The term “tabby” refers to a cat with a particular coat pattern, rather than a specific breed of cat. Sometimes referred to as a “tiger” cat, the tabby coat pattern can be seen in many cat breeds. Interestingly, all domestic cats carry the tabby gene; if the coat does not display the tabby pattern it is because other genes are suppressing the tabby coat pattern.
Although the striped fur pattern is very common, there are actually four different basic types of tabby patterns. A tabby cat will have a distinctive “M” shaped mark in the fur of the forehead, and the tabby pattern can occur in patches, or over the entire coat. Many tabby cats also have beautiful markings around the eyes and across the cheek, sometimes referred to as eyeliner.
The most common tabby coat pattern is the Mackerel tabby. This pattern, named after the fish, has the familiar narrow vertical stripes which run parallel along the sides of the cat, resembling the bones of a fish. The Classic tabby coat has wider stripes along the sides in a swirled circular pattern which often resembles a bulls-eye, along with broad stripes down the center of the back. The Classic tabby is sometimes referred to as a Blotched tabby or Marbled tabby. The Ticked tabby, sometimes referred to as an “agouti,” has fur striped with bands of color on each individual hair; the beautiful Abyssinian cat is an example of a Ticked tabby. In the Spotted tabby, the stripes are broken up, causing the stripes to appear as spots which can vary in size and shape.
A fifth type, the Patched tabby, refers to a cat with patches of tabby-patterned fur, along with another coat pattern. The tabby patches may be any one of the four tabby patterns described. A tabby cat may also have white patches in the coat, which can range from a small locket on the chest, to white “mittens” on the feet, to an almost solid white cat with just small spots of tabby-patterned fur. There are also pointed breeds of cats in which the points have tabby markings, such as the Tabby Point or Lynx Point Siamese.
Tabby cats come in all colors, again with or without white. In most solid colored cats (except red or cream colored cats), a recessive gene suppresses the tabby coat pattern. However, in the right light you can still sometimes see a shadow of the hidden tabby pattern in the fur.
Even though some people think of the tabby as a common cat, with the wide variety of patterns and colors, each tabby cat is unique and beautiful. And because all cats carry the tabby gene, no matter what breed, type or color of cat is your favorite, remember that he or she really a tabby underneath!