Types of tabby cats

Written by valerie a. modreski
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Types of tabby cats
Orange tabby cat with the telltale "M" on the forehead. (George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Tabby cats are not a breed and their name is descriptive only. There are four patterns on tabby cats that are genetically distinctive. The cat's potential fur configurations are mackerel, ticked, spotted and classic. Cats of different breeds are born with these tabby coats. Another characteristic, distinctly tabby, is stripes on the forehead in the shape of an "M."

Mackerel Tabby

The term "mackerel" describes the dark, striped pattern and comes from the name of the fish. Within the mackerel group, these tabbies come in various colours. Mackerel tabbies can be cream, blue, brown, red and silver. The mackerel tabby has a light-coloured chin with dark-rooted whiskers. The facial stripes run parallel on the cheeks and the fur around the eyes between these stripes is lighter in colour. The fur along back of the hind legs and tip of the tail are darker, with the darkest colouring on its feet and toes.

Ticked Tabby

Ticked tabbies come in silver, red and brown. These cats have a solid coloured coat with the tips of their fur slightly dashed with a darker colour. Ticked tabbies may have slight stripes, usually on their upper legs and lower belly. These stripes are called bars and can cover the face and head.

Spotted Tabby

The spotted tabby is called a "torbie," and the pattern on this cat mimics that of their distant cousin, the ocelot. Many cat specialists believe the spotted tabby is a derivative of the mackerel tabby with interruptions in the stripes, making them appear to be spots. Bengals and Servals are examples of spotted tabbies, and their marbled or rosette patterns are indications of those breeds.

Classical Tabby

A mix of tabby genes sets the style of pattern that shows up in a litter. Never is that more apparent than with the classical tabby. The classic tabby's swirled or bullseye patterns are an example of an additional, recessive gene. The description of the classic is very much like the mackerel, but the stripes are swirls, circular and usually thicker. Classic tabbies have become highly sought after for their distinctive and original markings.


According to feline behaviour consultant Helen Jablonski, "All kittens will get into a little mischief" and she further states that it is up to owners to teach their cats appropriate behaviours and good manners. With newsworthy cats like Garfield, Morris and Puss-in-Boots, tabbies have a history of chronicled behaviour, but Jablonski advises, "No two cats are alike" when it comes to personality.

Since tabbies are not a breed, but a pattern style among many breeds, Jablonski's advice is especially true. Many cat enthusiasts do agree, when it comes to tabby personalities, the one thing to count on is variety and diversity.

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