Tabby Cat Breeds: A Guide to Open your Eyes and Heart
So what is a Tabby Cat?
The first thing to clear up is that a ‘Tabby’ isn’t actually any specific cat breed, but rather, the name given to cats with a uniquely colored coat. You’ll usually see a traditional ‘M’ shaped marking on the Tabby’s forehead, setting this cat apart from others. They can appear with strips, whirls, spots, and other unique shapes!
Another dead giveaway are with Orange Tabbies. You always know exactly what an orange cat is when you see it!
Unlike many of our other cat coloring articles such as the Tortoiseshell cat, ‘Tabby’ can be found in nearly all domesticated cat breeds! You can have both a male and female Tabby, but ‘Patched’ tabbies are nearly always female.
Tabby cats have agouti hairs, types of cat hairs that are made of several colors. These contain a dark hair with the coat base color, alternating with lighter or reddish hairs.
What about the genetics?
The Agouti gene causes a striped pattern (above) with agouti hairs. You’ll have ticked hairs alternating with blotches, stripes, or solid spots, creating a type of striping pattern.
The Agouti gene is dominant, accompanied by a ‘non-agouti’ recessive gene. A cat with both recessive genes will show solid coloration in any particular area. A gene determines tabby patterns, causing banded hairs to alternate with spots, stripes, or solid patches of fur.
Common Characteristics You Should Know
These cats are very popular throughout the cat enthusiast world, known for their unique, distinctive yet common features. Just by glancing at a cat, you can tell if he is a Classic Tabby or any other type.
After reading the list below and viewing the photos on this page, what do you think is the single most defining characteristic?
- They are well known for their characteristic ‘M’ shape, resting on the forehead (that’s always a biggie)
- Thinner, pencil-like lines stripe the face
- The nose is often a pinkish color, outlined with a darker color pigment
- Your Tabby will show both pigmented paws and lips (even white paws are common)
- As for eye colors, you’ll find many with blue eyes and green eyes. (of course kittens will have blue eyes)
A friendly, devoted personality is a trait commonly shared among the cat breeds listed here, and Tabby cat breeds in general. This may yet be another evolutionary advantage since their demand can increase the popularity of inbreeding.
Believe it or now, the Tabby patterns actually date all the way back to domestic cats in Ancient Egypt! This is only because records dating further cannot be found.
These cats have also enjoyed a long history in America’s limelight. Hollywood stars and big-name musicians have shared the privilege of parenting this special cat.
Elected as an Alaskan town mayor until he passed in 2017, Mayor Stubs made world headlines, enjoying his 20-year term in office! The Cheshire cat in ‘The Adventures in Wonderland’ was a Classic Tabby, as well as Garfield. Orange and striped, right?
Common Types of Tabbies
These unique fellows are often called ‘marbled’ or ‘blotched’, showing whirlwind type patterns on their sides. Three thinner stripes run down the spine, with a ‘butterfly’ type pattern on the shoulders.
This pattern is more often called a ‘blotched’ Tabby cat, thanks to unique swirls on the sides and other interesting patterns.
These cat markings are similar to what you might see on African wild cats. They sport narrowly striped rings on both their legs and tail, broken or solid stripes down the cat’s sides, and ring-like ‘necklaces’ on their chests. Two rows of ‘buttons’ decorate the mackerel’s belly.
This is the most common color pattern for a these cats, resembling a fish skeleton!
Spotted pattern types of these cats will display small spots that form, well, a spotted pattern, rather than the characteristic lines of types.
Most wild cats will show a natural spotted pattern, and this is present on many of the more exotic domestic tabby breeds.
The patched type pattern can present with more than one, or several, color patterns on their coats.
This is close to the mackerel or classic patterns, with the exception of broken swirls or stripes and a spotted pattern.
Several colored bands dot each shaft of hair on this feline’s head and body, with usual rings on both the legs and tail. Some might call this the ‘Agouti Tabby or Abyssinian’ pattern.
These cats have nearly no actual striping, except for the possible thinner striped on the tail, face, and/or legs.
Tabby Cat Breeds You’ll Love
Since the Tabby sports unique color combinations and isn’t any kind of actual cat breed, countless breeds can fall into this category.
As elegant, medium-sized cats, they have a coat of close-lying short hairs and a distinctive ‘ticked’ look to them. It’s believed these cats were brought back by soldiers from Abyssinia (Ethiopia now) back in the 1860s.
Early Abyssinians were bred with British Shorthairs, among others, leading to longer haired domestic cats or new breeds.
You’ll always see the distinctive ‘M’ shape on the front of her forehead, along with any combination of Tabby-patterns that may be pronounced or not (image below).
Tracing her roots back to the early days of North American settlement, the Domestic Shorthair cat was considered a working cat due to their value for rat-catching (also why many small dog breeds were bred). They were very useful, keeping the home free of pests that would destroy much-needed supplies.
This is actually how they ended up accompanying sailors to the Americas in the first place! A rodent infestation can quickly decimate food supplies. Anyone who’s ever experienced a mouse or rat issue knows they breed like wildfire.
These cats can be found in a wealth of Tabby-like patterns.
As you’ve probably guessed, these cats are known for bobbed tails! One of the few on our list that evolved by way of natural selection and wasn’t actually bred at first, these cats grew to survive feral environments.
Natural selection basically entails the animal best adapted to his surroundings will survive to reproduce and pass on his genetic traits, while those poorly adapted are more likely to become food or not survive the elements to eventually reproduce.
These cats are also very old, the Japanese Bobtail rooting in 1,000-year-old history. The American Bobtail was eventually selectively bred by human breeders for her unique traits.
You can see the distinct Tabby–like stripes in the orange Kurilian Bobtail above.
These cats are named after their uniquely curled ears! A stylish, elegant, and silky short coat covers these unique little fellows. They owe their descendance to a stray, black female back in 1981 who gave birth to six unique kittens after her California adoption.
According to the Cat Fancier’s Association, selective breeding didn’t begin in America until 1983, but American Curls were bred with a ferocity.
You might not be able to see many stripes, but notice the ears and distinct ‘M’ shape in the cat below.
These cats are the likely descendants of early American cats brought over by settlers hundreds of years ago. The breed wasn’t actually called ‘American Shorthairs’ until it was distinguished from domestic shorthairs in 1966.
This type was also once prized as working cats, able to limit the devastating rodent population. They are very well suited for the task, a task that seemed very popular among cats in early American history.
The stripes are pronounced in the Mackerel Tabby Domestic Shorthair you see above.
Considered American natives, Maine Coon breeds might date past even the colonial days. Exact records of this cat breed either don’t exist or have been lost to history.
Sporting a shaggy yet smooth coat, these cats are broad-chested, can grow larger than most, and probably evolved to endure a colder climate. If you are looking for a hardy cat breed that won’t mind your northern environment (as long as he is allowed indoors), the Main Coon is your guy!
This Tabby’s markings stand out well, especially on the face and forelegs.
As a very playful and active cat, the Ocicat can grow medium to large and is a spotted agouti type. They are affectionate and playful with human companions, a combination making the Ocicat the ideal family cat pet.
They tend to be great with other pets and children, but do require a lot of attention to be happy. A male Abyssinian-Siamese mix is thought to be the first Ocicat, named after a spotted wild cat called the Ocelot.
The spots are very distinct on this kitten photo above.
The Oriental shows an extremely unique appearance with a triangular head, long and slender legs, and long, tapering tail. A short, glossy coat usually lies closer to her body, except in the medium length of the longhair variant.
These guys are essentially Siamese cats (were bred from Siamese cats) with a different coat color.
In the early 1900’s Britain, Siamese cats were enormously popular! Breeders sought to exclude solid coloring, which led to the ‘Foreign Shorthair’ and eventually Oriental.
Can you see the trademark ‘M’ on this adorable kitten?
Let’s face it, all Persians are pretty special. They come in a variety of breeds, so you can find the perfect one for you (as if they can get any more perfect!).
Yes, I may be partial to Persians but Tabby Persians are do seem extra sweet. They no doubt show off various Tabby coats really well. Although, sometimes when you shave them with a “lion’s cut” you can’t see the patter as well until their fur grows back!
Tabby Cat Facts You Should Know!
- All Tabbies sport the distinct ‘M’ shape on their foreheads!
- All orange cats are Tabbies! Who doesn’t love the classic orange Tabby cat?
- Tabbies are named after a kind of silk made in the Attabiy district in Baghdad!
- Classic Tabby patterns are probably best suited for camouflage in the wild!
- These patterns are probably so common because the cats were able to survive, thanks to their unique coats!
Now you know all about this wonderful type of cat and can easily recognize any Tabby with nothing more than a quick glance! What will you do with this newfound knowledge?
Jackie Johnston is the founder of Cat Word – a community of cat enthusiasts with a mission to spread as much knowledge as they can throughout the world on every aspect of raising and nurturing cats! In her spare time, Jackie loves reading and spending time with her two sons Logan and Christopher, and of course with their furry felines Simba and Max.