Considering tabby cats to be a feline breed can be a common misconception among cat owners. Calling a cat a "tabby" is a descriptive tag only. Tabby cats come in four basic patterns, which can then be classified into distinctive colour groups, including brown, blue, red, cream or silver. A grey tabby is not an official category of tabby, so if your cat appears grey, look again to determine which colours are giving you this impression. A close examination of your cat or kitten will help you determine the correct terminology for your cat as well as how your pet should be registered.
Determining a tabby cat's colour
It takes careful inspection of your cat's coat to determine what type of tabby it might be. Examine the hairs on the tip of the tail to decide the tabby's main colour. These hairs should appear solid in colour for the full length of the hair. Determine if this shade is black, grey or orange (sometimes referred to as red). Also inspect the agouti hairs on your cat to determine its "ground colour." Agouti hairs will be a lighter shade than that found at the tip of the tail. They form the main part of the feline's coat, except for the stripes. These hairs are variegated in colour, containing bands of both light and dark colour. Decide what the main colour of these hairs is. It takes a combination of the cat's stripes and ground colour to determine the tabby's official colour.
Tabby cat colour types
A tabby cat's official colour is determined through a combination of the cat's stripes and ground colour. A cat with black stripes over brown or grey fur is called a "brown tabby." If your cat displays grey stripes on a beige or grey background, call it a "blue tabby." A "red tabby" is known for its orange stripes on cream fur. A feline with cream stripes on a darker cream ground colour is known as a "cream tabby." Finally, a "silver tabby" will have black stripes on a pale background. The ground-colour fur will have white roots. This category of tabby cats is unique, because it encompasses blue silver, red silver and cream silver cats.
Tabby cat patterns
In addition to colour differences, you should understand your tabby's fur pattern. Most tabby cats can be recognised by a distinctive "M"-shaped stripe on the forehead. Beyond that, the patterns on the fur can differ dramatically from cat to cat. The "Mackerel Tabby" has dark stripes, just like the fish for which it is named. These cats have light chins and dark whiskers. The fur on the hind legs and tail will be dark, and the cat's feet are its darkest feature. The "Ticked Tabby" has a solid coat with darker dashes of fur across the background. The "Spotted Tabby" is also known as a "torbie." This cat's coat will appear to have spots, though they may just be incomplete stripes. The "Classic Tabby" has a coat of circular swirls which develop as a result of a recessive gene. The marks of this cat are distinctive and often held in high esteem by cat owners and breeders.
Many tabby cats display white patches, which should be considered when determining the feline's colour and type. "And white" is added to the description of a tabby when the patches are large. If the white patch takes up the majority of the coat, the cat is "bicolour." A "harlequin" is a cat that is white with patches of tabby, and a "van" is white with patches of tabby on the head and tail. Small patches have their own terminology, such as "lockets" (on the chest), "mittens" (on the paws) or "buttons" (tiny spots).