What are Tabby Cats?

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Tabbies, or tabby cats, are domestic cats that carry a distinctive coat pattern. Tabbies can be found in many types of cat breeds from Maine Coons to Persians.

The tabby coat pattern in a cat can be found on the agouti gene. Agouti is a fur color in which each hair has two or more pigmented bands running through it. The Agouti gene is an important determinant in coat color selection.

Camoflauge

The tabby pattern evolved for camouflage reasons. The stripped tabby pattern helps to hide the cat when it’s lying in wait for prey.

Tabby Cat Markings

The tabby cat markings have the following traits:

  • M on the brow. (Visible in ticking tabby cats, but difficult to tell apart in shaded silver/golden and tipped cats.)
  • Face with thin pencil strokes. (Visible in ticking tabby cats, but difficult to tell apart in shaded silver/golden and tipped cats.)
  • The appearance of black “eyeliner” and white or light fur around the eyes.
  • Lips and paws are pigmented.
  • A pigmented nose with a darker outline.
  • Banding on the torso, legs, and tail. (In the ticked tabby, the torso banding vanishes.)
A gray tabby looking out from a cat play tunnel.
All tabby cats have an “M” pattern on their forehead and dark lines that spread out from their eyes.

Tabby Cat Coat Patterns

All tabbies have striped faces and markings on their bodies that fit into one of four tabby patterns.

Mackerel Tabby

The most common and original tabby coat pattern is called the mackerel pattern. This pattern takes its name from the fish skeleton-like pattern across the body of the cat. Cats that are referred to as “tiger cats” have this pattern.

A gray tabby looking down from the rafters of a horse barn.
This gray tabby has a mackerel coat pattern.

Classic Tabby

The markings of the Classic Tabby are strong and swirling. In some areas, this cat is known as a “blotched tabby.” The darker pattern on a classic tabby cat is marbled.

A print showing a classic tabby.  The cat – Felis domesticus. L. Prang & Co., 1872.  Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, public domain.
A print showing a classic tabby. From: The cat – Felis domesticus.  L. Prang & Co., 1872. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, public domain.

Spotted Tabby

The Spotted Tabby has both large and small spots, which often resemble broken stripes.

Ticked Tabby

The Ticked Tabby, also known as the agouti tabby, has body markings that alternate between bright and dark, and its face will have tabby facial markings.

Tabby Coat Colors

Tabbies can come in a range of colors. Most tabbies have one dominant coat color.

For example, a blue classic tabby has gray stripes with gray roots. A silver classic tabby has black stripes with white roots.

A long-haired tabby with a white underbelly lying down.
A long-haired tabby.

Tabbies can even seem to be one solid color like black or white but the tabby markings will be visible especially when the cat is sitting in sunlight.

All orange cats are tabbies learn more: Things to Know About Orange Tabbies). A red classic tabby has red stripes with red roots while a red silver classic tabby has red stripes with white roots.

An orange tabby sitting in a basket.
An orange tabby with facial markings.

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