The name tabby cat conjures a specific image for most people: a miniature tiger, complete with wild stripes. Tabbies are often thought of as a breed, but their characteristic markings are a coat pattern that can appear in different breeds with a surprising amount of variation. Tabbies can be brown, gray, orange, or even black, and their markings include stripes, spots, whorls, and bands.
Personality: Friendly, independent, outgoing, adventurous
Weight: Up to 18 pounds
Length: Up to 40 inches
Coat Length: Short Hair or Long Hair
Coat Colors: Brown, gray, orange, or black
Coat Patterns: Tabby
Eye Color: Green, gold, or blue
Lifespan: Up to 18 years
Origin: Ancient Egypt
Tabby Cat Characteristics
It is no surprise the tabby cat is ubiquitous—the gene for the tabby pattern can be found in all domestic cats (look at a coal-black cat in the sun, and you may see hidden tabby markings). These wildly patterned pets vary in size and temperament because they encompass so many different breeds, but tabby enthusiasts agree that friendly, curious, outgoing personalities are common among tabbies.
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History of the Tabby Cat
Some say the tabby originated with the Mau, an ancient Egyptian breed developed from the domestication of the African wildcat. Its modern descendant is the Egyptian Mau, which bears a tabby pattern. Perhaps the most distinctive feature seen in the Mau and other tabby cats is the vague marking of the letter "M" on their foreheads.
According to a Biblical legend, a tabby visited the manger. When Mary asked the stable animals to surround the manger and warm baby Jesus, a little tabby cat nestled next to the baby with soothing warmth and purrs. Mary was so grateful she bestowed her initial, "M," on the cat's forehead.
Islamic legends tell of how much Mohammed loved cats. He once cut off a sleeve of a garment when he had to leave to attend prayer rather than disturb his cat, Muezza, who was sleeping upon the sleeve. Such stories assume that Mohammed bestowed the "M" marking on tabbies to symbolize his adoration. Today, cats are still generally protected and respected in the Islamic world; they are even permitted inside mosques.
The word "tabby" was originally an English name for striped silk fabric in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was first used to describe striped cats in the 1690s. In 1871, a 21-pound "English tabby" was documented as having appeared at the very first cat show in the world held at the Crystal Palace in London.
Tabby Cat Care
The care of a tabby will largely depend on its breed rather than its coat pattern. For instance, a Maine coon tabby will require more brushing, coat care, and possibly hairball medication than a Manx tabby. When it comes to exercise, an Ocicat will need a lot more room to play than a Persian tabby.
Common Health Problems
While a mixed breed tabby is generally healthy and robust, many pure breeds have health problems that are unique and require individualized care.
Tabby cats range in size and shape from petite to ponderous. They even have a great deal of variation within their tabby patterns. There are four basic patterns that are considered genetically distinct, as follows:
- Classic: This pattern usually has whorls ending in a "target" on the side of the cat. Many American shorthair cats demonstrate this pattern.
- Mackerel (striped): This is by far the most common pattern, so much so that some people think it should have received the title "classic" designation. Mackerel tabbies have striped rings around their tail and legs, a "necklace" of stripes on the front of their chests, and bands of solid or broken stripes running down the sides of their bodies. They will have a darker color in spots running in two lines across their tummies (called "vest buttons").
- Spotted: The Ocicat and the American bobtail are good examples of spotted tabby patterns, although some moggies will also demonstrate this color pattern.
- Agouti (Ticked): Most tabby cats will have agouti hairs as part of their pattern. If you look closely, you'll see different bands of color down the length of the cat's hairs. Cats with an all-ticked pattern almost shimmer in the sunlight because of the color variation.
A fifth pattern is recognized when patches of tabby markings appear on a calico or tortoiseshell cat. They are referred to as caliby and torbie, respectively.
Diet and Nutrition
A wholesome cat food, dried and/or canned, is generally a great option for feeding tabbies of any breed. However, research your specific breed of cat to find out if it has any unique dietary requirements.
Where to Adopt or Buy a Tabby Cat
Since tabbies are so common among the general cat population, finding one can be as simple as visiting your local shelter and adopting a kitten or adult cat. If you would like to purchase a particular breed with tabby markings, contact breeders in your region and ask about the availability of tabbies.
Types of Tabby Cat
According to the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), these cat breeds are allowed the tabby pattern:
- Abyssinian (ticked)
- American bobtail
- American curl
- American shorthair (the classic pattern)
- American wirehair
- Birman (tabby points)
- Colorpoint shorthair (tabby points called "lynx points")
- Egyptian Mau (the original spotted tabby)
- Exotic (shorthaired Persians)
- Javanese (lynx points)
- LaPerm (has its roots in a "barn cat")
- Maine coon (probably the most popular pedigreed tabby cat)
- Norwegian forest cat
- Oriental (with 112 tabby combinations)
- Ragdoll (lynx points)
- Rex (Devon, Selkirk, and Cornish)
- Scottish fold
- Siberian (another "natural" breed of tabby cats)
- Singapura (ticked)
- Somali (longhair ticked)
- Turkish Angora (14 allowable tabby patterns/colors)
- Turkish van (six tabby patterns/colors)
Tabby Cat Overview
Generally speaking, tabby cats are wonderful pets for individuals and families with kids and other pets. When seeking specific breeds, though, it's helpful to know if the breed you fancy has known personality quirks or less agreeable tendencies.
Generally friendly and outgoing
Easy to find due to the commonness of the color pattern
Beautiful and wild-looking cat coloration
Care requirements may be more extensive in some breeds of tabby
Health concerns also vary among different breeds
Personality may vary among pure breeds
More Cat Breeds and Further Research
If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:
Otherwise, check out all of our other cat breed profiles.
How long do tabby cats live?
About 15 years on average (the same as all other cats).
How big do tabby cats get?
Depending on its breed, tabbies range in weight from 9 to 18 pounds.
When do tabby cats stop growing?
Tabby cats are full grown by the time they are a year old.