Why are tabby cats so common?

The answer is a simple and straightforward one. The tabby pattern is the closest to the wild, or agouti, pattern, and the domestic cat is essentially a domesticated North African wildcat, which has that distinctive tabby pattern. The modern-day tabby pattern has a direct connection with the domestic cat’s wildcat ancestor. The tabby coat is the original and classic domestic cat coat type.

Ancient tabby cat
Tabby cat from Ancient Egypt (not far from Saudi Arabia) from 1500 CE. Picture in public domain.
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J.S. Bradshaw in his book The Behaviour of the Domestic Cat (1992) said that the coat colour of the domestic cat is thought to have originated by mutation from the original striped tabby coat of the African wildcat.

Of course, the tabby coat has been refined and varied through selective breeding both informal and formal. The North African wildcat has quite a week tabby coat whereas, for example, the tabby coat of the Bengal cat is super-high contrast (see below), which it has to be to meet the breed standard. This is due to years of refinement by cat breeders and selecting the right cats to mate and procreate.

F1 Savannah kitten with gorgeous spotted tabby coat and a spinal stripe. Photo: Screenshot from F1Savannah breeder’s video.


Back in the era of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the tabby cat was the only coat available. Through 10,000 years of domestication, and without the need for the camouflage of the tabby coat, more striking coats have evolved such as the bicolour.

Dr. Desmond Morris in his book Cat World describes the coat pattern of the “African and the European races” as being a “suppressed, weak or washed-out tabby”. He says that the pattern is there but it is not impressive and it is what the original tabby cats would have looked like thousands of years ago. The wall paintings from those times confirm that between 3,000-4,000 years ago the Egyptian cats had light or broken stripes.

Picture of striped tabby cat
Picture of striped tabby cat. A random bred and stray cat.

When domestic cats were transported abroad by traders, they mated with their European counterparts creating a hybrid and the result was a full-tabby cat.

The tabby pattern is also called an agouti pattern and each hair is banded with different colours including brown, black, grey or white.

Tabby Hair Strand
Tabby Hair Strand

The “M” on the forehead indicates a tabby cat although you don’t need this because it is very often quite obvious (but not always). There is a myth about the M mark but it is simply a story and not fact. It is just the way the pattern is created at the embryonic stage due to the genetic make-up of the cat. The tabby cat does not have a specific personality. The agouti gene, what is it? Click for a short article on the genotype and phenotype of the tabby cat.

You probably know that the classic tabby coat is also called a blotched tabby. The original tabby coat is mackerel and broken into spots and you also have the ticked tabby in which there is no clear pattern but you have a salt-and-pepper appearance to the coat. These have evolved from the original week striped tabby of the African wildcat over 10,000 years.

Bengal Cat Cruiser
Bengal Cat Cruiser. Sorry the thumbnail crops head and tail.


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