What types of tabby cats are there?

There are five types of tabby cat which are illustrated and discussed below. We are describing cat coats not cat breeds. You’ll see these coats on many of the 104 cat breeds.

Polydactyl mackerel tabby cat a Pixie-bob
Octavia, a polyfooted mackerel tabby Pixie-bob with a gorgeous coat.
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MACKEREL TABBY (see above): the tabby pattern is in stripes, more or less. The stripes are broken up. Another way to describe the pattern is patches of dark hair in mostly narrow streaks. Dr Desmond Morris says that this is the ancient type of tabby pattern which is close to the ancestral wild cat species.

Dutch Ringtail Cat
Dutch Ringtail Cat. He is a classic (blotched) tabby cat too.

BLOTCHED TABBY (see above): among domestic cat this is the most common form of tabby marking. There are large patches of dark hair and swirls or smudges in random or semi-symmetrical shapes. This is also referred to as the “classic tabby pattern”.

Spotted tabby cat
Spotted tabby cat

SPOTTED TABBY (see above): this is self-explanatory. The tabby pattern is in the form of darker spots. These are quite small but vary in size. Some people refer to these cats as “spotted cats”. Perhaps the spots developed from a broken mackerel tabby (my preference) or from a separate mutation. In fact there is a fine dividing line between mackerel and spotted tabbies.

Ticked tabby Oriental SH
Ticked tabby Oriental SH. Photo copyright Helmi Flick

TICKED TABBY (see above): the famous Abyssinian cat wears this coat. The coat has a salt-and-pepper appearance. There are no markings on the torso and most of the cat, in fact, but fainter than usual markings on the head.

Gemma: Torbie Siberian Cat. Photo copyright Helmi Flick
Gemma: Torbie Siberian Cat. Photo copyright Helmi Flick

PATCHED TABBY (see above): this is a two-tone tabby, also referred to as the tortoiseshell tabby and also referred to as a torbie. Typically there are separate patches of brown tabby and red tabby on the same cat.

There are many colour variants of these five different tabby coat types due to selective breeding over many years. Examples might be chocolate silver tabby, cinnamon tabby, cream tabby, fawn tabby, fawn silver tabby, lavender tabby, silver patched tabby and so on.

Norwegian Forest Cat
Norwegian Forest Cat. Tabby-and-white. Photo copyright Helmi Flick.

You are probably familiar with cats with a tabby-and-white coat (see above). Once again there are variants to the five tabby coat type specified above.

Domestic tabby compared with wild cat ancestor. Very similar.
Domestic tabby compared with wild cat ancestor. Very similar.

The original domestic cats would have had a more washed out tabby pattern which is seen on the ancestral wild cat species from which the domestic cat originates, namely, the North African wildcat which would have hybridized freely with the European wildcat over time. Dr Desmond Morris suggests that this hybridization between two species of wild cat resulted in the higher contrast tabby cat patterns that we see today. Apparently tests have confirmed this.

The first cats from this hybridization between the European wildcat and the African wildcat would have been mackerel tabbies with thin dark lines. Sometimes the lines would have broken up to create spots and dashes.

Over time the blotched tabby arrived due to a new mutation. It is thought that the blotched tabby cats first surfaced in Britain in the Elizabethan era. During this time of British expansion many blotched tabby cats became ships’ cats and were therefore scattered all over the globe in quite a short time. With the British Empire during Victorian times they spread further.

The blotched tabby is the most common form of tabby pattern. The striped tabby cat is relatively rare.

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