Tabby Cat Facts: EVERYTHING You Need to Know About Tabby Cats (2024)

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Are you considering getting a new pet and curious about tabby cats?

Tabby cats are known for their distinctive patterns, playful personalities, and affectionate nature.

This article will delve into the history of tabby cats, their unique characteristics, and what you can expect when bringing one into your home.

From their lifespan to common health issues and grooming needs, we will cover everything you need to know about these fascinating cats.

Table of Contents

What is a Tabby Cat?

Possibly the most important thing to know about tabby cats is that the beautiful tabby is not a breed in its own right.

These cats are often referred to as tabbies for their recognisable coat patterns.

Tabby cats have different fur patterns based on the positioning of their stripes, and all of them have distinctive “M” markings on their forehead

There will also be striped, dotted or swirled patterns in different colours on the rest of their body, which vary by tabby type.

tabby cat
Image Credit: Instagram @Tabbycatcorner

Variations of Tabby Cats

There are several main types of tabby cats which all have similar facial markings but different body patterns and colours, which can help you tell the difference between them:

Mackerel Tabby

The mackerel tabby is the most common type of tabby. The distinctive “M” markings on the forehead are 3-5 vertical lines accompanied by dark lines across the cheeks from the corners of the eyes. They also have many stripes and lines on the neck and shoulder, on their sides and around the legs and tail. 

Classic Tabby

The classic tabby, also known as blotched or marbled tabby, has the distinctive “M” marking on the forehead, as with all tabbies. They also have thick curving bands of body markings, often with another distinctive bullseye mark on their sides and three stripes running along their spine.

Ticked Tabby

The ticked tabby pattern has an even field of mixed colour Agouti hairs, making their tabby patterning difficult to see on their bodies. You may be able to see it close up, or it may not be visible at all. They still have the usual “M” markings on their head and often a darker line running along their spine

Abyssinian tabby cat

Abyssinian breed cats often have a ticked tabby pattern.

Spotted Tabby

Spotted tabbies have a similar pattern to the classic and mackerel tabbies, but because of a gene modifier, it appears as spots rather than stripes. The spots can be random or in lines across their body.

Bengal and Ocicat breeds are typical examples of spotted tabbies. 

Patched Tabby

Patched tabbies are often tortoiseshell or other cat breeds with their fur in tabby patterns. They often have patches of up to 4 or 5 different colours across their body for a unique look. 

Orange Tabby

Orange tabbies are a colour variant of all of the above patterns. Whilst they are typically orange and white, the ratio between the colours varies from a few orange spots on a predominantly white cat to an orange cat with virtually no white colouring. 

Otto is a classic orange and white tabby:

orange and white tabby cat
Image Credit: Instagram @Tabbycatcorner

The orange can be darker or lighter, with spots or stripes, and the white is nearly always a solid colour, usually on the cat’s belly, paws and chest. 

An orange tabby has similar face markings to the classic and mackerel tabbies but is often asymmetrical, with more or less white fur on each side of the face. 

Silver Tabby

The silver tabby pattern results from a genetic mutation causing a lighter colour of fur or patches of white mixed into a standard tabby colour. 

The silver tabby coat is most commonly seen in British Shorthair and Russian Blue cats, but it can also be found in various other breeds, including the Maine Coon, Siamese, and Turkish Angora. 

Tabby Cats and Their Origin

There is exciting detail to know about the history of tabby cats. The tabby pattern is found in many official cat breeds (see below) and is extremely common in cat populations worldwide. Tabbies have close relatives in the African wildcat, European wildcat and Asiatic wildcat. 

a white and grey tabby cat infront of an egyptian pyramid

But where do tabby cats come from?

The name Tabby originates from the Attabia district in Baghdad, famous for its striped cloths and silks. These silks spread to England, and “tabby” became commonly used in the 17th Century.

Cats with striped coats were described as tabby cats from the 1690s. 

Some evidence has shown an even earlier relationship between humans and cats in Cyprus as far as 9000 years ago.

However, the Ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to keep fully domesticated cats as pets.

Paintings of their cats have shown they were possibly ancestors of our modern-day tabby cats.

Tabby Cat Characteristics and Personality

Tabby cats are not a specific breed and therefore do not have specific behaviours attributed to them, and there is no genetic link between the cat’s pattern and their personality. 

A study showed that even though there is no scientific difference, people perceive differences based on the cat’s colour e.g white cats being shy and orange cats being friendly, but there is no evidence of this.

Read More: Black Cats and the Moon

There are still several characteristics to know that most tabby cats exhibit:


Tabby cats are known to be creative and mischievous, and they often prefer activities such as climbing, jumping and digging.

These qualities are likely linked to the cat’s natural predatory instincts and are not necessarily negative traits.


Most tabby cats enjoy being around other cats, humans and often other pets. They are fun-loving, affectionate and enjoy getting attention.


Although there have been many theories about the “warrior gene” in cats, there seems to be some truth to the idea that tabby cats are particularly bold and assertive around other cats.  


Cats have an innate ability to hunt small animals such as rodents, birds, and small rabbits. While most cats do not enjoy killing for food, certain tabby cats may have a strong hunting instinct that attracts them to and even stalk small prey. 

mackerel tabby cat in long grass
Image Credit: Instagram @Tabbycatcorner


This may come as no surprise, but the curious nature of the tabby cat makes it likely that they will explore new things and learn by exploring their surroundings and investigating new things such as people, food, and toys.


Many tabby cats will be vocal when they want food and water, or to come in or go outside. They may also use their voice to attract attention from their humans, so be sure to play with them if your tabby is frequently meowing. 

Some breeds of cats are much more vocal than others, such as Siamese cats which are known to be very vocal.

Common Tabby Breeds

Whilst “tabby” is not a cat breed, as mentioned before, several official breeds exhibit one or more of the tabby patterns. 

These are just some of the breeds that can also be described as tabbies:

  • American Shorthair 
  • Maine Coon
  • Persian
  • Bengal 
  • Abyssinian
  • Siamese 
  • Scottish Fold

bengal cat

Do Tabby Cats Shed?

Like most cats, Tabby cats shed, but the amount depends on your cat’s specific breed and how long their fur is. Typically breeds with longer fur will shed more.  

Like most other cats, tabbies will have a thicker winter coat which they will shed in spring to grow their thinner summer coat. Then in autumn, they will shed their summer coat ready for their thicker winter coat again.

Due to the more consistent temperature, indoor cats have less variation between their thicker and thinner coats and may shed less. 

Excessive shedding can be caused by factors like stress e.g the addition of a family member/pet or moving home. 

A poor diet may also contribute to excessive shedding. One way to help cats keep their coats healthy and well-maintained is to feed them a balanced diet containing all the nutrients their bodies need.

You can read much more about whether tabby cats shed in this post.

How Long Do Tabby Cats Live?

Because tabby cats can be several different breeds, there is no “one size fits all” answer to how long tabby cats live. A cat’s lifespan is not affected by its pattern or colour. 

an old tabby cat
Image Credit: Instagram @Tabbycatcorner

You can expect most tabby cats to live for 12-18 years, depending on their breed, size and lifestyle. 

Maine Coon cats, for example, commonly live to be 13-14 years old. 

Bengal cats generally live shorter lives at 8-12 years. 

American Shorthair cats are on the upper end with a lifespan of 15.20 years.

Whatever breed of cat you have, there are many ways to help your cat live its longest, healthiest life, such as by feeding it a nutritionally balanced diet

How Big Do Tabby Cats Get?

The size of your tabby cat will depend on its breed.

There is a big difference between the size of different breeds, ranging from the tiny Teacup Persian cats (6-8lbs) to the huge Maine Coon that can weigh up to 25lbs!

They can be tall, too. The tallest domestic cat is Fenrir, the Savannah cat, who stands almost 50cm tall!

Can Tabby Cats be Male and Female?

All breeds and patterns of tabby cats can be male or female. 

The myth that all tabby cats are female is possibly due to the name Tabby being a shortened version of the feminine name Tabitha. 

It is a myth that all orange tabby cats are male.

However, most orange tabby cats are male – only about 20% are female.

The orange colouring is a recessive gene which requires both the mother and father to pass on their genes to a female kitten, but only the mother needs to pass it on to a male kitten.

orange tabby cat
Image Credit: Instagram @Tabbycatcorner

Famous Tabby Cats

There are lots of examples of famous tabby cats in our world today. Here are some of the most well-known felines:

Larry – The famous brown and white tabby who is “Chief Mouser” in No 10 Downing Street, the UK Prime Minister’s office and residence. 

Garfield – A popular orange tabby cat that has appeared in cartoon strips since 1978.

Ithaca Kitty – A popular stuffed toy in the US from the 1890s until after World War 1.

Tabby Cat Summary

Tabby cats, with their distinct coat pattern, are some of the most common cats worldwide and are often characterised as bold, curious, and even a bit mischievous. 

More than anything, they are fascinating, charming, fun-loving and a joy to have in any family. With so many different breeds, all with unique twists, keep an eye out for the tabby cat “M” and welcome one into your home.

This covered everything you need to know about tabby cats and their history, but check out some of our other posts for more detail after looking after one of your own.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a tabby cat a rare cat?

Tabby cats are not considered rare they are one of the most common coat patterns in cats.

What are the 4 types of tabby cats?

Four common types of tabby cats are classic tabby, mackerel tabby, spotted tabby, and ticked tabby. However, more patterns can be seen in our post above.

What makes tabby cats different?

Tabby cats are different from other cats because of their distinctive coat pattern. They have stripes, spots, or swirls on their fur that create a unique design.

Are tabby cats the friendliest?

Tabby cats can be friendly, but their personality depends on their traits, not their coat pattern.

Do tabby cats get jealous?

Just like other cats, tabby cats can get jealous. However, the degree of jealousy depends on their personality and behaviour.

What is the rarest colour in tabby cat?

There is no rare colour for tabby cats. The most common colours for tabby cats are brown, grey, and orange.

Is a female tabby rare?

Female tabby cats are not considered rare. They are equally common as male tabby cats.

Are tabby cats vocal?

Many cat breeds are classed as tabby cats, and some are more vocal than others. Siamese cats are known to be one of the most vocal breeds.

How long do tabby cats live?

Tabby cats can live for 12 to 20 years or more, depending on their breed, health, and lifestyle.

What does the M on a cat’s head mean?

The “M” on a cat’s forehead is a common marking in tabby cats. Its origin is unknown, but it is considered a natural variation in the coat pattern.

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