What is a Tabby Cat?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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A tabby cat is a cat with a tabby coat pattern. This coat pattern can manifest in several ways, depending on the genetics of the individual cat, ranging from the familiar striped tabby to the more exotic agouti tabby. The tabby pattern is accepted in a wide range of breed standards, and it is one of the most common coat patterns for cats. Given the large numbers of tabbies in the mixed and feral cat community, some researchers have suggested that the tabby pattern may closely reflect the natural pattern exhibited by the wild ancestors of the modern domestic cat.

There are four basic types of tabby cat, in shades like brown, gray, silver, and red. Mackerel tabbies have the distinctive striped coats which many people associate with this color pattern, with gently waving stripes along the sides of the body. Most mackerel tabbies also have an M-shaped marking on their foreheads. Classic or blotched tabbies have a swirling pattern, rather than a striped one, and they often develop distinctive bullseyes on their sides.

Spotted tabbies develop a spotted pattern, rather than a striped one. Several cat breeds have been bred to express a spotted pattern, such as the Bengal. Ticked tabbies have individually striped hairs, rather than striped coats. The layers of color in the hair create a distinctive agouti pattern such as that seen in Abyssinian cats. In all cases, the tabby pattern may be supplemented with boots and/or a bib in a contrasting color.


Several different genes are responsible for the expression this pattern in the tabby cat. The agouti gene, which is dominant, controls whether or not the animal will be able to express a tabby pattern; in cats with a solid coat color, both recessive forms of the agouti gene have been inherited. The mackerel gene, which is also dominant, codes for striping of the body, while ticked tabbies are the result of a genetic mutation which causes the individual hairs to be striped.

The tabby cat is a fairly well-known representative of the feline species. Many cat-owners have owned tabbies at some point in their lives, thanks to the abundance of this coat pattern. For some examples of truly outstanding tabby cats, a perusal of the archives of photos from cat shows can reveal some interesting expressions of the tabby coat pattern. The Cat Fancier's Association maintains an excellent archive of photographs championship cats and kittens, and a tabby cat or two can usually be found in the mix.


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