The 5 tabby cat patterns

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A tabby cat with an ID collar on.

People sometimes call the average house cat a tabby, but tabby isn’t a breed of cats – it’s actually the pattern of kitty’s fur. And it happens to be the most common of all cat coat patterns. Technically, regardless of the colors or markings you see on your cat, all cats have the tabby cat gene. Other cat colors or patterns may hide these tabby markings, but they’re always there.

All orange cats are tabby cats and vice versa. Photography © foaloce | Thinkstock.

First, some tabby basics:

Sometimes you can see those faint tabby markings on a monochromatic cat sitting in the bright sun. And have you ever seen a solid red, orange, or cream colored cat without the familiar tabby markings? You won’t, because the gene that makes a cat red or cream also makes the tabby markings visible.

All tabbies have thin pencil lines on the face, expressive markings around the eyes and a clear letter “M” on the forehead. Some believe the “M” is for Mau, the word for “cat” in ancient Egypt. Others think the “M” stands for Mohammed who loved tabbies. Still others believe that it is the blessing of the Virgin Mary.

Connected: What does it mean to be a tabby?

There are five types of tabby fur patterns, each with their own markings. We have listed them below along with photos of each.

See if you can figure out which tabby your cat is:

1. Classic tabby cat

The classic tabby has bold, swirling patterns on its sides – similar to a marble cake.

This tabby is called a “blotchy tabby” in some regions. The pattern of circular spots on the body of the classic tabby is very similar to a porthole.

2. Mackerel Tabby Cat

A mackerel tabby has narrow strips that run parallel along its sides. This is what some people refer to as a “tiger cat”. The body has narrow stripes that run along the sides in a vertical pattern.

Ideally, the stripes are unbroken lines. equally distributed. They branch off from a strip that runs along the top of the cat’s back along the spine and resembles the fish skeleton – which is why the term “mackerel” is used to describe it.

3. Spotted tabby cat

A spotted tabby has spots all over it. These spots can be large or small and sometimes appear to be broken strips of mackerel. They can be round, oval or rosette.

Often times, a mackerel tabby with a broken pattern resembles a spotted tabby. It is not known whether these spots developed from a mackerel tabby or whether they came from a separate gene.

4. Tabby Cat checked

A ticked tabby cat (sometimes called an Abyssinian tabby or agouti tabby) does not have the traditional stripes or spots on its body and, at first glance, does not appear to be a tabby. However, like all tabbies, this coat pattern has tabby markings on the face and agouti hair on the body.

What is agouti hair? If you take a close look at the lighter parts of a tabby coat, you will notice that the individual hairs are striped with alternating light and dark bands called agouti hairs. The crossed pattern is clearly visible in Abyssinians, but also occurs in mixed races.

Tabby cat.  A sick tortoiseshell kitten.

A tortoiseshell kitten. Photography © Angelafoto | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

5. Patched tabby cat

This is the term used to describe a tortoiseshell (also called tortoiseshell) tabby. In the typical form, there are separate patches of brown tabby and red tabby on the same animal.

A tortoiseshell that also carries the tabby gene is often called a torbie. Patched tabbies can display one of the four different tabby patterns mentioned above. The markings are usually more clearly visible on the legs and head.

Preview: Photography by Shelagh Duffett / Thinkstock.

This piece was originally released in 2015.

Continue reading: The science behind fur: what makes black cats black