What Is a Tabby Cat?

tabby cat

Tabby cats have long been considered to be one of the best pets you can own.

They are well known for their variety of distinctive markings, strong characteristics, and general love-ability.

You can know a cat is a tabby cat by a unique “M” type of marking on their forehead, a very distinct fur pattern or stripes found there by their eyes.

They are affectionate, intelligent, and curious creatures, and will fit into almost any home.

They have an average lifespan of 9-15 years, although many have lived longer, often up to and over 20 years old.

The official world record holder for the oldest cat is held by a tabby mix named Creme Puff, who lived to be 38 years and 3 days old, amazing!

There are many things to consider when you are gearing up to own your first tabby cat.

Below you will find all the information you will need to know – what they are, their physical attributes, their personality, their unique history, and how they would fit into your home as a household pet.

So, What Are Tabby Cats?

It is important to note that although many people refer to tabby cats as a species, the term “tabby” actually refers only to the appearance of the cat, not its breed.

The term also does not specify a particular color or coat pattern.

There are many varieties that are included in the definition of “tabby”, which recognize the many different patterns and colors that they can have.

No individual cat will have the exact same pattern – just like none of us humans will ever have the same fingerprint, which is really cool when you think about it.

The one unique feature that sets a true tabby cat apart is the iconic “M” shape on their forehead.

Most – if not all – tabbies have this particular marking. This feature is strongly associated with different stories and folklore about them.

The tabby cat has four main color classifications, which include shapes such as swirls, stripes, whorls, and even spots:

swirled tabby cat. tabby cat patterns. grey cat fur patterns.
cute classic tabby cat…

1 – The Classic

The Classic Tabby (also known as the “Marbled”, “Blotched”, “Swirled”, or “Bullseye” Tabby) is defined by the cat’s thick, broad stripes.

The pattern on their coats is usually in a marble-like pattern, often featuring a swirl or bullseye shape on their side.

They are most commonly brown in color, with the thick black stripes winding down their body.

what is a tabby cat? tabby cat fur patterns. silver tabby cat.
another classic one…

2 – The Mackerel

The Mackerel is also known as the “Fishbone Tabby”.

They have much thinner stripes than the Classic Tabby, which run parallel along the cat’s side, creating an effect similar to the look of fish bones.

The Mackerel often has spots integrated into its patterning.

They are frequently noted to look like a cat in a pinstripe suit or a cat in striped pajamas.


3 – The Spotted

The Spotted Tabby features oval spotted markings, with more broken stripes.

Their patterning is far more blotchy than the other types of tabby cats.

Some Spotted Tabbies have dark rings around the edge of their spots, a marking called “rosettes”.(1.)

This feature is found in many wild cats that our domesticated cats descended from, such as the jaguar.

spotted cat. cat fur patterns. cats with spots. grey cat with spots on fence.
spotted fur pattern…

4 – The Ticked

The Ticked Tabby does not have the same full-body patterns as the other types of Tabby Cats.

Instead, they have bands of color around each individual hair.

However, they still have the traditional tabby “M” marking on their head, and can also have thin bands around their legs and tail.

You can also find “patched” Tabby Cats – these cats have a blend of the classic tabby stripes and the tortoiseshell pattern.

The tabby markings on a Patched Tabby Cat are particularly apparent on the legs, tail, and face.

Patched Tabby Cats are more likely to be female, as the patched appearance results from the cat carrying the genes for both ginger tabby coloring’s and non-ginger coloring’s.

These different patterns are all displayed in a range of various colors.

One of the most iconic tabby cat colors is the ginger tabby – famously the color of Garfield the animated cat, and the color of Puss in Boots in the Shrek series.

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ginger cat ~

Around 80% of ginger tabby cats are male. (2.)

This is due to the fact that the gene for displaying the ginger color is on the X Chromosome – a male cat only needs one of these genes to inherit the color, whereas female cats require two X Chromosomes and therefore a ginger genetic indicator on both.

You will never find a ginger cat without tabby markings, it is impossible. Ginger tabby cats are also known for easily putting on weight, more so than other colors of cats.

The world record for the heaviest tabby cat went to an Australian cat named Himmy, who weighed an impressive 46 pounds and 15.2 ounces.

Another well-known color of tabby is the Silver Tabby.

These cats are incredibly striking, with a bright silvery-white undercoat and dark contrasting markings.

Silver Tabbies are also recognized for their kind, sociable temperament, often “talking” back to their owners, and making themselves heard.

Their colors and patterns are reminiscent of wild big cats such as the snow leopard and the lynx.

These relationships to wild cats are demonstrated in shared DNA – domesticated cats still share approximately 96% of their DNA with their wild cousins. (3.)

Tabby kittens are actually born without their distinctive markings – these tend to develop within the first few weeks of their life.

As with most cats, they tend to mature over the space of a year, and their markings are usually defined by the time they reach 6 months old.

Breeds That Commonly Feature Tabby Patterns:

As discussed before, tabby cats are cats that share a distinctive feature and pattern rather than share the same breed.

However, there are both domestic and pure breeds of cats that are more likely to feature the classic tabby coloring.

These breeds are listed below:

  • The American Bobtail Cat
  • The American Shorthair Cat
  • The American Wirehair Cat
  • The British Shorthair Cat
  • The Devon Rex Cat
  • The Egyptian Mau Cat
  • The Shorthaired Persian Cat
  • The Maine Coon Cat
  • The Manx Cat
  • The Norwegian Forest Cat
  • The Oriental Shorthair Cat
  • The Ragdoll Cat
  • The Siberian Cat (one of the natural and original breeds of tabby cat)
  • The Scottish Folds Cat
  • The Somali Cat
  • The Turkish Angora Cat

The tabby pattern can also sometimes occur in Siamese Cats, Himalayan Cats, and Balinese Cats.

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Siamese cat…

What are the Typical Personality Traits Associated with Tabby Cats?

As with any animal, the personalities of tabby cats vary greatly from individual to individual.

However, there are several characteristics that are often linked to tabby cats.

The first characteristic strongly associated with the tabby is their strong socialization and affection.

They are often said to be significantly more attached and connected to their owners than other cats.

A sense of playfulness is also often attributed to the tabby, as a result of these more intimate connections with their humans.

They are a common choice for people buying or adopting their first cat due to their reputation of fitting in well with families.

Tabby cats are also often said to be the most intelligent breed of cat.

Some say that their personality is similar to that of a dog, because of their playfulness and affection.

Interesting Tabby Cat Fact:

In the town of Talkeetna in Alaska, a tabby cat named Stubbs was the mayor for 20 years, from 1997 until he died in 2017. (4.)

He was the mayor for 900 residents.

What is the History of the Tabby Cat?

The tabby is believed to be the original coloring of almost all cats.

It is theorized that if cats were left to reproduce freely without any selective breeding, all cats would eventually have tabby genetics.

Even when you look at a black cat in the sun, you will often see small dappled markings, showing the cat’s original descendants.

This phenomenon is known as “ghost tabby markings”.

Tabby cats are also believed to be the first type of domesticated cat, found in and around the Mediterranean up to 10,000 years ago, owned by farmers to help keep away rodents and other pests.

Their coloring would have originally been ideal for camouflage when hunting – a function less needed today, as they mostly have owners to keep them fed.

The name “tabby” is said to have its origins in the name “Attabiy” – a region in Baghdad where France used to source expensive luxury silk.

These soft silks were associated with the soft, patterned coats of cats.

“Tabby” is also believed to have links to the Spanish word “ataviar”, again, in regard to luxury clothes or silks.

The use of the name “tabby” can be traced back as far as the 1690s!

Some think that the name “tiger” also played into the eventual name “tabby” due to the similarity is striped patterns (particularly with the Mackeral Tabby).

You can read about all the different types of cat breeds here.

grey cat playing in leaves. cat lying in pile of leaves. autumn cat. cute cat playing.

Legends Associated with the Tabby Cat:

There are three main legends that are associated with the tabby cat and its distinctive features, originating from Egyptian history, Christian history, and Islamic history as well.

They are linked to religious deities and prophets and are believed to carry down specific features due to their connections or interactions with these different people.

These cute animals sure have managed to carve out their spot in history…

Egyptian History and the God Ra

The Tabby Cat has been observed in history tracing all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians.

In the Ancient Egyptian “Book of the Dead”, the God Ra appears in the form of a tabby cat.

One of the children of Ra – Bastet – was also known to take the form of a cat.

In Egypt, tabby cats were called “Mau”, a name linked to both how a cat sounds (phonetically “Mau” sounds similar to “Miow”) and the distinctive “M” shape that is found on the forehead of the tabby cat.

Christian History and the Mark of Mary

In some Christian lore, it is believed that soon after Jesus was born, a cat appeared and lay next to him to keep him warm.

This cat is often described as a ginger tabby, and in some stories, there are two of these cats.

It is said that Mary approached the cat who was comforting her child, and as a way of saying thank you she lent down and gently stroked the cat’s head.

When she drew her hand away, there was an “M” shape where she had touched the cat.

This cat then passed down the forehead marking to all of its descendants.

Islamic History and Muhammad

In Islamic history, the prophet Muhammad was said to be particularly fond of tabby cats and owned a number of them.

It is said that he was resting one evening with his favorite cat Muezza sitting on his sleeve.

When the call to prayer came and he needed to move, he did not want to wake the cat, as she looked so peaceful.

Instead of disturbing her as he got up, he cut off the part of his sleeve that she was sleeping on instead.

In thanks, she opened her eyes and lovingly stroked her head across his leg – as we often see cats do today as a way of showing affection.

Muhammad then reached down to stroke her head, and when he did, the outline of an “M” appeared.

It is also said that this same cat Muezza saved Muhammad from an attack by a snake that had slithered up his sleeve.

The name “Muezza” is even translated to “cherished”, showing the love he had for his feline friend.

Interesting Tabby Cat Fact:

It was well known that Winston Churchill, the famous British Wartime Prime Minister, had a strong love and passion for his tabby cats.

His favorite cat was called Jock.

He loved Jock so much that he made specific arrangements for him to be cared for after Churchill himself passed away, as he wanted his beloved cat to be able to continue living in his old home of Chart well House after he died.

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Getting Your Own Tabby Cat:

Tabby cats are brilliant additions to a family, with their bold personality and presence.

They have earned a reputation for being the most social and affectionate of cats, and as with all cats, they spend a lot of their time relaxed and napping.

There are a number of things to consider when embarking on the journey to buying your own Tabby.

1 – Do you want a grown cat or a kitten?

Kittens are very trainable, and obviously extremely cute.

However, if you do not have the time to train a kitten, it would be unkind to adopt or buy one if you cannot give it the attention it deserves.

Adult cats will be more relaxed and are likely to be already trained.

It is important to consider the number of adult cats who are in shelters in desperate need of a home.

Instead of rushing straight in to buy a cute looking kitten, think about whether you have the time and patience, and if you’re in a position to potentially give an older cat a new lease of life instead.

2 – Would you want more than one cat?

Sometimes cats can be better behaved and more relaxed when they have a companion.

Depending on the personality of the cat(s) that you are looking to adopt or buy, this can sometimes be the better option.

Tabby Cats have a reputation for being more sociable cats.

3 – Make sure you can carry out the right vet checks!

It is important to keep your beloved cat as healthy as possible.

This means making sure your cat has annual check-ups at the vet and is up to date with their recommended vaccinations. It is also very important to note that you should not declaw your cat.

It is vital for cats to be able to use their claws for a variety of activities, and many vets now refuse to carry out declawing operations as it is considered to be animal cruelty.

If you have a problem with your cat damaging furniture, you can clip the claws slightly every two or three weeks to keep the claw tips blunt.

Make sure you know how to clip your cats claws right before trying it though!

If you cut too much of the claw you can accidentally hurt your cat because you can’t cut too deep.

It is also advised that you get your cat spayed or neutered.

If you don’t do this there is a strong chance you may end up with a large unplanned litter and a number of homeless kittens! If left unchecked, cats can have up to three litters in only one year.

Shelters are already overwhelmed with many homeless cats, there are plenty to go around!

It is also a good idea to get your cat micro chipped – cats can be very adventurous, and may not always find their way home!

A microchip is the easiest way for someone to find the owner of a cat who has wandered a little too far from home.

4 – Keep your cat healthy

Make sure you give your cat the correct diet.

Some Tabby Cats – particularly the Ginger Tabby Cat – are well known for putting on weight more rapidly.

Feed them at regular points during the day, and make sure they have proper cat food.

Cats need to have a diet with similar nutrients to what they would receive in the wild in order to keep them as healthy as possible.

5 – Do your research!

There are some small facts that are important to remember when you are giving your tabby cat a safe home.

For example, did you know that aspirin is incredibly toxic for cats? (5.)

Make sure you do not leave any lying around on your kitchen table where your cat can reach it!

There are even some plants that are toxic to cats, such as lilies – take note of this, particularly if you regularly keep flowers or grow plants in your house.

6 – Keep your cat entertained

Although cats certainly do spend a lot of time sleeping, they also have very active minds, and sometimes a lot of energy!

Items such as scratching toys will keep your cat occupied and entertained.

Scratching toys are also important for their physical health as it keeps helps them shed the outer layer of the claw when necessary.

There are many different toys that you can buy, so you can spend quality time with your feline friend.

Even a toy as simple as a small cat-friendly laser can keep your Tabby entertained.

They love to play-hunt.

Even a piece of string can provide endless entertainment for both you and your kitty, and you won’t have to spend a lot of money to get your hands on a string or two, they really are cheap and easy to come by after all.

7 – Make your preparations early!

Make sure you are well prepared for when you get your new tabby cat.

They will need a litter box, private space of their own (a bed, cat frame, or just a comfy isolated corner), and plenty of items to keep them entertained and engaged.

Water is the most important source of nutrients for cats in it’s own way, so make sure they always have access to a constant supply!

Contrary to popular belief, feeding your cat milk is actually not healthy for them – stick to water if you can. (6.)

Also, ensure you let them take their time to adjust to their new surroundings and integrate themselves into your family.

With a mixture of space, patience, and kindness, your tabby cat will have settled into its new home in no time.

grey cat with white butterfly. cat in nature. beautiful cat photos.

In conclusion…

Tabby Cats are wonderful and fascinating animals, with a long and rich history.

Their coloring is found in many different breeds and their unique characteristics can be traced back as far as Ancient Egyptian times.

They also feature throughout the stories and traditions of various cultures and religions.

There are many varieties of tabby cats, each with their own distinctive looks, personalities, and markings. (7.)

They have an inquisitive and curious nature and are incredibly sociable.

This makes them ideal for a person or family looking for their first cat, as well as anyone looking for their second, third, fourth, or fifth, or someone buying a cat as a companion for another.

Getting your first tabby is no small event, but by following the advice outlined you should have a smooth transition into your new cat-filled life full of joy and wonders.

Tabby Cats are especially playful and loving, so you will never be short on company.

Their unique looks and nature will keep them forever a favorite among cat lovers, and their fans all over the world.

Now that you know all about the many types of tabby cats, the tabby cat personality and also the tabby cat lifespan, you may also enjoy reading our article about the Domestic Short haired cat breed.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love hearing them.


Author: Cathour

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