Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously said: “Tabby or not tabby; that is the question.” Okay, maybe that’s not true, but there really are people who wonder exactly what markings qualify a cat as a tabby. Tabbies are not a breed, but rather the world’s most common coat pattern for cats. One person might have a tiger-striped tabby, while another has a spotted one, but there are some things that all tabbies have in common.
Other than the stripes that tabbies are known for, the most easily identifiable thing all tabbies share is the distinctive “M” shaped markings on their heads. Another is that they have thin lines on their faces, usually along the top and sides. Some solid-colour cats have their tabby stripes hidden by their dark colouring, but these stripes are visible when they are in bright sunlight. Not sure if your cat is a tabby? Here are four types of tabbies to consider:
1) Classic tabbies
These cats have swirly patterns of solid colour on their sides. The patterns are also called ‘marbled’ or ‘blotchy’. This is because their stripes are very thick. They typically have black stripes over a brown coat.
2) Striped / mackerel tabbies
Commonly referred to as ‘tiger’ cats, these tabbies have stripes running vertically from their spines to their bellies. Their spines and tails are usually as dark as the stripes. The name ‘mackerel’ comes from the fish-skeleton appearance of the dark spine with dark stripes stretching out from it.
3) Spotted tabby
As the name suggests, this tabby has spots on its sides. These spots could be large, small or they could look like mackerel tabby stripes which are broken into spots.
4) Ticked tabby
While ticked tabbies do not have spots or long stripes on their bodies, they have tabby “M” markings on their faces and their coats may seem mottled. The mottling is due to their agouti hairs, which are individual hairs striped with alternating light and dark bands. Some ticked tabbies have striped legs and tails.
Honourable mention: ‘Torbie’
Torbies are tortoiseshell tabby cats. This means that they have ginger and black fur (distinctive of tortoiseshell cats) which is striped (distinctive of tabby cats). They are also known as patched tabbies.