If you have ever walked into an animal shelter before, you have probably seen quite a number of striped cats. These cats are often described as “tabby cats,” but “tabby” is not a breed. It is actually a generalized description of a coat pattern common to almost all breeds of felines.
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What is even more interesting about any tabby cat is that their coat patterns are as individual to each cat as fingerprints are to humans. You cannot and will not ever find two cats with exactly the same striping pattern, even if the two cats come from exactly the same litter.
The style of patterning depends on several things, and there are actually five patterns that fall under the tabby pattern heading. Let’s take a closer look at these little wild tigers that have taken over domestic homes for several centuries now.
Tabbies and Cat Breed
Tabbies are not a breed. Like many other animals exhibiting special fur or coat markings and colors, tabbies’ coats are a result of genetic mutations on alleles in their genes. Alleles are parts of genes, and genes are parts of chromosomes, and chromosomes are part of your DNA. In cats, these genetic mutations on specific alleles are responsible for the individual striping patterns in tabby coat markings.
Almost any breed can produce a tabby cat. In fact, there are only a handful of purebred cats that do not have tabby marking as part of their standard coat coloring and patterning options. Of those breeds, you can only get a tabby-marked cat IF you breed the purebred non-tabby with another breed where tabby marking is common, producing a mixed breed cat that results in the striped coat. Even Persian cats and hairless Spinxes can have the striped markings of a tabby cat.
When a cat owner starts talking about the “tabby gene,” he or she is referring to the fact that these cats have mutations in their genes that cause the striping pattern. This “gene” exists in almost all cats, regardless if it is prominent in the cat or cats you currently have. It can be recessive, muted or even dominant, depending on how many of the striped cats are in your cat’s family tree.
Recessive tabby cat pattern genes may not be apparent in your cat, but if your cat has offspring with another cat that is either dominant- or recessive-gened for the tabby cat coat, one or more of the kittens in the litter may end up being a tabby kitten. Only when neither the father or mother cat has a recessive, muted, or dominant gene will the kittens be solid, calico, or tuxedo (i.e., half white, half another solid color).
A muted gene means that the striping pattern is visible but almost non-existent. This color pattern is the result of numerous pairings of ancestral cats that do not have the tabby coat gene. It is commonly seen in calicos that have the striping around the face or part of the tail but nowhere else, or in “tabicos” which are cats that are part or half calico, part or half tabby-cat.
The Four Coat Patterns
Most striking of all coat patterns is some of the more unusual markings in these cats. Everyone is familiar with the “M” stripes on the forehead and stripes wrapping around the cheeks and eyes and the stripes reaching from the back downward. This is the most common color pattern but there are four all told.
Spotted Tabby Pattern
This tabby pattern makes the cat look like a miniature version of a lynx. It frequently has lots of broken stripes that look more like spots all over the cat, and the end of the tail is solid black. The ears may also be solid black, and sometimes white or cream fur is on the face, chest and/or belly too. The spotted tabby is loved for its almost wildcat look.
The mackerel pattern is the most common. It is easily identified by its obvious “M” stripe on the forehead and the criss-crossing of black stripes over the whole body of the cat. The mackerel tabby pattern is often referred to as “classic tabby”, but the “classic” cat is another coat marking altogether.
A brown tabby cat or an orange cat with black stripes are two of the most common colors you will see. Garfield, the cartoon cat, is an example of a famous orange tabby cat with mackerel markings. However, an orange tabby cat with black stripes is very rare. It is more likely for an orange tabby to have darker orange or brown stripes or cream stripes instead.
One might assume, as previously mentioned, that the classic markings of these cats is part of the mackerel patterning. Even cat owners are surprised to learn that there is a specific pattern in the coats of these cats referred to as the classic pattern. This pattern is fewer bars and stripes and much more whorls and swirls, often with a sort of bull’s eye on the cat’s body somewhere. It is a very desirable coat pattern because there are no wild cats left in the world with these unique markings.
The ticked tabby pattern doesn’t look like a cat coat of this type at all. The individual hairs have several bands of color that refract and split coloring throughout the coat. The reason for this development in some cats was one of necessity. Their ancestors roamed sandy areas and areas where low grasses did not provide a lot of cover against natural predators. To blend in, the cats developed this coat camouflage to blend in with sands and short grasses. These cats with this ticked pattern may still have some striping on the faces, legs and very ends of their tails.
The Tabby Cat Personality
To talk of the tabby cat personality is neither here nor there. Since almost every breed of cat and every “moggie” of a cat has its own personality, you never know quite what you will get until you spend some time with a domesticated cat with stripes or spots. (Side note: A “moggie” is a British word referring to any cat that is not of a specific breed, a sort of “mutt” of the cat world.) You could just as easily get a ticked, shy, tabby-marked cat of Abyssinian descent that runs away and hides when people come over as you might get a muted tabico who constantly begs for attention from everyone.
So, before you adopt a stray with stripes or spots or volunteer to take home a cat that catches your eye, spend some time playing with it. You can get a really good idea of the cat’s personality by interacting with it. Is it aloof? Is it playful? Is it whiny and needy? Does it cry a lot or beg for your attention even though you are right there? All of these personality quirks are revealed in the first twenty minutes of interacting with any cat.
Odd Facts About These Cats
The original word attabiya comes from Arabic, and refers to a city where striped taffeta and silk material was made. Over time, the word transformed into the word applied to striped cats. A female cat has long been referred to as tabby-cats because the shortened word is a nickname for a very common female name during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (i.e., Tabitha).
Male cats do not seem to have a historical or similar distinction. They were simply referred to as striped cats or fishing cats for the mackerel coat design. Males do tend to be slightly larger than females, but that rarely has much to do with the genetic mutations of coat color and markings. Maine Coon males have the striping and enormous size that hearkens back to their wild ancestors.
Taking Care of Your Cat
Brushing is always a good idea, regardless of coat length. Most cats love to be brushed or they at least will tolerate it well. With long hair tabby-cats, it is a very good idea to brush daily to remove the fur that will shed everywhere and cling to everything and to keep the fur from matting.
Nail clipping is another must and many cats do not tolerate this at all. They may even fight and scratch to get away. If you start with a kitten instead of an adult and trim nails often, they are more inclined to allow you to clip their nails as they get older. Be sure to read our post How to Restrain a Cat to Clip Nails, which is really not about mastering restraining a cat but developing a relationship in order to easily clip nails.
Baths are not usually necessary for cats. Cats are pretty good at keeping themselves clean and groomed. However, long-haired cats may get their fur dirty and any cat that is allowed outside will need to be bathed more often.
If your cat is dirty, particularly smelly, or just doesn’t seem to take care of itself, you may need to bathe it once a week or more often. It probably will not like this at all, as many cats do not like to be wet. It will be necessary to keep fur and skin free of health issues.
Feeding and Watering of a Carnivore
Cats are meat eaters and obligate carnivores. The best diet to offer a cat is a raw meat diet that includes muscle meat, organs, glands, and meaty bone. Your cat gets exactly what a natural carnivore wants and needs and nothing it can’t properly digest. In order to have a healthy and thriving cat, a foundational diet is imperative.
Fresh water, either bottled Spring water or water filtered through a high-quality filter is best. Avoiding tap water full of impurities and toxins will keep your tabby-cat healthy. Keep the water dish clean and full of water. Our cats have 2 bowls available at all times; one is filled with Crystal Geyser Springwater and the other has the spring water with an added ounce of bioavailable minerals. We refresh the bowls starting over every 4 days or so. Cats by nature should get 90% percent of their moisture from their food. This is also one more benefit of feeding a raw food diet is that felines acquire the proper amount of moisture is the most absorbable way, a fresh meat diet. Clean water can’t be emphasized more here, most municipal water is FULL of toxins, chemicals, and pathogens. In fact, these days most people don’t drink tap water . . . . . why would you give your cat something you wouldn’t drink???
FAQ and QUICK REFERENCE
Are tabby cats usually fat? No, unless they are overfed or fed the wrong diet. Like all cats, they should have proper nutrition, toys to play with that keep exercised, and a happy home.
Is a tabby cat female? A tabby can be male or female equally.
Are grey tabby cats nice? Tabbies, in general, are very good-natured including the grey tabby.
What breed is a tabby cat? Tabby cats are not breed specific. They can be any number of breeds. What creates a tabby cat is the “tabby gene”; mutations in their genes that cause the striping pattern.
What exactly is a mackerel tabby? The mackeral tabby is denoted by the “M” shape on the forehead and the crisscrossing of black stripes throughout the body.
Do you know what a tabby cat really is? Without testing it would hard to know exactly what breed the appearing tabby has come from. But one of the best ways to get to know a particular tabby cat personality is to spend some time with him or her. If you are adopting from a shelter or otherwise, you could ask for a trial to get to know the tabby and see how it acclimates to your household especially if you have other pets or children.
How much is a tabby cat? This definitely varies, as a randomly bred tabby could sell for as little as $100 or if you adopt from a shelter it could run the same. Purebred tabbies where you know the breed could run $1,500.
What type of tabby do you have? Typically there are four types of coat patterns; mackerel, ticked, spotted, and the classic tabby. (See above for specific descriptions of each)
From where does the tabby cat get its stripes? The African Wild cat is where the tabby striped gene is passed down from.
Do tabby cats like to cuddle? It will depend on the actual breed of the tabby since tabbies are not a specific breed. Spending some time with them is really the only way to know if the specific one you have taken a liking to will be a cuddler or not!