What Is A Tabby Cat? All You Need to Know About Tabby Cats

closeup image of the face of a grey tabby kitten illustrating "what is a tabby cat"

Calling all feline aficionados! Today, we’re focusing on one of the most widespread and enchanting cats in the world – the tabby. With their distinctive coat patterns and winsome personalities, these cats have undoubtedly caught your attention before.

But what precisely is a tabby cat? A particular breed? A coat color? Or perhaps a certain personality type?.

Tabby cats have a secret: they’re not a breed at all! The term “tabby” actually describes a coat pattern that appears in many different cat breeds and even in mixed-breed kitties. 

You can spot a tabby by the classic “M” shape on their forehead and the characteristic stripes, dots, and swirls that create a unique design on their fur. These felines are like walking, meowing canvases, each with its own special charm.

What Is a Tabby Cat?

If you’ve ever seen a cat with a coat of stripes, dots, or swirling patterns, chances are you were looking at a tabby cat. But here’s the thing: “tabby” isn’t actually a breed. It’s a coat pattern that’s common across many different breeds of cats.

In fact, the tabby pattern is so common that about two-thirds of the world’s cat population are tabbies. It’s like the feline equivalent of having brown hair – it just pops up everywhere.

brown tabby cat laying on a sidewalk next to a concrete wall

Tabby Cat Coat Patterns, Tabby Markings, Coat Colors

So what exactly makes a tabby a tabby? It’s all about those distinctive coat patterns and markings. Tabby cats can have stripes, dots, or even swirling patterns on their fur. And they all sport a signature “M” shape on their foreheads, just above the eyes.

When it comes to coat colors, tabbies are the ultimate fashionistas of the feline world. They effortlessly pull off any shade, from earthy browns and sophisticated grays to fiery oranges and mysterious blacks. 

And here’s the kicker: the tabby pattern isn’t just a one-breed wonder. It’s like the secret handshake of the cat kingdom, showing up in breeds as diverse as the exotic Bengal and the all-American American Shorthair.

Interestingly, the tabby pattern isn’t just for show. It actually served a purpose for cats’ wild ancestors, helping them blend into their surroundings. Today, it’s a common part of the domestic cat’s appearance. 

Types of Tabby Patterns

Not all tabby cats are created equal. There are actually five distinct tabby patterns, each with its own unique look. Let’s break them down:

Mackerel Tabby

The mackerel tabby is probably what you picture when you think of a “tiger cat.” They have narrow stripes that run parallel down their sides, like a fish skeleton (hence the name “mackerel”). This is the most common tabby pattern.

Classic Tabby

Classic tabbies have bold, swirling patterns on their sides that are often said to look like marble cake. They’re sometimes called “blotched” tabbies for their distinctive markings.

Spotted Tabby

As you might guess, spotted tabbies have spots of varying shapes and sizes all over their coats. From dots to rosettes, these cats have a wild look.

bengal cat, spotted brown tabby coat

Ticked Tabby

Ticked tabbies (also called Abyssinian tabbies or agouti tabbies) are a bit of an oddball. They don’t have the traditional stripes or spots, but if you look closely, you’ll see that each hair has alternating light and dark bands, giving them a “salt-and-pepper” appearance.

Tabby Cat Personality Traits

So we know tabbies are lookers, but what about their personalities? Since tabbies can be found across many breeds, it’s hard to pin down one specific “tabby temperament.” That said, many tabby owners report that their cats share some common traits:

Affectionate Nature

Tabbies are often described as affectionate and cuddly cats who love to snuggle up with their humans. They tend to form strong bonds with their favorite people.


Tabby cats are known for being smart cookies. They’re curious, quick learners, and can even be trained to do tricks (or at least come when called).


These frisky felines never lose their playful spirit, even as they grow up. They’re always ready for a game of chase or to explore every nook and cranny. Keep them entertained with puzzle toys and plenty of interactive playtime.


Tabbies are adaptable cats who can thrive in many different living situations, from apartments to houses with yards. As long as they have plenty of love, stimulation, and a comfy spot to nap, they’re happy campers.

spotted tabby orange cat outdoors

Common Tabby Cat Breeds

While tabbies can show up in any breed (or mix of breeds), some cat breeds are especially known for their tabby coats. If you’re smitten with the tabby look, consider one of these pawesome breeds:

Maine Coon

The Maine Coon is a large, lovable cat breed that often sports a classic or mackerel tabby coat. With their impressive size and lush fur, these gentle giants are hard to miss.

American Shorthair

The all-American tabby. American Shorthairs are known for their classic good looks, which often include tabby markings. They’re mellow, family-friendly cats.


Want a tabby cat that looks like it belongs in the wild? Check out the Bengal. These mini leopards have striking spotted or marbled tabby coats and tons of energy and smarts.

My own Bengal kitty has a rather demure coat for the breed, with poorly defined rosettes and a more general spotted tabby appearance. But, as you can see in the photo below, she does indeed have the very striking tabby “M” on her forehead that is so typical in this breed!

close up image of a brown tabby cat face

Egyptian Mau

The Egyptian Mau is an elegant spotted tabby breed. They’re the only naturally spotted domestic cat, and they’ve got the moves to match – Maus are known for being super athletic.

Norwegian Forest Cat

These fluffy felines often have tabby coats to go with their rugged good looks. Norwegian Forest Cats are built for cold climates, but they have warm, friendly personalities.

Caring for Your Tabby Cat

No matter what breed (or mix) your tabby cat is, one thing’s for sure: they deserve the best care. Here are some tabby-tastic tips:

Proper Nutrition

Feed your tabby a high-quality diet that’s appropriate for their age and activity level. Chat with your vet about the best cat food for your feline friend.

Regular Veterinary Check-ups

Don’t skip those annual vet visits. Regular check-ups can help catch any health issues early and keep your tabby feeling their best.

Grooming Requirements

Tabby cats’ grooming needs can vary based on their coat length and texture. Short-haired tabbies may only need weekly brushing, while long-haired kitties might require daily grooming to prevent tangles and mats.

Providing Enrichment

To keep your tabby’s agile brain and energetic spirit thriving, provide them with a variety of enriching experiences. 

Puzzle feeders tap into their natural hunting instincts, while scratching posts offer a healthy outlet for their desire to scratch. Window perches give them a front-row seat to the outside world, and interactive toys strengthen your bond through play. 

By offering these stimulating activities, you’ll have one content and mentally sharp feline companion.

Key Takeaway: 

Tabby cats are not a breed, but their stripe, dot, or swirl patterns set them apart. They're adaptable and can be super cuddly and smart. Whether they have short or long fur, these cats come in various colors and five distinct patterns. Love them right with good food, vet care, grooming based on coat type, and lots of play.
striped brown tabby, studio image, grey background


So, there you have it – the lowdown on the captivating world of tabby cats. From their mesmerizing coat patterns to their charming personalities, these felines are full of surprises. Whether you’re a proud tabby parent or just a cat lover in general, it’s hard not to be smitten by these striking beauties.

Tabby cats are like snowflakes – no two are exactly the same. From their intricately patterned coats to their unique personalities, each tabby is a true individual. So, the next time one crosses your path, take a moment to appreciate all the little details that make them so special.

And if you’re ready to add a feline friend to your family, remember that the wonderful world of tabbies has something for everyone. With such a wide variety of breeds and personalities available, your perfect match is out there waiting for you.

Tabby cats are the ultimate pet for anyone who appreciates a combination of beauty, faithfulness, and endless amusement. So, if you’re ready to take the plunge and become a cat parent, consider opening your heart and home to a tabby. You won’t be disappointed – that’s a promise.

[Image credits: All images are used under license or with permission]


  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

    View all posts