How to tell if your cat is a tabby

How to tell if your cat is a tabby

Tabby cats are any domesticated feline that has the distinctive letter ‘M’ marking on their forehead. Besides the unique marking, you can tell if your cat is a tabby if they have stripped patterns or ‘pencil’ lines across their face. There are four types of tabby cats, including classic, ticked, patched, and spotted, and here’s how you can identify if your feline friend is one of them: 

Classic tabby cat

The classic tabby cat has bold and swirling patterns throughout their body, resembling marble cake. Besides that, below are the different unique traits of a classic tabby cat. 

They have ‘blotched’ patterns 

Classic tabby cats feature blotched patterns across their body, which resembles a cheetah’s spots. A study found that the same gene that gives the cheetah’s patterns contort’s a tabby’s stripes into blotchy marks. 

Look for swirling lines 

A classic tabby’s line appears circular or swirling, resembling a marble cake or a bullseye pattern. 

Check the size of their stripes

Although classic tabby cats have prominent blotched marks across their body, experts and breeders still consider them as stripes. The stripes of a tabby cat are wider and thicker than other variations of tabbies. 

Ticked tabby cat

This variation of a tabby cat is also known as the Abyssinian or agouti tabby. A ticked tabby cat doesn’t have the traditional stripes or spots on their bodies, leaving many to assume they’re not a tabby. However, below are their unique characteristics that can help you determine if a cat is a ticked tabby. 

They don’t have body stripes

Unlike other traditional tabby cats, a ticked tabby doesn’t feature any sports or stripes on their bodies. Instead, each of their hair has bands of different colors.

A ticked tabby cat has a more distinct ‘M’ pattern 

The most distinguishable feature a ticked tabby has is their unmistakable facial patterns, proudly boasting the M pattern on their forehead and light pencil marks on the sides of their face. 

Translucent fur 

Although not all ticked tabby cats have semi-transparent fur, some variations, like the Abyssinian cat breed, have very noticeable translucent coats. 

Patched tabby cat 

Patched or tortoiseshell tabby cats usually have large patches or spots on their body, typically colored red, brown, or gray. Besides those, below are some unique traits that are exclusive to a patched tabby cat. 

A patched tabby cat has blended fur 

A patched tabby cat usually has the normal tabby striped markings combined with other coat patterns, resulting in large patches or spots throughout its coat. 

Brown and red-colored fur 

Unlike other tabby cats, a patched tabby has hints of a red and brown tabby combined, making them a more colorful tabby variation. If a cat is mostly ginger and has distinct brown tabby spots or stripes, they’re definitely a patched tabby. 

Stripes are prominent on legs and head

A patched tabby’s markings are more prominent on their legs and head. This is usually the number one telltale sign in seeing if a cat is a patched tabby or not. 

Spotted tabby cat 

Unlike other tabby variations, spotted tabby cats don’t have distinct stripes and have spots all over their sides. These markings can be small or large, resembling ovals, circles, or rosettes, and often looks like broken mackerel stripes. Below are other unique traits of a spotted tabby cat. 

Their fur has ‘broken’ lines 

The telltale sign of a spotted tabby cat is their broken lines throughout their coat patterns, leaving them with the illusion of having spots. Although the broken coat pattern makes them look more of a Bengal cat, this cat is still very much a tabby. 

A spotted tabby cat has varying sized spots 

The broken lines or spots on a spotted tabby cat’s coat comes in various shapes and sizes, ranging from the smallest ‘dot’ like markings to larger ones that can take half of their bodies. The shape of these spots also varies, but the most common ones include circle, oval, and rose-like. 

Check for a blotchy pattern

Like with classic tabby cats, a spotted tabby has blotched patterns as well. However, one way you can distinguish them from its classic counterpart by looking at their markings, as these cats tend to have a more prominent blotchy or spotted appearance. 

Mackerel tabby cat

Mackerel or striped tabby cats are the most common tabby pattern you can find. They usually have narrow stripes across the cat’s coat that sometimes have a curved appearance. Most domesticated cats have this pattern. But besides that, below are more characteristics of this tabby pattern. 

Check for thin stripes 

Mackerel tabby cats usually have thin or narrow stripes across its body, unlike the larger stripes present in a classic tabby. 

They have no unbroken pattern 

Striped tabby cats have no unbroken patterns and usually have evenly spaced unbroken lines throughout its body, with the marking mostly prominent on its sides. 

A mackerel tabby cat has a spinal pattern 

The most distinctive trait of striped tabby cats is their spinal pattern, meaning their stripes that run down the length of their bodies also covers the cat’s spine. Because of this, some striped tabby cat patterns resemble a fish skeleton, hence their nickname ‘mackerel.’ 

Common questions about tabby cats 

Are all tabby cats female?

Most tabby cats with the regular shades of gray or brown/gray are usually females. However, for orange, cream, or buff tabby cats, most of them are male. Orange tabbies are around 80% male and 20% female, though female orange tabby cats are somewhat a rarity, there’s no monetary value associated with them.

Do all tabby cats have an M on their forehead?

Yes, all tabby cats have the unique letter ‘M’ mark on their foreheads. This symbol allows them to mark their special place in the world of cats. Egyptians associated cat eyes with the moon because their eyes reflect light, and at night, they appear luminous. Because of that, Egyptians have associated their M mark with that relationship. However, the real reason behind the unique mark is due to their genetics.

Are tabby cats rare?

Tabby cats aren’t actually a breed, making them, not a rare cat breed. Tabby refers to their striped patterns. You can find the tabby cat pattern on many cat breeds, including American short hairs, Malayan cats, Ocicats, Abyssinian cats, Oriental shorthairs, and American bobtails. Cats with a tabby pattern that are colored chocolate, cream, and smoke are considered rare. 

Final thoughts 

 Since tabby is not a breed of cat, it is hard to identify them using only their behavior and personality. But you can easily identify if your cat is a tabby by checking for the distinct physical characteristics that a tabby cat has, such as the most popular “M” mark on their forehead, line streaks on their face, and the striped pattern all over their coat.


I love animals. Growing up we had a lot of cats, rabbits and chickens.

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