Many cat owners, when asked what type of cat they own, will respond, “tabby.” But what, exactly, is a tabby cat? Some people use “tabby” to describe all striped cats, regardless of their coloring or pattern. In reality, the descriptive term “tabby” delineates how a cat is marked, not its breed. Although a tabby cat is not a cat breed in and of itself, a cat from another breed, (say, a Maine Coon for example), can be called a tabby cat because of its markings and patterns. How much do you really know about tabby cats? Let’s find out with these fun facts and trivia about tabby cats.
Tabby Cat Patterns
The most popular pattern on cats is the tabby pattern. It was the pattern that was seen on the very first domesticated cats. Per the American Cat Fanciers Association, the pattern known as “tabby” occurs when there are alternating colors of light and dark in the cat’s coat. These patterns arise from three different genes: Agouti Signaling Protein (ASIP), Taqpep, and Mc1R.
- The ASIP gene denotes if a tabby cat’s coat pattern will be banded or solid.
- The Taqpep gene tells how the pattern will be expressed in the tabby cat.
- The Mc1R gene determines the lightness or darkness of a tabby cat’s coat.
Tabby coat patterns can come in any color. While there are many black-based tabby coat patterns, there are also orange, brown, and gray tabbies. Additionally, tabby cats’ coats can be long- or short-haired.
There are five varieties of tabby cat patterns:
- Mackerel – This is the most common tabby cat pattern variety, and resembles tiger stripes in straight lines on the body, in the pattern of a fishbone. Legs and tail are striped, and there is an M-striped formation on the forehead… more
- Spotted- These types of tabby cats have random spots across their sides and backs. The Bengal breed is an example of a spotted tabby.
- Classic– This type of tabby cat pattern has swirling, wide stripes, with a bullseye shape on each side of the cat’s body and a butterfly shape across the cat’s shoulders. Legs and tails are striped, and there is an M stripe formation on the cat’s forehead
- Ticked– These types of tabby cats don’t have a pattern on their bodies but might have stripes on head, arms and legs. An example is the Abyssinian breed of cat.
- Patched- This is the tortoiseshell pattern of tabby cat, with separate patches of brown and red in its coat.
There are two stories about how the tabby cat got the unusual “M” marking on its forehead. One ancient legend says that the tabby cat was a gift from the founder of Islam, Muhammad, as he had his own tabby cat named Muzza. In Christian lore, it is said that a tabby cat was lying next to the baby Jesus and that Mary stroked its head in the pattern of an “M” to show her gratitude. Others have said that the M stands for “mau,” the Egyptian word for cat.
In reality, the M pattern on a tabby cat’s forehead has a far less imaginative origin. It comes, of course, from the cat’s DNA.
The tabby cat pattern likely evolved because it helped to camouflage cats in the wild. Think about today’s tigers and leopards and how well-suited their unique markings are to keeping them hidden when hunting for prey.
The name “tabby” comes from a striped silk that was made in the Attabiy district in Baghdad, Iraq. The pattern on these cats’ coats was compared to the silk, and therefore the cats were given the name “tabby.” (The pattern on the silk was called tabis or atabis).
Which Breeds of Cats Can Have Tabby Colors and Patterns?
As mentioned above, the tabby is not a breed of cat, but rather, a coat/pattern variety that can be found in a number of cat breeds. Some of the most popular breeds of cat that have shown the tabby pattern include:
- Maine Coon
- American Shorthair
- British Shorthair
- Turkish Angora
- Turkish Van
- Scottish Fold
- Egyptian Mau
- American Wirehair
- American Curl
Fun Facts about Tabby Cats
- The ratio of male tabby cats to female tabby cats varies depending upon the color of the tabby pattern. For example, among orange colored tabbies, there are 80 male tabbies for every 20 female tabbies. This is because orange males need one copy of the ginger-colored gene but females need to have two.
- The tabby cat’s personality is known to be friendly, loving and cuddly, making it the perfect pet. It is often called the most social and outgoing of all the domesticated cats.
- Though tabby cats are loving and cuddly, there are times when they will try to assert dominance over their owners.
- Tabby cats think that they own everything in the house and will try to take over your belongings if given a chance.
- Although we think of most tabby cats as domesticated, wild tabbies do exist today. They include the European wild cat, lynx, and African wild cats.
- The heaviest tabby cat on record (who is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s fattest cat) weighed over 46 lbs! He lived in Australia and was named Himmy. He died in 1986 at age 10, and at that time, his waist was 33 inches in circumference.
- After Himmy’s death, the Guinness Book of World Records stopped awarding the fattest cat, fearing that cat owners would try to intentionally make their cats fatter just to beat Himmy’s weight and win the award.
- An orange tabby cat named Tiger broke into Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York City around 2007 and has lived there ever since. He enjoys when inmates feed him tuna and has been known to scare groundhogs away from the prison’s garden. Many say that his steady diet of tuna has fattened him up so much that he would never be able to escape the prison even if he wanted to.
- Most tabby cats live from 15 to 20 years (depending upon diet and exercise, of course).
- Tabby cats have been known to experience weight problems, as they enjoy napping and eating. If you own a tabby, make sure not to overfeed him and give him opportunities to exercise.
- Tabby cats have an instinctual need to scratch. A scratching post is a must-have if you own a tabby cat (unless you want your furniture or curtains to be clawed to shreds!).
- Tabby cats are also quite playful and can provide their owners hours of entertainment.
- Tabby cats enjoy being clean and will refuse to use a dirty litter box.
- Tabby cats have traditionally lived in colonies of families, to increase their chances of survival in the wild. Even as domesticated cats, tabbies have been known to form their own families or colonies and share with other cats when necessary.
- A tabby cat was mayor of a town for 20 years! Stubbs, the tabby cat, was mayor of the town of Talkeetna, Alaska from 1997 until his death in 2017. He won the election as a write-in candidate and was mayor of the town of 900 residents for two decades.
- Today’s tabby cats trace back to three type of wild cats: European, Asiatic and African, dating back 131,000 years ago.
- All tabby cats that are not of the mackerel pattern originated in Turkey in the 14th
- The first domesticated tabby cats appeared 10,000 years ago. They were African wildcats, believed to have been pets of farmers along the Mediterranean. They likely saw how the cats kept down the rodents and protected their grain.
- Why did tabby cats become domesticated? Although originally tabby cats lived in the wild and were predators, biologists say that they domesticated themselves over time due to the “friendliness” in their DNA molecules making them want to be close to humans. They also likely saw the value of being protected from predators and having a steady supply of food when living with humans.
Tabby Cat Lovers
Those who love cats are called ailurophiles. Here are some famous people throughout history who have loved tabby cats, in particular:
- Sir Winston Churchill, the famous British Prime Minister, was a lover of tabby cats. He had three: Mickey, Tango, and Jock the Marmalade, who continued to live at Chartwell even after Churchill’s death.
- Writer Mark Twain also loved tabby cats, taking them with him on holiday and keeping one in his pocket to play pool with. One of his famous quotes is, “When a man loves cats, I am his comrade without further introduction.”
- Actress Betty White is a cat lover, and her first orange tabby cat was named Toby. She has become an active animal activist, well into her 90s.
- Musician and actor David Bowie loved tabby cats, and wrote a song called “Cat People.” One of his most famous photos shows him holding an Abyssinian tabby cat.
- Musician and lead singer of the band, Queen, Freddie Mercury, was a fan of tabby cats and owned two: a ginger tomcat named Oscar, and an orange rescued tabby cat named Miko. When he was on tour, he would call home to speak with his cats.
- Garfield, Jim Davis’ cartoon creation, is a famous orange tabby cat who loves to eat lasagna. He debuted in 1978.
- Morris the Cat was an orange tabby who starred in 9-Lives Cat Food television commercials in the 1970s. The original Morris was a rescue cat from Chicago. All Morrises after the original one’s death also came from shelters.
- President Abraham Lincoln was a cat lover who owned two cats, Tabby and Dixie.
- Chippy was a tabby cat who sailed on the Endurance ship in the Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17.
- Orlando the Marmalade Cat starred in a series of children’s books in the United Kingdom.
- Orangey was a cat who starred many films, including “Breakfast at Tiffanys.”
- Lil BUB was a rescued brown tabby cat from Indiana who became a YouTube star.
- Room 8 was a gray tabby cat who wandered into a classroom in an elementary school in California in 1952, becoming the school’s official mascot.
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