Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (2023)

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Tabby cats are one of the most diverse and universally beloved types of cats. Probably because they are SO cute. But they’re not all the same! Tabby cats come in so many tabby patterns and tabby colors. There are orange tabby cats, grey tabby cats, brown tabby cats, and even other fur colors too. Cats with myriad tabby cat patterns also grace us with their presence: mackerel tabby cats, classic tabby cats, spotted tabby cats and more. Tabbies are unique due to their varied patterning and their charm!

Table of Contents

  • What is a Tabby Cat?
  • Tabby Kittens
  • Tabby cat colors
  • Tabby Cat Patterns
  • The History of Tabby Cats
  • Tabby Cat FAQs
  • Tabby Cat Names
  • Tabbies are for Cat Lovers
  • References

What is a Tabby Cat?

A tabby cat is a cat that is expressing the “agouti” gene, which allows an ancestral striping pattern to be displayed on the cat’s fur. The stripes are a result of a pattern of ticked fur and non-ticked fur on the cat.

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Tabby Cat Meaning

When someone says “tabby cat”, they are referring to a cat with the physical characteristics of this type of cat, as opposed to a solid-colored cat, a bicolor cat, a calico cat, or a cat with a different type of fur pattern.

Tabby cat characteristics include:

  • M shaped marking on the forehead
  • Dark eyeliner markings around eyes
  • A ring of lighter fur around eyes
  • Banding along spine and around legs and tail
  • Characteristic patterning on body
  • Lighter colored chin and belly
Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (2)

Tabby Kittens

Tabby kittens look just like tiny tabby cats! Sometimes, tabby markings are more apparent on black tabby kittens and fade as the kitten grows.

The gene responsible for the tabby cat pattern is called the agouti gene. If a cat is carrying the agouti gene (“A”), some form of tabby will be visible. If a cat is carrying a non-agouti gene (“a”), then the cat will be solid colored UNLESS the cat is red. Fun fact, orange cats always have tabby stripes. Even if the stripes have been bred to be difficult to see, the striping is still present due to the interactions between the genetics.

Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (3)

Because cats can carry the agouti “A” gene without it being expressed, such as a cat with high-grade white spotting, it is possible for a cat who is not a tabby to have kittens who are tabbies. This is especially true if you have a pregnant mama cat and you don’t know who the father is (a common occurrence when fostering cats and kittens). Calico mother cats, tortoiseshells, bicolor cats, black cats, and white cats can all give birth to tabby kittens. Fun!

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Tabby cat colors

Tabbies come in every color that cats come in! The most common are orange, grey (also called blue), and brown. The dilute gene can also be applied to tabby cats. This lightens both the main fur color and the tabby stripes. Tabbies can also come in cream, lavender, cinnamon, chocolate, fawn, silver, and even black, with subtle stripes.

All tabby cat colors have the same basic tabby markings, but not all show the stripe pattern to the same degree.

Let’s take a look at some different color tabby cats!

Orange tabby cat

Orange tabbies are some of the most well-known and widely loved cats in modern culture.Orange tabbies like Garfield, Healthcliff, Crookshanks, and Puss-in-Boots have played irreplaceable roles in our favorite stories and comics.

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You can see stunning dark orange stripes intermixed with lighter orange fur on the stunning orange tabby cat above. Note the banding on the legs, lighter chin, and lines emanating from the outer corner of the eyes that mark this sweetheart as a tabby.

Orange Tabby Kitten

There isn’t much that’s cuter than a fluffy little orange kitten.

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These two kittens are showing us distinctive stripes on their legs, as well as pale fur around the eyes and a clear “M” shape on the forehead of the top kitten.

Grey tabby cat

Technically, grey tabbies are actually “blue” by cat standards. But since most people aren’t versed in cat lingo, it’s more common to hear them called grey tabby cats. These “blue tabby” sweethearts have dark grey stripes on a lighter gray background. The fur around their eyes and on their chins and bellies may be light grey or cream with a slight warmth of a reddish hue. Grey tabby cats can any eye color, though we observe grey tabbies with golden eyes most often.

Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (7)

grey tabby kitten

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Brown tabby cat

Brown tabby cats are some of the most common and most beloved house pets. They come in every size and shape, and have a wide range of personalities. Brown tabby cats can have yellow, green, amber, hazel, or copper eyes, and their tabby stripes can be in any of the four tabby patterns.

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Brown Tabby Kitten

Brown tabby kittens are born with blue eyes that will turn another color around 8 weeks old. These cuties look like little brown bears! Depending on their patterning, their stripes may be hard to see when they are tiny and become more visible as they grow.

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Silver tabby cat

A silver tabby cat has black or dark gray stripes on light gray background fur. Silver tabbies are distinct from grey tabby cats in that silver tabby cat fur is white where the root of the hair meets the skin. Silver tabbies have variable pigmentation on each strand of fur; they may be ticked, shaded, or smoked.

A silver tabby cat may also be called a white tabby cat, or a grey and white tabby cat. If the silver tabby has very dark stripes on a very light background, some may refer to it as a black and white tabby cat.

One of these silver tabbies has darker stripes and one has lighter stripes, both on a very light silvery background. The stripes on the silver tabby pictured with darker stripes has shaded or smoked fur, and the silver tabby with lighter stripes has tipped fur, which means that only the tip of the fur strand has pigmentation. For more on cat fur, check out our overview on cat fur colors, patterns, and genetics.

Tabby Cat Patterns

Tabby cats of all coat patterns have a few characteristics in common. Tabby have a distinct “M” marking that appears on the forehead. Tabbies have eyeliner-like stripes around their eyes, as well as stripes on their cheeks. The tabby cat pattern universally includes a striped down the cat’s back, and banding on the legs and tail

Tabby cat patterns differ mostly in the markings on a cat’s body. Tabby cat coat patterns are usually separated into four categories. The four tabby cat patterns currently recognized by the Cat Fancier Association are mackerel tabbies, classic tabbies, spotted tabbies and ticked tabbies.

Classic Tabby Cat

A classic tabby cat is also called a marble tabby or a blotched tabby. This tabby coat pattern consists of swirling shapes that create broad bands and spirals on the sides of a cat, and butterflies on the shoulders of the cat. There may be dots incorporated throughout the pattern.

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Classic tabbies typically have stripes on their necks. They will always display the tabby “M” shape on the forehead and liner markings around their eyes.

Classic tabby cat personality

Class tabbies have some of the most affable, entertaining personalities in the cat world. They are enthusiastic, mischievous, and exploratory. Classic tabbies tend not to “look before they leap”, and may end up in all sorts of trouble as a result. They tend to dive headfirst into what they are doing, often with hilarious results. If you love a classic tabby, he will thoroughly love you back, and have you laughing on the daily to boot.

Mackerel Tabby

Mackerel tabby cats are named after the mackerel fish. Thin stripes go out from the spine and around the cat’s body like ribs, resembling the skinny rib bones of the mackerel fish. These stripes also ring the cat’s tail and legs. The stripes on a mackerel cat are similar to those of a tiger, so they are sometimes referred to as tiger cats.

Mackerel tabby stripes can be solid lines or broken lines. Mackerel tabbies will also have the typical facial markings that grace every tabby – the classic forehead “M”, eyeliner markings, and cheek stripes.

Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (12)

Mackerel tabby cat personality

Mackerel tabby cats come in all different personalities, but are frequently intelligent, companionable, observant, relaxed, and curious. These super-stripy felines make excellent pets and will happily prowl around your home, hanging out nearby as you work and play.

Spotted Tabby

Spotted tabby cats, as implied by the name, have spots instead of stripes. Where mackerel tabbies may have stripes that are broken but still identifiable as stripes, spotted tabbies occur when the mackerel stripes become completely broken into spots. Sometimes a spotted tabby cat will have elongated oval spots instead of perfectly round dots. If the spots on your spotted tabby are shaped like dark rings with a lighter area in the center, these spots are called rosettes.

Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (13)

Spotted tabby cat personality

Spotted tabbies have wonderful personalities. These rarest of tabby cats are affectionate, clever, relaxed, and friendly. They are fabulous companions and make loyal, loving pets.

Ticked Tabby

Ticked Tabbies are different from most other tabbies because they do not have stripes or spots to identify them as tabby cats. Stripes are not readily apparent on these cats, but each hair has alternating bands of color. This gives the cat a fuzzy appearance to their coloring. Breeds that are especially known for being ticked include Abyssinian and Somali cats, but the pattern also appears in many mixed breed cats. These tabby still have striped legs and typical tabby facial markings, including the “M” on the forehead.

Ticked tabby cat personality

Ticked tabbies are sometimes more reserved and aloof than other tabbies. However, they are extremely loyal to their chosen humans, and are perfect companions for the work-from-home cat lover.

Tabby Pattern Mixes

Torbie Cat

The term “torbie” or “torbie cat” is a shortening of “tortoiseshell tabby”. These are beautiful female cats with mixed black and red fur and minimal or no white spotting. For a tortie to become a torbie, she must have the tabby pattern visible in the red patches, the black patches, or both.

Sometimes the two colors of fur are intermixed so thoroughly that no pattern is visible at all. Some torbie cats very much resemble typical brown tabbies, with small areas of red intermixed. If there are large enough red patches, the tabby pattern will always be visible in them.

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Caliby Cat

Caliby, as you may have guessed, is a combination of the words “calico” and “tabby”. Calico cats differ from tortoiseshells in that calicos have white spotting, and toritoisehll cats have minimal or no white spotting. Caliby cats are thusly different from torbies, in that they have a higher degree of white spotting.

Most calicos will have hints of the tabby pattern on their face or in larger patches of color. However, in some calicos the tabby pattern is not visible or barely noticeable. In animals considered to be caliby cats, the pattern is readily apparent.

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The History of Tabby Cats

The tabby cat pattern origin was centuries ago. Some time during the Miocene era, ancient cats split into roaring and non-roaring varieties. Modern house cats are descended from the non-roaring line. In the 14th century, the Attabiya district of Baghdad produced beautiful striped silk cloth. The name “tabby cat” was derived from the word “Attabiya” and came to mean the striped cats commonly found around town.

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Tabby Cat FAQs

What is the Origin of Tabby Cats?

Tabby stripes emerged in the Near Eastern wildcat first, a common ancestor of today’s beloved house pets. The name “tabby” emerged when the stripy cats were compared to a popular striped silk pattern in the Middle Ages.

What are tabby Cats Known For?

Tabby cats are known for their intelligence, their loyal and loving personalities, and of course for their stripes. Famous fictional tabby cats include Garfield, Heathcliff, Puss-In-Boots, and Crookshanks.

What are Tabby Cats Descended From?

Tabby cats are descended from the African wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica. Today, there are approximately 71 recognized breeds of domestic cats.

What is the Most Common Tabby Pattern?

The most common tabby pattern is the mackerel tabby, followed by the classic tabby. The ticked and spotted tabbies are the rarest tabby patterns.

How do I Know What Kind Of Tabby Cat I Have?

If your tabby has long thin stripes, he is a mackerel tabby. If your tabby has splotchy whirls, he is a classic tabby. If your tabby has spots, he is a spotted tabby. If your tabby has the tabby “M” but no stripes, he is a ticked tabby. Scroll up to see image examples of each type and color of tabby.

Is Tabby a Breed of Cat?

Tabbies are not a breed of cat. The term tabby refers to a coat pattern that can be present in many different breeds. In fact, all domestic cats possess genes for at least one of the four tabby coat patterns. Depending on the specific genetics of the cat, the tabby pattern might not show at all. Or, the pattern might be one of the four primary tabby coat patterns described above.

Do Tabby Cats Have A Distinct Personality?

Tabby cats are known for being friendly, intelligent, affectionate, funny, and loyal. Orange tabby cats in particular have a reputation for having a great sense of humor and being very talkative. Marbled or classic tabby cats have a great sense of humor reminiscent of the Three Stooges.

What Is The Lifespan Of A Tabby Cat?

Tabby cats have an average lifespan of 13-17 years, just like most other cats living indoors. If a tabby cat lives outdoors, he will typically have a shorter lifespan due to the dangers of being outdoors unsupervised.

What is the price of a tabby cat?

Since tabbies are so prevalent, you’ll be able to find one at your local animal shelter for the standard adoption price, which is usually under $100.

Are tabby cats rare?

Tabby cats are very common. All cats carry a gene that codes for the tabby pattern. Cats with solid colors have other genes that have superseded the tabby pattern, but the gene is still there. A non-tabby cat can and often does have tabby kittens.

All Tabby Cat Colors Are…

Tabby cats can come in almost any color. The most common colors for tabby cats are brown, gray, and orange. Tabby cat coats also come in cream, lavender, cinnamon, chocolate, fawn, and silver. Even some black cats have a ghost of a tabby pattern visible!

Do Tabby Cats Have Striped Skin?

No, generally not. Tabby cats have a striped pattern due to the alternating bands of color on each individual hair. The striped pattern does not appear on the skin. Cats may have colored markings or patches on their skin, but this won’t correspond with a tabby pattern as seen on the cat’s fur.

Tabby Cat Names

There are lots of great names for tabby cats! Here are a handful for inspiration:

Li Shou


Slim Shady

Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (17)

Tabbies are for Cat Lovers

Tabby cats are well-known for their big personalities. These tiny tigers come in many different colors and patterns. They have personalities that are friendly, relaxed, smart, and loyal. Each cat is unique and will have a special charm that no other cat can replicate, and your personal tabby friend will forever hold a place in your heart.


These books are great resources for more information on cat genetics, coats, conformations, and breeds.

Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (18)Robinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders and Veterinarians


This book is a great reference for anyone studying feline genetics.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

03/07/2023 10:19 pm GMT

Tabby Cat Colors & Patterns: Classic Tabby Cats, Mackerel Tabbies & More! ⋆ Love These Cats (19)The Cat Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide

The Cat Encyclopedia is a comprehensive cat compendium packed withfacts about cats and kittens and beautifully photographed profiles of different breeds. This book also offers information on the science and history of house cats.

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Are mackerel tabby cats rare? ›

Tabby cat coats aren't just one pattern.

The mackerel pattern is the most commonly occurring one, and is the pattern most people think of when they think of tabby cats.

What breed is a mackerel tabby cat? ›

It may seem like they are a breed unto themselves, but tabbies are not a breed. The term “tabby” refers to their striped fur pattern. Many tabby cats have the trademark “M” created by the stripes on the tabby's forehead.

Why are tabby cats so special? ›

Tabbies Are Affectionate and Intelligent

These unique creatures are incredibly affectionate and intelligent. They love cuddles and a whole lot of attention. However, tabbies can get pretty cranky if they don't get their way; since as a rule they are very bright, they usually end up getting what they want.

What is the rarest color of cat? ›

The albino cat is the rarest color pattern of all. To get an albino cat, you need parent cats with two recessive genes and the offspring must receive both.

What is the rarest color of tabby cat? ›

Rosette pattern. The rosette pattern is also known as the spotted tabby pattern, and it is determined by the agouti gene. This is a rarer variant of the pattern, and it is commonly observed among Bengals, Serengetis, Egyptian Maus, Arabian Maus, Maine Coons and other breeds.

What problems do tabby cats have? ›

The health of Tabby cats can vary depending on their breed, but their average life expectancy can be upward of 15 years. The most common health conditions reported by ASPCA Pet Health Insurance pet parents with Tabby cats are hyperthyroidism, vomiting, urinary trouble, upset stomach, and weight loss.

How rare is a tabby? ›

The tabby pattern is found in many official cat breeds and is a hallmark of the landrace extremely common among the general population of cats around the world.

Why does my cat sleep next to me every night? ›

Your Cat Is Looking for Security

Because of their position in the middle of the food chain, they may feel vulnerable while they're sleeping. Sleeping next to you helps them feel more secure in their ability to sleep because they know they have an extra layer of defense if a predator comes their way.

What is the personality of a mackerel tabby cat? ›

Though it's difficult to make generalizations about tabbies because they come from so many breeds, many tabby cat owners say their cats are friendly, affectionate, and playful.

How long does a tabby cat live indoor? ›

Tabby cats are popular felines, so how long do tabby cats live? The average life expectancy of a tabby cat is between 12 and 15 years, but some can live until they are 18 or older.

Why do tabby cats meow so much? ›

The most common causes of excessive vocalization are medical issues and attention-seeking, a learned behavior. Many cats learn to meow to signal their wish to go outside or be fed. This technique is especially effective early in the morning or at night when you are tired.

What color cat is least adopted? ›

Entirely or primarily black cats will be less likely adopted—and more likely euthanized—than cats of other colors.

What color cat is least popular? ›

Black cats seem to be the most common coat color and sadly also the least desirable at adoption time. In fact, black cats are half as likely to find a home than a cat of another color. Why is this? Superstition?

What is the 2 rarest cat? ›

2. Devon Rex. The Devon Rex cat earned its name from its place of origin, Devonshire, in the United Kingdom. “The Devon Rex is a breed of unique appearance.

Are mackerel tabby cats common? ›

Striped, a.k.a.“mackerel,” is the most common tabby pattern.

Are tabby cats common or rare? ›

The tabby pattern is found in many official cat breeds and is a hallmark of the landrace extremely common among the general population of cats around the world.

What is the most common type of tabby? ›

The classic tabby

This patternis the most common of all the tabby cats. They have wider stripes that tend to curve to form circular patterns and three large stripes running from the shoulders to the base of the tail.

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