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.
Title Photo Credit: Kevin Jarrett via Flickr
Why do we call them tabby cats?
The ancient city of Attabyia, in modern day Bagdad, Iraq is where the word “tabby” originated from. Attabiya was known for the beautifully 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.
What features are common to tabby cats?
Tabby features are the result of a dominant gene trait. 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 a number of myths based upon this M. Some say it was placed on the cat’s forehead because in Ancient Egypt cats were called Mau . 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. They have stripes on their legs and tail. Immediately surrounding their eyes will be the darkest color in their pattern, just outside of that will be the lightest color in their pattern. Their whisker pads have spots or splotches of color. White or a light color may appear on the sides of their nose, upper lip, and chin.
6 Types of Tabbies
The coats of tabby cats can have a variety of colors and patterns! The patterns include stripes, spots, swirls and more. It is not necessary that the pattern covers the entire cat’s body to be a tabby pattern. There are 4 main tabby patterns (Classic, Mackerel, Spotted, and Agouti) and 2 less common patterns.
The classic tabby pattern has circular whirls that often create a “bulls-eye” shape.
The mackerel tabby pattern is striped like a tiger. There are many people who believe that this should have been called the “classic” tabby pattern.
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.
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.
The patched tabby pattern is found in cats of other color patterns such as calico or tortoiseshell. Rather than just one coloring of the tabby pattern, there are a few different sets of colorings.
- Tabby Point
The tabby point pattern is in the colored sections of the fur of pointed cats (Siamese, Himalayan, etc).
What colors are tabby cats?
Coat patterns of tabby cats can have any color found on cat’s coats. Almost all tabby cat coat color patterns have at least 2 colors in them (the exception is black on black). A base color covers the body and is accented by patterns of a second color.
- Black Tabby
A cream base color with black tabby patterns.
- Chocolate Tabby
A light brown base color with dark brown tabby patterns.
- Blue Tabby
A white base color with light/medium gray tabby patterns.
- Cinnamon Tabby
Light orange base coat with brown tabby patterns.
- Lilac Tabby
A light gray base color with darker gray tabby patterns.
- Red Tabby
A light orange base color with a dark orange tabby patterns.
- Cream Tabby
A light cream base color with light orange tabby patterns.
- Silver Tabby
A light gray colored base with black tabby patterns.