Why do so many cats have white ‘socks’ on their paws?

A bit of a different Wednesday Why? today, not about behaviour but about cats having white ‘socks’.

Professor Leslie Lyons, head of the University of Missouri’s Feline Genetics Laboratory, explains:

Socks are rarely seen in wildcats, the elusive and undomesticated cousin of the house cat, so why do so many pet cats sport furry white feet?

As it turns out, this is a result of domestication. There isn’t much evidence to indicate why early cat people chose the individuals they did, but Lyons says the range of coats seen on modern domestic cats shows that our ancestors favoured cats with markings that would have interfered with their camouflage. In its native mixed forest or scrub desert environment, a cat with stark white paws would have stood out to predators and prey.

When humans started taking an interest in cats, these white paws would have stood out to them, too. “There were probably people saying, ‘I particularly like that kitten because it has white feet. Let’s make sure it survives,'” Lyons said.

Humans probably also selected for cats who were calm and comfortable around humans, Lyons said. Behavioral traits seem unrelated to coat color, but for reasons that scientists don’t fully understand, white spots tend to appear when the tamest individuals are selected and bred. It’s true of horses, pigs, mice, cows and rats.

If you are interested in a bit more (biological) detail, continue reading here.

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