Tabby Cats Patterns, History And Personality

Siberian tabby cat

What, oh, what does that M stand for? The Catholics say Mary. The Muslims say Mohammed. The Egyptians say Mau. The Dragon Ball Z fans say Majin Buu.

The Marvel fans say Magneto. Does it mean Meow? Mouse? Mask? Maine coon? Mystery? Mine? Since many cat goddesses are also maternal goddesses, maybe it means “Mother”.

If your cat has a letter M on her forehead, you've got a tabby cat on your hands! (Speaking of hands, you probably have an M on your palm!

Look at it with the pinkie side down.) If you do, you no doubt want to know more about these beautiful, wonderful creatures.

What is a tabby cat?

A tabby is not a breed of cat but a coat pattern. They can be brown, grey, orange or yellow but they must be striped. A grey tabby can be silver grey or blue grey.

If you look closely at a black cat under strong lighting, you may be able to see some faint tabby stripes, just as a black panther has leopard spots among that ebon fur. Since tabbies come in every breed, you could have a Persian or an angora that looks like a fluffy little tiger.

Origin of Tabby Cats

As the tabby pattern is ubiquitous among wild felines, it might be supposed that cats of the medieval era were tabbies. The first of the domesticated felines were very likely striped like their wild ancestors. The striped patterned evolved as a means of camouflage, making it easier to stalk prey in tall grass.

Tabby Cat Patterns

Classic Tabby Cat

big Tabby Cat in the hall

The classic tabby has a coat that looks like a marble cake or a Yin Yang symbol.

This is frequently referred to as the swirled or bulls-eye pattern.

The stripes are considerably wider than a mackerel tabby's stripes and have a circular pattern on the sides.

These terrific tabbies will often have broad stripes streaking down the middle of the back.

Mackerel Tabby Cat

Tabby Cat is lying on the floor

Holy mackerel, what a beautiful cat!

No, they're not named after their favorite fish, though they won't turn their noses up at it.

A good way to describe the vertical stripes that lie parallel to the cat's sides is like a fish bone.

There will be one big stripe down the cat's spine and several thinner stripes looking like the ribs on a fish's skeleton.

It may look like Kitty is wearing a little pinstriped suit!

Spotted Tabby Cat

Tabby Cat walks on grass

These tabbies don't have stripes but spots.

If the spots have a dark outline along with a lighter color in the center, they are called rosettes

Jaguars, for example, have rosettes while leopards have spots.

Ticked Tabby Cat

If a cat is ticked, that doesn't mean he's angry! It also doesn't mean he's infested with a nasty blood sucking parasite either.

It just means that rather than a pattern on the body, each and every individual hair has bands of color on it.

In purebred cats, some breeds are allowed by the AFC to have stripes, also known as bars, on the legs and face. Other breeds are required not to have any barring at all.

Patched Tabby Cat

Another word for such cats is “torbie” as their coat is a blend of tabby stripes and tortoiseshell pattern. The markings are especially apparent on the head and legs.

How Tabby Cats Get Their Patterns

Scientists have identified three separate genes involved in tabby-pattern process. These are the  Agouti Signaling Protein (ASIP), Mc1R and Taqpep.

The Mc1R gene determines how dark the coat will be. The ASIP gene controls whether the cat’s coat will have bands or be solid colored.

Red Tabby Maine Coon

Does the Tabby Pattern Influence Other Traits

Not really! Breeding rather than coat color influences coat length and texture and any other physical qualities. There are more factors than hair color that affect personality.

Personality of tabby cats

It's hard to say what a tabby personality is. They're known for being friendly, but could this be because people act friendly towards such a handsome cat? Every cat is an individual.

Nurture does have a big impact on a cat's personality, but kittens from the same litter raised the same way may still have very different personalities.

Breeds that can have tabby patterns

Tabby Cat in close-up

There are many cat breeds in which the Cat Fanciers Association accept the tabby pattern. The Abyssinian is well known for having ticked fur as are the BirmanSingapura and Somali.

The Egyptian Mau is the original spotted tabby. On a colorpoint shorthairRagdoll and the Javanese, tabby markings are called “lynx points”. The classic pattern is almost expected in the American shorthair.

Nearly all Maine coon cats have a tabby pattern. The ocicat and Bengal are specifically bred to have distinctive spotting.

There are fourteen allowable tabby patterns and colors among the Turkish Angora. There are sixteen tabby patterns and colors allowed among the Turkish Vans.

Persians, Manx and American curl are also among the breeds that are still considered standard when they show tabby traits.

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Famous tabby cats

Garfield is the world's most famous tabby. It was revealed in one special that his mother was a yellow tabby. How he managed to have a purple half brother named Raul is anybody's guess.

The Ithaca Kitty, the first mass produced plush toy, was based on a tabby cat named Caesar Grimalkin. Stubbs was an orange tabby who was mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska.

The Cheshire Cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been depicted as a tabby since the original Tenniel illustrations. Disney decided he should have pink and purple stripes.

Tabbies in culture

In the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” the sun god, Ra, appears as a spotted tabby, much like the modern Egyptian Mau. He is often shown slaying the serpent Apep. The Egyptians believed the M mark was left by a scarab. Painter Horatio Henry Coudery depicted tabby cats as mischievous, curious, a little gluttonous, yet somehow lovable.

The Broadway musical Cats features a boss cat named Munkustrap with silver tabby markings. The wig the actor wears has a widow's peak making it look like an M. Said actor must be strong enough to lift and throw another male dancer, so he will have a rather imposing presence on the stage.

Tabby Cats Patterns, History And Personality 1


Remember the M on the palm mentioned in parentheses in the first paragraph? It could stand for “motivated” or “management” since in palmistry it is believed that people with this pattern are good with self-discipline and motivating themselves to do their best.

They tend to be drawn to careers in journalism, education and writing. (Looks at own palm) There could be some truth to it after all.

Cats are not known for their motivation or self-discipline. The M on your tabby cat in more likely to mean “Mmm…after my nap. Maybe.” But, we love the little furballs anyway!


Are tabby cats affectionate?

When it comes to personality traits, tabbies are considered friendly, happy-go-lucky cats, intelligent, sassy, very affectionate and wonderful companions. But this trait is linked to coat color (as in fiery red) and not to the tabby pattern.

Are tabby cats male?

Most, but certainly not all, orange tabby cats are male. Orange tabby cats are about 80/20 male to female. There is no monetary value, per se, associated with a female orange tabby cat. Calico and tortoiseshell cats, however, are almost always female.

What are tabby cats mixed with?

Tabby Cats feature distinctive strips, lines, swirling patterns or dots with a WIDE variety of patterns and colors. The most common mixed breed tabby cats are: Grey Tabby, Orange Tabby and Brown Tabby. They are not a breed but rather a coloration variation that pops up in almost all breeds of cats.

Why do tabby cats have an M on their forehead?

Cat eyes reflect light and at night their eyes appeared so luminous the Egyptians associated cat eyes with the moon. According to legend, the “M” on the tabby's forehead is a mark of that relationship. The Egyptian Mau is the original naturally spotted tabby and a direct descendant of ancient Egyptian cats.

  • Updated March 10, 2021
Mary Nielsen

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.