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The Glorious Tabby

A Tribute to Tabby Cats in all Their Manifestations

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red mackeral tabby cat

Jaspurr: Red Mackeral Tabby with vivid markings

Franny Syufy
The name "tabby cat" brings to mind many different things to different people. The old phrase "alley cat" may come to mind with some people: the rough-coated, scar-nosed, tattered-eared lurker of alleys and dumpsters. Others, myself included, will think of their favorite cats. Indeed, I can't remember a time when our home has not been graced by one or more tabby cats.

Tabbies are so ubiquitous that many people think of them as a breed. Not so; the tabby is a color pattern - most often stripes, but sometimes stripes and whorls, or even spots and stripes. The tabby pattern is so popular that it can be found in many pedigreed cats today, and is accepted in a number of breeds by the most popular registries.

Although there are many variations of each, the tabby pattern falls into four basic classes. A fifth includes tabby as part of another basic color pattern, e.g. the "patched" tabby, which may be a calico or tortoiseshell cat with tabby patches (the latter is called a "torbie." Some pointed breeds also allow "tabby points" within their color standards. Is it any wonder the tabby cat is so ubiquitous? In fact, the gene for tabby pattern can be found in all domestic cats. Look at a "coal black" cat in the sun some day, and see if you can find the hidden tabby markings.

Types of Tabby Patterns

  • Classic: This pattern usually has whorls ending in a "target" on the side of the cat. Many American Shorthair cats demonstrate this pattern. The cat pictured in this chart has very high color contrast, which shows his whorls clearly.
  • Mackerel (striped): This is by far the most common pattern, so much so that some people think it should have received the title "Classic." 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 the darker color in spots running in two lines across their tummies (called "vest buttons.") The ginger kitten in the chart shows an example of broken stripes. You can click on the image to see a larger version. The same cat (our Jaspurr) is shown above as an adult.
  • Spotted: The Ocicat and the American Bobtail are good examples of spotted tabby pattern, although some Moggies will also demonstrate this color pattern. The American Bobtail in the chart illustrates the spotted tabby pattern to perfection. (This cat also illustrates the American Bobtail section of my Breeds Snapshots.)
  • 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 individual hairs. Cats with an all-ticked pattern almost shimmer in the sunlight, because of the color variation. The Abyssinian in the chart is a classic example of a ticked tabby or agouti pattern.

Breeds That Accept the Tabby Pattern

As mentioned before, many breeds today accept the tabby pattern in one variation or another. Indeed, a 21-pound "English Tabby" was documented in having appeared at the very first cat show in the world, held at the Crystal Palace in London in 1871. Here is a list of breeds which are allowed the tabby pattern in CFA:

  • 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)
  • Manx
  • Norwegian Forest Cat
  • Ocicat - selectively bred to create the spots
  • Oriental (with 112 tabby combinations!)
  • Persian
  • 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 (6 tabby patterns/colors)

All photos are either copyright Franny Syufy or used with permission of their owners.

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