Tabby Cats

Tabby cat

I love all types of cats, but tabby cats are very close to my heart. One of the reasons I love them so much is because my two lovely kitties are tabbies.

Most people are familiar with tabbies as they are the most common type of domestic cats.

I must clarify that tabby is not a breed. The term doesn’t refer to a color either. Instead, tabby refers to a coat pattern. A tabby cat has a very distinct coat pattern that may include stripes, swirls, whorls, and spots.

Tabby patterns occur in several cat breeds, including the Abyssinian, Egyptian Mau, Manx, Maine Coon, Persian, and Ragdoll. It is believed that the tabby coat pattern (particularly the mackerel pattern) closely resembles the pattern of the cat’s distant ancestors.

Tabby patterns

The tabby pattern can be divided into four categories: classic, mackerel, ticked, and spotted. However, there’s some controversy surrounding the spotted pattern as some believe that this pattern is just a variation of the mackerel. Here's some information about each pattern:


The classic tabby pattern displays swirls and well-defined, wider stripes than the other tabby patterns. Usually, a classic tabby cat will show a thick stripe going from the neck all the way down to the base of her tail.


This is not your typical tabby pattern, but it’s indeed a beautiful pattern. A ticked tabby will have different bands of color in each hair instead of having distinct stripes, swirls, or spots across her body. In fact, ticked tabbies have a kind of salt-and-pepper look. The bands of color look as if they've been sprinkled throughout. Some cats do exhibit stripes but they usually appear in the legs or belly.


This is the most common tabby pattern. And yes, it’s the name of a fish. How ironic. Anyway, a mackerel tabby will have vertical stripes running at the sides of his body. Circular stripes go around the legs and tail.


Spotted tabby cats display spots instead of solid stripes. Some argue that this is not a true tabby pattern but that instead it’s just a variation of the mackerel. According to this theory, the thick stripes of the mackerel are broken up into distinct spots. This pattern occurs in the Bengal, Ocicat, and Egyptian Mau breeds.


A tortoiseshell cat (tortie for short) usually has two blended colors and little or no white fur. If you add stripes to the mix, then you have a tortoiseshell tabby. A tortoiseshell tabby cat is called a torbie.

Color variations

As I said before, the tabby is not a color. However, the tabby pattern comes in different color variations: there are red and silver tabbies, for example. The most common colors happen to be orange (or red) and gray. Bicolor cats, such as the torbie, display red (or brown) and black markings. The classic tabby usually has brown, black, and dark red markings.

Fun info about tabbies

-- Morris the Cat, Heathcliff, Puss in Boots, and Garfield are famous fictional tabbies.

-- Winston Churchill had a tabby cat who accompanied him to important meetings.

-- Cartoonist Bernard "Hap" Kliban (best-known as B. Kliban) was well-known for his cat cartoons, most of which were tabbies. Kliban's cats have graced many different products, including calendars, mugs, and holiday cards, just to name a few.

-- Golden tabby tigers (also known as golden tigers) are very rare. This color variation only occurs in captive tigers, even though in the past there were golden tigers in the wild.

Here's a fun list of tabby names.

The magical "M"

True tabbies show a very distinct "M" on their foreheads. One legend says that a tabby kept Baby Jesus warm in the manger, and that as a gesture of gratitude the Virgin Mary marked the cat’s forehead with an "M".

Interestingly enough, a Rembrandt’s etching entitled Virgin and Child with a Cat (1654) depicts a cat with Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.

Origin of the word tabby

The term tabby is believed to come from the Arabic language. Some believe that it refers to a region of Baghdad named Attabiyah, where striped silk was made. The pattern of this particular silk was similar to tiger markings so the word was later used to describe striped cats. The word later turned into attabi (Latin) and tabis (French).

Tabby gifts

If you love tabbies and want to buy something for you or want to give a tabby-inspired gift, consider the following:

-- Posters of tabbies

-- Gifts inspired by tabby kittens

-- Pictures of tabby kittens

-- Check out these gifts inspired by grey tabbies

-- Gifts inspired by brown tabbies

-- Calendars showcasing tabbies

-- Plush tabbies

-- Gifts featuring famous tabbies: Garfield, Puss in Boots

-- Books about tabby cats – This is a great idea for children

-- Figurines and collectibles portraying tabbies

-- Clothing items featuring tabbies

-- Tabby-inspired home accessories

Related Links

Orange tabby cats

What is a torbie?

Tabby picture gallery

More pictures of tabby kitties

Another tabby picture gallery

Calico cats - true tricolor felines

Learn more about Tortoiseshell cats

Articles of interest

Types of Cats

Cat hairballs - prevention and treatment

Tips to leash-train your cat

General cat information

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