Tabby Cat Facts For Kids

When people talk and write about a “tabby cat” they are talking and writing about a cat with a certain type of coat. The tabby cat is not a cat breed. You will see purebred, pedigree tabby cats and moggie tabby cats. Moggies are random bred cats. You will also see tabby stray, feral and wild cats. The tabby coat is the world’s most common cat coat. The original tabby coat is on the African wildcat. An African/Asian wildcat was the world’s first domestic cat and he had a tabby coat. This is because the tabby coat helps the wildcat to hide better as it blends into the background colors of grass and trees (called “camouflage”).

Tabby Cat Facts For Kids
Tabby Cat Facts For Kids. All these photographs are copyright Helmi Flick. Please note that orange and red mean the same thing. “Red” is used more by experts and “orange” by cat owners.
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In the picture you will see 16 different types of tabby coat. There are many more but there is not enough space on this page to show them. The three most common types of tabby coat have a brown background and patterns that are (a) dark swirls and blotches called “classic tabby” (b) dark spots called “spotted tabby” and (c) dark lines called “mackerel tabby”. The word “mackerel tabby” comes from the name of the fish with stripes: the mackerel.

What Produces The Tabby Coat?

Tabby Hair Srand
Tabby Hair Srand

The tabby coat is caused by genes. Genes are tiny particles inside the cells of animals that control the way an animal looks and behaves when born.

Genes control the way the cat’s coat looks. There are two things you need know about the tabby coat pattern and how it is created:

The first thing is that in a tabby coat each individual hair fiber or strand has bands of different colored pigment. This is like a horizontally striped sports shirt. One band is blackish-brown and the other band is red-yellow in color.

“Pigment” is a substance that has color and it is in the skin, hair, eyes and lips etc of the cat. The pigment creating the blackish-brown color is called “eumelanin” and the pigment creating the red-yellow color is called “phaeomelanin”.

The second thing is that genes also control the tabby patterns. They do this by creating hair strands that have the banding as I have said but there are some hairs that have much less red-yellow pigment at the bottom of the hair strand.  There is more blackish-brown pigment is at the top where people can see it. A group of these hair strands together form a dark pattern. It might be a spot or a band and so on.

In this way the normal tabby coat has a broken up brown look as a background color together with dark, almost black areas that make a pattern. As you can see the overall color is changed sometimes by other genes.

When there are none of these darker hair strands that have black at the top, the coat has no pattern and it is called a “ticked” coat. It has a salt a pepper look. The Abyssinian cat has a ticked coat. The jaguarundi wild cat also has a ticked coat.


The most common coat type on mogges in the tabby coat. A version of the tabby coat is the tabby coat with some white in it. These are called “tabby-and-white” coats, which are common too.

Cat Breeds

Many cat breeds are allowed by the cat associations to have tabby coats. Some are not. Cats that look great in tabby coats are, for example, the American Bobtail that looks more like a wild cat with a tabby coat and the Maine Coon, some of which have tabby coats. A cat breed that cannot have a tabby coat is the Chartreux. There are others.

Wild Cats

Many wild cats have tabby type coats including the African wildcat and cats of the Lynx family.

7 thoughts on “Tabby Cat Facts For Kids”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Cool Tabby article. The bit that I found most interesting was where you said that each individual hair fiber or strand has bands of different colored pigment.

    Marc – I figured you might weigh in a bit. I know you’re a bit of a Tabby fan. I am too. I’ve rescued, fostered, and raised more cats with Tabby coats than any other.

    Lots of Tabbys have what I would call eye liner markings that look like well-placed makeup around their eyes. I think it looks really cute.

    Though Tabby isn’t a breed – and I doubt that most people know that unless they’ve read an article like this – they all seem to be extra chirpy. I love their chirps. I wonder if the coat genes have anything to do with that.

    =^..^= Hairless Cat Girl =^..^=

    • Nice point, Liz, about how genes may be linked to personality and coat type. They (the public!) say that calico cats and red tabby cats have certain characters. Red headed people are said to have fiery characters. There may be a link between the tabby cat coat and personality but no one, as far as I am aware, has discussed this in a precise and scientific way.

  2. I never knew there was a differentiation between Red and Orange – or is that just 2 different ways people like to call the same thing? Red looked like both in the picture above.

    • Hi Marc. Yes, it is the same. I have used the terminology rather carelessly (I have added a line to the picture’s caption to explain this). Some people also call red cats “yellow” a sort of dilute red it seems to me. It may be fair to say that there might be a slight difference from red to orange in terms of dilution. I think we have a good understanding of the tabby genes but as a whole understanding cat genes are work in progress. I hope that is a fair comment.


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