What Is A Tabby Cat?

May 2, 2022 | Cat Breed

Tabby cats are some of the most popular cats in the world. Contrary to popular belief, referring to a cat as a tabby does not reference the cat’s breed, but rather the pattern of markings on their coat. The tabby color pattern can be seen in almost all breeds of cat – even wild cats like tigers, cheetahs, and ocelots. A tabby cat can be a purebred or a mixed breed cat.

The Origin of “Tabby”

Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!

The ancient city of Attabyia in modern day Bagdad, Iraq is where the word “tabby” originated from (source). Attabiya was known for the beautiful, patterned silks made there (moiré silks). Noticing the similarities of the patterns in the silk and the patterns on certain cats, the French began to call those cats “tabbis.” The word tabbis easily became tabby in English.

General Tabby Cat Features

Tabby cat features are the result of a dominant gene trait (source). They are not distinct on every tabby cat, sometimes they are more blended or muted. Sometimes an all-black cat will have black tabby markings that are only visible in certain lighting.

One of the most noticeable features of tabby cats is the “M” on their foreheads. There are several myths based upon this M. Some say it was placed on the cat’s forehead because in Ancient Egypt, cats were called Mau (obviously a tale spun by an English-speaking person). Others say that it was placed there by the Virgin Mary of the Christian faith or by Mohammed or the Muslim faith.

There are a few other things also common among tabby cats:

  • Leg and Tail Stripes
    A tabby cat may have stripes on their legs and tail.
  • Light and Dark Patterns
    Immediately surrounding their eyes will be the darkest color in their pattern, just outside of that will be the lightest color in their pattern.
  • Whisker Pad Colors
    Their whisker pads have spots or splotches of color.
  • White Areas
    White or a light color may appear on the sides of their nose, upper lip, and chin.

Types Of Tabby Cats

Tabbies come in a variety of colors and patterns! There are 4 main tabby cat patterns (Classic, Mackerel, Spotted, and Agouti), with a few less common patterns emerging (Patched and Tabby Point).

Classic Pattern

Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!

The classic tabby pattern has circular whirls that often create a “bulls-eye” shape.

Mackerel  Pattern

Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!

The mackerel tabby pattern is stripped like a tiger. There are many people who believe that this should have been called the “classic” tabby pattern.

Spotted Pattern

Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!

The spotted tabby pattern has spots or dotted lines rather than solid stripes. A variation of this pattern, called the Rosetted pattern, occurs only in Bengals. Rosettes are dark circular markings that have a lighter color inside of them.

Agouti Pattern

Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!

The agouti tabby pattern is a little more subtle than the others. In this pattern, each hair has bands of color. Most tabbies have at least some agouti hairs.

Patched Pattern

Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!

The patched tabby pattern is found on cats of other color patterns such as calico or tortishell. Rather than just one coloring of the tabby pattern, there are a few different sets of colorings.

Tabby Point Pattern

Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!
The tabby point pattern is in the colored sections of the fur of pointed cats (Siamese, Himalayan, etc).

Tabby Cat Colors

Tabby cat patterns come in a variety of color combinations.

  • Brown
  • Blue
  • Chocolate
  • Cinnamon
  • Lilac
  • Red
  • Cream
  • Silver
  • Cameo

Playful Kitty Fun Fact

Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!
All the kitties that I have ever shared my life with have been tabbies! Manna and Dexter are both Classic tabbies. You might think that they are real siblings, but they are actually 10 years apart. Cinco (who passed away in April of 2016) was a Mackerel tabby. Obi-Wan (who passed away in 2005) was a patched tabby. You could say that I have a fondness for tabby cats! Tell me all about your tabby cat in the comments.
Have you ever wondered what a tabby cat is? You might be surprised! We explore the world of tabby cats and use lots of photos!

About Us

We are all about cats, tips, and catnip trips! Join this blog for cat lovers as we explore all things kitty with a cat-like curiosity. Read more…

Show Us Your Kitties!

Join us for a Facebook group full of kitty photos and fun. We would love to meet your kitties! 

Recent Posts

5 Facts About High Blood Pressure In Cats

Does your cat have high blood pressure? That’s right. Cats can develop high blood pressure in the same way that humans can. Your veterinarian may call high blood pressure in cats “Feline Hypertension”. This measurement is not just important for its own sake, but also...

Stories Of Cats In Ancient Mesopotamia

Ancient Mesopotamia was a land known for its wealth of legends. It included important civilizations such as Babylon, Persia, Assyria, Samaria, and more. Cats have been domesticated there for thousands of years. Oddly, there are not a whole lot of stories about house...

5 Things That Prove Cats are Carnivores

Not every animal was created with the same nutritional needs. Some animals need to eat only vegetation to live, some only meat, while others can eat a combination of the two. Cats are carnivores. It is possible to see this by looking at the different pieces of their...

The First 6 Weeks of Kitten Development

One of my kitties (Manna) became part of my family at only 3.5 weeks old after being orphaned. It is amazing to watch kitten development! Kittens are born after a whirlwind 63 to 65-day gestation period (source). What happens in utero is remarkably similar to human...

How To Stop Food Aggression in Cats

Is your kitty obsessed with food? Many cat owners have seen it – signs such as stealing food from you or from other cats or becoming aggressive around mealtime. Food aggression in cats can be obvious or it can be more subtle. Over time, a once playful kitten can be...

More Pawsome Posts You May Enjoy…

What is the Bengal Cat Breed?

What is the Bengal Cat Breed?

Some kitties are so stunning that they need no introduction! Cat of the Bengal cat breed definitely fit that description. They are beautiful, intelligent, and always ready to have some fun. Could a Bengal cat be right for you? Keep reading to find out. One Wild LookIf...

15 Comments

  1. Eastside Cats Blog

    We’ve been owned by only one tabby: Celestial PO’M.
    However, our neighbor to the home I grew up in had a tabby who seemed to prefer our yard to theirs; she was called Clementine, and she was a sweetie.

    Reply
  2. Brian Frum

    That was really interesting and we’re sure big Tabby Cat fans here, of course!

    Reply
  3. Ellen Pilch

    Great post. Tabby cats have a special place in my heart. My first cat, KaChoo was a tabby. I have had several others too.

    Reply
  4. meowmeowmans

    We do love us some tabbies, and enjoyed your informative post. Our angels Moosey, Maggie, and Bitsy were all tabbies. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Summer

    I’m an agouti tabby! As are all Somalis and Abyssinians.

    Reply
  6. databbiesotrouttowne

    HAY….my namez mackerull, & even tho eye iz knot a tabby 🙂
    eye am part oh de tabbies oh trout towne !!!! kewl huh ♥

    Reply
  7. Fur Everywhere

    Lita was a pointed tabby! She was a Siamese mix. You probably remember that she had stripey legs – they were very cute! They call Siamese with stripes “lynx-point.” 🙂

    I’m not sure what kind of tabby Carmine is. I just know he’s an adorable one. 😉

    Reply
  8. Kamira Gayle

    Interesting facts on Tabbies! I was ignorant to the fact that Tabby isn’t a breed but solely has to do with the pattern. I’ve had Tabbies all my life too. I had no idea Manna and Dexter were 10 years apart too. You fooled me!

    Reply
  9. Terri

    Super interesting to learn about tabbies! One of my all-time favorite cats was a classic tabby. She had the sweetest soul! And she did have the “M” marking and beautiful “eye makeup”. Honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered if she was pink. She was just an awesome cat! She and her sister were with me from the day she was born in my hay barn to a stray cat until the day she died on my chest purring. Her sister made it about 9 months longer. She and I both missed her terribly. They were 18 and almost 19 when they passed. The tabby’s sister was black. But you’re right in certain light you could see she had stripes as well. Great article! I love the memories you always envoke.

    Reply
  10. Marjorie Dawson

    I think our Toulouse might be more of a Mackerel tabby he doesn’t seen to have the bold splashes of colour that some tabbies have. He is, like every tabby, just the coolest cat!

    Reply
  11. Ruth Epstein

    Really interesting, thank you for sharing this information as I learned from it

    Reply
  12. Beth

    Our tabby cat is probably a mackerel tabby. She’s a very sweet cat.

    Reply
  13. jana rade

    Wow. I’ve heard the term Tabby cat but never realized what it meant. I’m amazed at all those different patterns.

    Reply
  14. Dorothy "FiveSibesMom"

    I had no idea about the history of where Tabby came from! I love hearing about history of things like this. My Mom had a few Tabbies when I was growing up – such beautiful coats. Great post! Will be Pinning to share!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Or Follow Us On Social Media

Pin It on Pinterest