Tabby Cats

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The tabby coat pattern is the most common coat pattern in the wild. The tiger is a striped tabby, the leopard is a spotted tabby, and the lion is a tabby agouti. It is also very common among domestic cats, particularly those of mixed breeds. We see tabby cats all around us so it’s easy to forget just how special and fascinating this pattern really is. There’s so much to say about tabby cats, we need an entire article!

Tabby Cats: Everything you need to know about the tabby coat pattern in cats

The tabby coat pattern evolved to offer feline predators a form of camouflage. Hiding behind the grass blades of the African savannah, or in the branches of a leafed tree, spots and stripes can make a cat virtually invisible to its prey.

This evolutionary success story makes the tabby pattern very popular. In fact most cats have a tabby pattern, although it is sometimes very vague and hides in the background of seemingly solid colors. If you look closely at a solid colored cat under good light, you will often note indistinct tabby patterns in the background. White is the only color that is truly solid and has no tabby nuances.

What Is A Tabby Pattern?

The tabby pattern is created by two types of hair color:

The first type is composed of the hairs that make the lighter background color. These are called agouti hair and are unique in their coloring. If you look closely at one of the agouti hairs, you will see that it has several bands of different colors along its length. This creates the ticked base color in any tabby pattern.

The second type is made of the darker hairs that create the unique tabby pattern on the agouti background.

All tabby cats and kittens share similar marks on their face. These marks include dark lines that go from the eyes toward the back of the head and special marks on the cat’s forehead that resemble the letter “M”. These marks are visible in all tabby pattern variations and colors. They are called the “tabby mask”.

Pattern Variations

The tabby can exhibit one of four sub-patterns:

Striped Tabby, where the cat has vertical stripes along its body. This is sometimes called a “Mackerel” pattern, because of the resemblance to a fishbone. In a show- quality striped tabby, the stripes should be whole and evenly spaced.

Blotched Tabby, where the two shades create a blotched pattern of rounded stripes and circles. This is also called a “marble” pattern.

Spotted Tabby, where the dark color appears in spots all over the agouti body. In a show-quality spotted tabby, the spots should be round and evenly spread.

Ticked Tabby, where there is only ticked agouti hair all over the body. There are no clear markings other than the tabby facemask. This pattern is typical in several breeds, such as the Abyssinian and the Singapura, but is otherwise rare.

Color Variations

The tabby pattern shows itself in various colors. You can have tabbies in black, red, blue, chocolate, cream, and many other colors. Ticked tabbies usually come in red, ruddy, blue, and fawn shades.

The tabby pattern can also be found in combination with other color patterns. For instance, a cat can be a bi-color with a combination of red tabby and white. Calico cats can have patches of white, black, and tabby red. The tabby markings will show on the coloured patches. Tortoiseshell cats can have a special pattern in which the overall Tortoiseshell pattern is intermingled with tabby markings all over the body – this is sometimes referred to as a “torbie”.

Colorpointed cats can also have tabby markings. These will show only on the darker parts of the cat’s body – the face, legs, and tail. These tabby colorpoints are sometimes called “lynx” cats.

Do tabby cats have different personalities from other cats?

Since the tabby pattern exists across a number of breeds as well as among non-purebred cats, there really isn’t a “typical” tabby personality. As a group, tabby cats are regarded as friendly, sociable, and great family companions. At least, not less so than cats of other coat patterns. Most tabby owners find their kitty to be quite affectionate.

It’s important to remember that each cat is an individual and needs to be regarded as such. You can encounter a tabby that needs lots of attention while another one would be quite independent. Some say that orange tabbies tend to be more loving but also lazier. This is very likely a stereotype which has simply been perpetuated by Garfield!

Based on testimonials from our members over the years, domestic tabbies are incredibly diverse when it comes to personality. Some are chatty, some are shy, some love people, some prefer to keep to themselves.

Some cat breeds are known to have tabby patterns. These may be mandatory in the breed description or optional – depending on the breed. Let’s take a look at some cat breeds that support the tabby pattern and what their personalities are said to eb.

Abyssinian Cats

As mentioned above, Abyssinian cats show the agouti tabby pattern. In this case, no other pattern is actually allowed in the breed standard. Also known as Abby cats, these kitties tend to be curious and athletic. They are said to love their owners and follow humans around the house.

American Shorthair Tabby Cats

An actual official breed – not just shorthair cats who were born and raised in the US! – these cats can come in a variety of coat patterns and colors. Tabbies – or tabby and white – are very popular within the breed.

American shorthairs have a balanced personality. They enjoy attention, but are also happy to enjoy some alone time. They’re smart and typically unafraid of strangers (as is often the case with most show cats).

Maine Coon Tabby Cats

Maine Coon cats are best known for their stunning looks as well as good natured personality. Many Maine Coon kitties are in fact tabbies – or at least a mix of tabby and white. These gentle giants are great with kids. They are often fairly active felines who love chasing other animals and toys.

Oriental Tabby Cats

Oriental cats have long svelte bodies and the facial features to match them. They come in a variety of colors and patterns – tabbies certainly included. Orientals – like their Siamese sibling-breed – are known to be active, curious and often quite vocal. If you don’t have member of the family home at all times, you might want to consider getting a second cat to keep your Oriental tabby company.

Ocicats

The Ocicat is another good example for a cat that comes only in the tabby variety. More specifically, Ocicats come in the spotted tabby pattern. They’re said to be confident and independent cats, yet dedicated to their owners.

Where can I get a tabby cat?

Apparently, quite a lot of people have their heart set on adopting a tabby cat.

If you’re one of them, you’re in luck!

Tabby cats are quite common so if you’re looking to include one of these loving companions in your home, you will not have to look far.

Adopting from a shelter or rescue organization

One of the best, most loving things that person can do is adopt a cat from an animal shelter or a local rescue. Shelter cats make excellent pets. Many cats end up in shelters because of family issues or due to a person’s misunderstanding of the responsibilities that come with being a pet owner. By choosing a shelter cat, not only are you likely saving the cat’s life, but you’re also opening up a spot in the shelter for another animal who needs food, shelter and warmth.

Remember, kittens are not the only cats in shelters that need homes. Older cats are loving and an especially great choice if you’re away from the home for some of the day, as they are more likely than kittens to enjoy spending time alone without becoming bored or destructive.

Read more:
A Kitten Or An Older Cat – Which Should You Adopt?

Buying a tabby cat from a breeder

Purchasing a tabby cat from a breeder is another option. By now, you know that tabby is not a specific breed but rather it is a marking pattern. This means that there is no such thing as a “purebred” tabby without any designation of a particular breed.

If you choose to purchase a cat from a breeder, make sure that the breeder is registered and raises the cats in an ethical manner. A reputable breeder will be able to show you their registration paperwork and will be happy to let you see the living conditions of the cats and kittens in their care.

Read more:
How To Choose A Cat Breeder

Rescuing a tabby cat

And sometimes, cats adopt us.

Your tabby friend could just walk into your life unattended as you rescue her or him off the streets.

If you take in a stray tabby cat, be sure to take your new friend to the vet as soon as possible. The vet can check to make sure the cat hasn’t been reported missing by looking for a microchip to reconnect them with their owner. Your vet will also be able to check the cat for ailments that commonly affect strays, ensuring that your furry companion is in tip-top shape, or treating the cat to get to that point.

Famous tabby cats in history

There’s a reason tabby cats are so popular – they’re everywhere in the media! When most of us picture a common housecat, we automatically picture a tabby. Over the years, many tabby cats rose to fame and left their claw marks on the pages of history. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

The Tabby Mayor

Talkeetna, Alaska had a very special tabby cat named Stubbs who was the town’s mayor! 15 years ago, the 900-person town elected Stubbs to be the mayor and he enjoyed his reign of the town until he sadly passed away in 2017. Stubbs will forever be remembered by residents and visitors of Talkeetna alike.

Churchill’s Cats

One of England’s most famous Prime Ministers, Sir Winston Churchill, was a major fan of tabby cats. His two favorite cats, Tango and Mickey, often joined him at official meetings and dinners. The Prime Minister was known to sneak them bites of tuna and salmon under the table!

The Tabby Jailbird, errr Cat!

It’s rare to hear of someone wanting to go to prison, but a cat named Tiger did exactly that! Tiger is an orange Tabby who broke into New York City’s Sing Sing prison 10 years ago by squeezing his body in between the bars surrounding the area. Tiger has enjoyed tuna treats from inmates ever since and has shown no desire to leave the prison. Sing Sing has actually opened its gates to several other cats after seeing the positive effect that Tiger’s calming presence had on the inmates.

Tabby Trivia

  • Many cat enthusiasts refer to orange tabbies as marmalade cats.
  • Orange tabbies often get small black markings on their tongues, noses, and gums as they age.
  • There are four different varieties of tabby markings: ticked, spotted, mackerel, and classic swirls.
  • Tabby cats are often just as affectionate with other animals as they are with humans.
  • The name tabby comes from the word “atabi” which used to signify a type of silk that is spun in the Baghdad region of Iraq. This silk was exported to the British Isles, where cat owners noticed that the silk’s striped appearance likened itself to a tiger. Thus, the name tabby was born, and the rest is history!

We hope you enjoyed our tabby cats guide! If you did, please share it with your friend so they can learn more about these adorable felines!
Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

23 comments on “Tabby Cats

Leah April 12, 2021
I have a orange tabby, blue tabby, and two mix tabbies. Their so cute! Plus I have a tux but shhhhhhhh.
tarasgirl06 May 30, 2018
Many thanks for yet another fascinating and informative article! And heartfelt thanks for encouraging people to adopt tabbies from shelters and rescues.
Official.buttercup September 3, 2017
gonger said:
My cat is a torbie. She's salt and pepper grey agouti hairs with marbled tabby markings made up of two shades of orange as well as brown. :)
She must be such a beautiful kitty!
tarasgirl06 July 3, 2017
Thank you for sharing the facts about tabbies! Ancient Egyptian cats, depicted in the tombs of pharaohs, were tabbies, too. They are gorgeous little tigrets, whatever pattern/color/size they are!
IndyJones June 29, 2017
Anne said:
Oh, I'm sure it's photoshopped. It was made to be a black&white image, only leaving the eyes in color, for a more dramatic effect. I used it mostly to show the M markings, which I thought were clearly displayed there (and I also just found the picture pretty ;) ).
There's actually a story associated with how the tabby got its M. It's said that the baby Jesus was cold and crying and nothing could sooth him but a tabby hopped into the manager and began to purr. The baby Jesus quickly fell asleep and as her thanks, Mary marked the tabby on the forehead with her M. So all tabbys to this day have an M as a sign of thanks.
IndyJones June 29, 2017
The first picture of the long hairs look just like Indy. Except for her hair length she even has the ear tipping they have.
biancavd December 27, 2016
The Blotched pattern is also called 'Classic' ^^ 
gonger January 7, 2016
My cat is a torbie. She's salt and pepper grey agouti hairs with marbled tabby markings made up of two shades of orange as well as brown. :)
darren7481 December 24, 2015
I love my lynx point siameses, they're talkative & playful & loyal. My favorite sort of cats. They can also be a lot of trouble & moody as hell, yet they'll always growl when a stranger's @the door & I have no doubt that if someone ever broke into my home they'd have Siamese cats clawing their eyes out in 2 seconds flat:)
StefanZ December 11, 2015
The "classic" tabby, is an mutation, upcoming sometimes in Medieval age in England. So why classic while its a newcomer among the tabby variations? The bulls-eye classic tabby become fairly soon common in England, and the early leading cat fancy assocations were british. For THEM it was the typical british tabby....  :) Interesting enough, the Sokoke from Africa are blotched tabbies them too.  If they are descendants from cats "reimported" from Britain, or if they got the same mutation on their own, I dont know. But an "reimport" from England is fully possible and is my guess.
endercat June 23, 2015
Interesting about the "classical tabby" markings, my cat has a G on one side and a 6 on the other! I'm quite fond of the marbling, so pretty, she just had kittens and all but one look like they will have marbling.
caralian September 12, 2014
My two are a male striped tabby and a female marble tabby.  Great article, like so many on this site!
taty caty June 16, 2014
Cool. :)
keyes May 12, 2014
To StefanZ-It;s amazing that you should say that.  I took in Tortoise, feral male cat, to be neutered and I was told the same thing.  Good thing he's not a deer, otherwise they'd be calling the pattern Bulls Eye!!
StefanZ May 12, 2014
The blotched tabby, with its bulls eye on the side of the tummy,  this pattern is often called for "classical tabby".
jtbo March 17, 2014
It is very nice picture indeed, quite stoppingly pretty pic, that made me think if there really is so beautiful tabby cats some place. Golden color eyes and gray coat is almost hypnotic I find many of these article pics really interesting of their own Oh and I like this article too, now I know I have striped and blotched/marble tabby cats
Anne March 16, 2014
Oh, I'm sure it's photoshopped. It was made to be a black&white image, only leaving the eyes in color, for a more dramatic effect. I used it mostly to show the M markings, which I thought were clearly displayed there (and I also just found the picture pretty ;) ).
jtbo March 15, 2014
That 2nd picture, grey orange/yellow eye cat, is there really such colored cat? Even inside of ears are grey, as is background, so I think it is mostly photoshop, but such grey cat with orange eyes, black and white whiskers, black nose, quite striking appearance, but I'm not sure if such really is or if those too are edited features in photoshop? With those tabby stripes that makes one really beautiful cat.
Anne February 18, 2014
Sounds like she might be a cream colorpoint. If the pattern is showing mostly on the head, tails and legs, then she could be that. It's like a flamepoint colorpoint, only diluted. Very pretty! 
yarra February 18, 2014
My all white girl Emma, the baby (now 5 years old) in my avatar, shows tabby "texture" in certain light! She's ALL WHITE, but it's like her hair GROWS in a tabby pattern. Specifically, she has rings on her tail, and the tabby M. Again, it's a white on white pattern. It's really cool. When she was a baby, she had 3 single red hairs that grew on the top of her head, between her ears. It's how I told her apart most easily from her twin sister. Lol. She has since lost these three hairs though.
thecatjt January 29, 2014
Hmmm... I have a also have a lynx! She has a hostile personality! 
keyes January 24, 2014
I have an orange spotted tabby in my feral cat colony.  He's gorgeous!
katocats December 27, 2013
Beautiful tabby cat pictures my favourite is of course the Mau.

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