As anyone who has tried to dress a cat in a fashionable outfit knows, animals aren’t really fond of clothing. Especially boots. That’s probably why some pet owners delight in pointing out that white cat feet sometimes look as though the animal is wearing socks. Nature can do what a human cannot—give some cat breeds the appearance of wearing apparel.

But why do some cats look like they’re wearing socks? Why aren’t their feet the same color as the rest of their bodies?

Science has an answer. Specifically, piebaldism. That’s the name for a condition caused by a mutation in the KIT gene responsible for distributing melanocytes, the cells that “program” pigment throughout a cat’s body.

In the absence of piebaldism, the melanocytes are evenly distributed, giving a cat a coat of fur that’s uniform in color. But if the KIT gene is mutated, cats won't have enough of the cells to cover the entire body and the cells they do have won't be evenly spread. As a result, portions of the coat will be white.

Genetics always play a role in a cat’s coat color. In the case of Siamese cats, it’s also partially temperature-dependent. In that breed, an enzyme can suppress melanin production, and the abdomen will appear sandy in color because it’s warm. Relatively cooler extremities, like the ears, will be darker.

Remember that it's always best to enjoy your cat's natural coat. Dying it can be harmful to the cat, and trying to put actual socks on them can be harmful to you.

[h/t Popular Science]