. the native wild cat and Felis lybica, i.e. the Afro-Asian wild cat or more commonly known as the African wildcat, have been observed to have a fuzzy coat. Cats are not only predators, they are also prey, so hiding plays a huge role in their survival. The individuals that survived and reproduced were those that camouflaged themselves well. But not all wild cats are born with a coat that blends in perfectly with its environment. Genetic mutations do occur.

Unfortunately, there is not much data on why early people chose the individuals they did. However, Professor Lyons says that the wide range of patterns and colours seen on modern domestic cats shows that our ancestors favoured cats with markings that did not allow them to blend into their environment. Think about it. In a forest, bush or even desert environment, a fine white sock is an instant eye-catcher for predators and prey alike. But people didn’t care. For them it was probably what made the animal nice. What made them special, what made them beautiful in a different way.

In the case of the cat, can the white paw also be a symbol of docility?

In addition to the external appearance in the selection and choice of cats, was certainly also the temperament of the animal. They wanted cats that were calm and comfortable around people. It seems that for the time being based on research, behavioural characteristics and coat colour and pattern are not related. However, for reasons not fully understood by scientists, white patches appear on animals when the most tame specimens are selected and bred. This is also true for horses, pigs, mice, cows and rats. What the cats will reveal in the future is something we can’t wait to see!

The little one is shy.

The next time you come across one of these fine cats wearing a fine, immaculate undercoat, remember that this distinctive feature is the result of genetic mutations, domestication and frenetic evolutionary biology.

Click here to find out what causes Siamese fur to change colour.

cat fur fur colour fur pattern genetics white paw white socks

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