There are many different types of tabbies. Contrary to popular belief, the word “tabby” does not refer to a specific cat breed, but to the pattern of a cat’s coat.
In fact, tabby is the most common feline coat pattern. Cats with very prominent tabby patterns on their coats are known as tabby cats.
Although there are differences between the individual patterns of their coats, all tabbies have these features in common: thin, pencil-looking lines on the cheeks, eyeliner-type markings around the eyes, and a distinct “M” shape on the forehead.
Essentially, there are five different categories that tabby coat patterns fall into. These are:
Classic tabby cats have bold, swirling designs on the sides of their bodies, similar in appearance to a marble cake. This type of tabby is also known as a “blotched tabby” due to the smudged look of these swirls. In addition, the circular design of the smudges on the coat of a classic tabby cat resembles a bullseye.
The mackerel tabby got its name from the way the vertical stripes along the sides of its coat branch off from a long stripe along its back, resembling a fish skeleton. Though many people think the classic tabby pattern is the most common, it is actually mackerel. This type of tabby also has rings around the tail and legs, and stripes on the chest that makes it look as if it is wearing a necklace. Due to the narrow, parallel stripes that run along their coats, mackerel tabbies are also known as tiger cats.
As its name implies, this type of tabby is notable for having spots all over its sides. These spots come in all different sizes and can be round-, oval- or rosette-shaped.
A ticked tabby doesn’t have any stripes or spots on its sides like other tabbies do. The only way to recognize it is a tabby is by its telltale facial markings. Ticked tabbies also have what are known as agouti hairs, small hairs that alternate between dark and light shades and can be seen by looking up close at the cat’s skin. Ticked tabbies are also known as Abyssinian tabbies.
Patched tabbies are often referred to as tortoiseshell or calico cats. The coats of these cats often feature red and brown patches, along with various other earth-tone colors. Patched tabbies got the nickname “tortoiseshell” from the way their multicolored coats resemble the pattern of a tortoise’s shell.
Although only certain cats are referred to as tabby cats, in reality all cats carry the tabby gene. What’s more, all cats DO have tabby markings on their coat, but oftentimes these are covered up by other hair colors.
Besides their distinctive coat patterns, tabby cats are also known for their high intelligence and friendly personalities, making them one of the most popular types of domestic cats in the United States.