Tabby Cats

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Tabbies and their striping pattern

There are many different breeds of cat. Most cats however are non-pedigree, called "moggies" or mutts. The most common type of non-pedigree cat has the markings of the tabby. Tabby markings are spots and stripes. Tabby cats look like leopards and tigers, their ancient relatives. So, a tabby is not a breed, but a striping and spotting pattern in cats. Although most people associate a tabby with a short-haired alley wearing a grayish dress with black stripes; a solitaire, a free and independent animal that chooses itself whom to live with. The tabby pattern is favorite to many cat lovers probably because no two striped cats are the same. There is a huge variety of appearance and even if cats have the same pattern they can be completely different. The colors of the pattern and also the underlying colors result in countless variations. Striped cats come in many colors. They may be brown, silver, red, cream, blue, lilac or black. Often the term grey tabby cats is used for those that are officially labeled as blue.

The name "tabby" comes from Attabiya, a part of the ancient city in Bagdad, Iraq. In this section of the city the craftsmen were well-known for manufacturing of watered or moiré silks. In the UK people called this type of silk "atabi" or "taffety". And from the resemblance of the stripes of the branded and brindled cats, these cats were called "tabbies". The tabby is also called a Cyprus cat. "Cyprus" was some kind of cloth made of hair and silk with wavy lines and coming from Cyprus. Another name for a striped cat is a tiger cat. The coat of our striped domestic cats have indeed many similarities with the wild cats, and more specific the tigers.

Cat comes from the Latin "cattus" that has replaced the word "felis", the common name for the cat. Some say that the word cat is derived from the Latin "cautus" which means resourceful, cunning. Others say it comes from "cattare" what means "seeing" in analogy with the ability of the cat to see in the dark.

Today, many cats have at least some striped fur on them, no matter what their breed is. Most tabbies are basic, down-to-earth cats. They are smart (like any other cat), curious, good natured and make the best sort of companion. In my opinion, no specific characteristics can be attributed to the tabby; there is no such thing as a specific tabby cat personality. Every indivual cat simply has a different nature and each breed has its specific qualities.

the typical 'M'

A tiger cat has the typical "M" on the forehead in different styles, not always easy to notice. Several legends explain why striped cats have this mark.

The tiger cat presents many varieties in striping pattern, colors and shades. Depending on the cat association and the country the terminology used to indicate the various types of striping pattern can differ. Basically there are four major groups tabby patterns.

Classic tabby pattern

classic tabby pattern

Also called blotched or marbled tabby. This cat has a marble pattern with spots / stripes varying in shape and size, dark strips across the length of the back and a dark circle, the bull's eye on the side.



Mackerel tabby pattern

mackerel tabby pattern

Also called the striped or fishbone tabby. That's the cat with the striped pajamas. The fur has dark, continuous stripes on the flanks. Some dotted lines on the back and straps around the neck, legs and tail.



Ticked tabby pattern

ticked hair

In an agouti fur each hair has a few dark bands. This is called ticking and is the basis of all tabby patterns. If some hairs in the fur are evenly colored a drawing becomes visible.

ticking pattern

Most tiger cats have ticked hairs as part of their fur.
The typical example of a ticked tabby is the Abysinnian.



Spotted tabby pattern

spotted tabby pattern

The vertical stripes are interrupted and there are round or elongated, not always that clear, visible spots on the body. The legs, tail and head are striped.




Other tabby patterns

spotted tabby pattern

Sometimes other groups are mentioned, like the patched tabby, as part of another basic color. This is the case for the calico or tortoiseshell cat with a tabby pattern. A Tortoiseshell Cat has a mottled fur with patches of orange or cream and chocolate, black or blue. A Tortoiseshell Cat with a lot of white in the fur is called tortoiseshell-and-white in the UK and calico in the US and Canada.



classic tabby pattern2

Nowadays many breeds accept the tabby pattern and this makes is sometimes a bit confusing to recognize the right pattern. This because the pattern can differ depending on the breed. Some breeds have the classic tabby pattern with great winding spots and "clouds" but without the typical bull's eye.



spotted tabby pattern

So there is also the rosetted tabby. A rosette is a group of spots in the middle of a warmer shade than the background color. This pattern is, apart from feral cats, only for the Bengal Cats.



spotted tabby pattern

Some pointed breeds also allow tabby points within their standards, like the Siamese Cat.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are more patterns, more specific for wild cats, like the Sokoke tabby , the leopard spotted, the King spangled ... New breeds of cats arise and so there may emerge new patterns. There are infinite variations on the tabbies.

The tabby pattern is widespread and this is because the gene responsible for this pattern extends far. In fact, all domesticated cats are carrier of this gene, either recessive or dominant. The tabby gene is an incredibly diverse gene that can create a variety of fur patterns. That's probably the reason why so many cat lovers adore the tiger cat. The variations that can develop from a certain combination of striped pattern, "ticking", and color are endless. This makes every tiger cat so unique and irresistible.

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