What makes a cat a tabby?

What makes a cat a tabby?

It’s no secret that tabby cats are one of the most common domestic felines, but what makes a cat, a tabby? In essence, ‘tabby’ refers to their color patterns, usually stripes or spots. And a distinct trait that makes a cat a true tabby is the ‘M’ shaped marking on their foreheads. If you’re curious to learn more about tabby cats, read on for more details on the unique traits that make them a ‘tabby.’ 

The origins of the ‘M’ Mark 

Tabby cats have different patterns and personalities, but there’s one distinctive feature that all of them have – the ‘M’ mark on their foreheads. There’s no single origin story for this unique marking, but the most widely known one is that it’s related to the word ‘Mau,’ which means cat in ancient Egyptian language. 

Although it doesn’t have an accepted origin story, the most accepted reasoning behind the captivating mark is that it all comes down to genetics, like the tabby’s actual patterns, which come from three types of genes present in all domestic cats. This means that technically, all domestic felines have some tabby in them. It’s just that some are more noticeable thanks to their patterned coats. 

Different types of tabbies

Now that you know the history behind the tabby’s mysterious ‘M’ mark, you need to know the five different tabby coat patterns to understand what makes a cat, a tabby. Below are the five different types of tabby cats: 

Classic Tabby

The classic tabby pattern usually refers to a cat with ‘blotched’ stripes, closely resembling a marble cake or bullseye target throughout the feline’s body. Sometimes, people dub the classic tabby cat as the ‘blotched tabby,’ thanks to its unusual markings. 

Mackerel Tabby

A mackerel tabby cat has the most prominent ‘M’ marking on their foreheads than the other tabby cats. Additionally, these felines usually have rings around their tail or legs, and solid or broken stripes on their bodies. 

Spotted Tabby

Like with mackerel tabby cats, a spotted tabby cat also has bands across their body, but instead of stripes, they have spots of varying sizes, which some patterns resembling broken stripes. That’s why many people often confuse them with a mackerel tabby cat. 

Patched Tabby

Perhaps the easiest tabby cat to distinguish is the patched tabby cats because, as their name implies, these felines have patches throughout their bodies. These patches usually come in the color red or orange. Some people refer to them as ‘tortoiseshell’ or ‘tortie’ tabby cats since the patches resemble the shell tortoises.

Ticked Tabby

A ticked tabby cat or an Abyssinian or agouti tabby cat doesn’t have any bands of stripes or spots on their body, making them extremely hard to distinguish. However, if you look at each strand of their fur, you can see that each has bands of light and dark colors, making them an official tabby cat. 

Unique personality 

Finally, the last unique trait that makes a cat – a genuine tabby cat is their personality. People often consider the tabby cat the most outgoing feline of them all, as these friendly felines like playing and exploring like no other. Besides that, many cat enthusiasts associate high intelligence and slight mischievousness with a tabby cat. Although that’s the general temperament of tabby cats, different breeds have more prominent traits than others. 

Here’s an overview of the personality traits of some popular breeds with tabby cat patterns: 


Abyssinian cats or ‘Aby’ cats for short are hyperactive and curious felines with a ticked tabby pattern. These cats are overly active, and you can often see them climb or chase something around the house. Unlike other breeds with tabby markings, they’re more open to the presence of humans. 

American Shorthair

An American shorthair is a more neutral feline with a classic tabby pattern. A neutral personality means that they like to play around but aren’t as active as Abyssinians. Although they have a more mellow personality, they usually won’t run or hide from strangers. 

Domestic Shorthair

The most common breed that comes in all types of tabby coat patterns and colors is the domestic shorthair. And just like their patterns and colors, their personalities also vary, but most exhibit the general traits of tabby cats, including activeness, friendliness, and curiosity. 

American Curl

As their name implies, the American curl cat has ears that curl backward and come in various tabby coat patterns. They’re known to be gentle and friendly, making them the perfect pet for households with children. Additionally, they’re moderately active and usually prefer to remain dormant. 

Maine Coon

Maine Coon cats are the most popular tabby cat and are known for their adaptive personalities and a care-free attitude. Although they have a generally mellow temperament, they often like staying active chasing mice or rodents. 

Common questions about tabbies 

Where does the word tabby come from?

Experts suggest that the name ‘tabby’ comes from silk adorning striped patterns named ‘Attabi,’ made in Attabiah in the Middle East. When merchants from the Middle East brought the silk in Britain, people quickly compared the silk’s pattern to the so-called tiger cat’s striped coat. Ever since, more people called the cat’ tabi cat,’ which eventually evolved into the name all know today, ‘tabby cat.’

Are tabby cats good pets?

If you’re looking for a pet that’s friendly, fun, energetic, and an overall awesome companion, a tabby cat should be your next pet. These felines are amiable in nature. Because of their social traits and love for cuddles, they’re perfect for young owners or families with kids. Although all domesticated cats can be great pets, the tabby cat is widely known and accepted as the first ‘pet’ cat for kids. 

How long does a tabby cat live?

Tabby cats are generally healthy, but like most domestic cats, they can also suffer from health issues, including obesity, worms, diabetes, conjunctivitis, kidney failure, and urinary tract problems. Luckily, all of these can get treated when you act quickly. However, despite this fact, tabby cats can live up to 20 years or more if an owner takes good care of them and stays indoors. 

Wrapping up 

  Tabby is not a cat breed. It’s the most common color and pattern of domestic cats. This means that tabby can be present in many different breeds and may display various patterns such as the classic tabby, mackerel, spotted, patched, and ticked tabby pattern. As the tabby cats have various looks, their most distinct and defining features that make a tabby are their “M” mark on their foreheads, dark stripes by their eyes and across their cheeks, and stripe markings spine that goes along to their tails. Highly intelligent, with an outgoing personality and slightly naughty behavior, are a tabby cat’s general traits.

What makes a cat a tabby?


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

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