Tabby Cats – Colours, Markings and Breeds of Tabby Cat


All about tabby cats

Tabby is a common coat pattern among domestic cats which features darker spots, stripes or swirls on a lighter background as well as a prominent M on the forehead. The name “tabby” is believed to have derived from Atabi, which is a type of striped taffeta (known as tabbi) that was manufactured in the Attabiah district of Baghdad.

Harrison Weir, in his book Our Cats And All About Them, dated 1889, describes the origins as this:

The word tabby was derived from a kind of taffeta, or ribbed silk, which when calendered or what is now termed watered, is by that process covered with wavy lines. This stuff, in bygone times, was often called tabby: hence the cat with lines or markings on its fur was called a “tabby” cat. But it might also, one would suppose, with as much justice, be called a taffey cat, unless the calendering of “taffey” caused it to become “tabby”. Certain it is that the word tabby only referred to the marking or stripes, not to the absolute colour.

Genetically all cats are tabby, however, many possess modifier genes which inhibit this pattern from being expressed. The mackerel tabby (Mc) is the default (wild type) pattern, with the classic pattern being recessive (mc). Recessive genes require two copies (one from each parent) in order to be expressed. The spotted tabby is essentially a mackerel tabby with a modifier gene which breaks up the markings from stripes into spots. If cats were allowed to do their thing (so to speak), and no more selective breeding occurred, then they would eventually revert back to the default tabby pattern after a few generations. This is known as revert to type.

The gene for the tabby pattern is known as agouti and is dominant, the code for this gene is A/a (a capital letter symbolises that the gene is dominant, a lower case letter means the gene is recessive). So, if a cat inherits two recessive a genes, then it will be a non-tabby (solid) cat as the presence of the a/a masks the tabby pattern.

A/A = tabby
A/a = tabby
a/a =non-tabby (solid)

Classic tabby Oriental

The tabby occurs in three main colours.

  • The brown tabby has darker spots and stripes on a lighter background such as black spots/stripes on a brown background,
  • The silver tabby has dark grey spots/stripes on a light grey background.
  • The red tabby has dark red spots and stripes on a light red/cream background.

Other colours include cream tabbies and blue tabbies.

Tabby patterns


Red classic tabby

Classic tabby

Also known as blotched or marbled.

Dark bold and clearly defined markings, on a lighter background. Lines, swirls, and whorls which are unbroken on the top of the cat and swirled along the sides, with barring on the legs and rings around the tail.


Mackerel tabby cat

Mackerel tabby

Clearly defined, vertical stripes going around the cat’s body. Mackerel stripes are narrower than those on the classic tabby. Legs have bracelets and the tail is barred.


Spotted tabby cat

Spotted tabby cat

Dark spots on a lighter background.

Ticked tabby

Ticked tabby cat

Three ticked tabby Abyssinian cats

The ticked tabby has contrasting dark and light bands of colour on each hair.

All tabby cats have a distinctive M on the forehead. There are several legends as to how this occurred.

  • When Jesus was born, lying in his crib, he started to shiver from the cold. A tabby cat jumped into the manger and warmed the baby Jesus by lying next to him. To thank the cat, Mary left the mark of her name, an M on the cat’s forehead.
  • A cat by the name of Muezza was the favourite cat of the Prophet, Muhammad. One day when the call of prayers was heard, Muezza was asleep on the sleeve of the Prophet’s robe. Instead of waking the cat, he cut off the sleeve, leaving Muezza to sleep, stroking her on the head three times.
  • A cat was attacking the Prophet, Muhammad, Muezza killed the snake, saving his life. The Prophet blessed the cat by resting his hand on the cat’s forehead, marking it with an M and giving all the ability to always land on their feet.

The tabby pattern is dominant over almost all other coat patterns with an exception for the white masking and white spotting genes.

Tabby cat breeds:

There are a number of breeds which accept the tabby cat pattern. The tabby pattern is quite common among domestics.

The tabby pattern can also be found in pointed breeds of cat such as the Siamese, Colorpoint Shorthair, Himalayan, Balinese, Birman and Ragdoll (tabby or lynx point).

Tabby cat names:

  • Garfield
  • Marble
  • Spot
  • Tabby
  • Tabitha
  • Tiger
  • Tigger