Tabby is a term commonly used to refer to domestic cats. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a cat breed at all — it’s actually a color pattern. It is the most common of all feline coat patterns. There are five different types of tabby coat patterns, each with its own distinct markings.
The 5 Tabby Coat Patterns
1. Classic Tabby
Other names: Blotched Tabby
2. Mackerel Tabby
Other names: Tiger Cat
3. Spotted Tabby
Other names: N/A
4. Ticked Tabby
Other names: Abyssinian Tabby or Agouti Tabby
5. Patched Tabby
Other names: Tortoiseshell or Tortie
Tabby Cat Basics
You can often see tabby markings faintly outlined on solid-colored cats when they’re sitting in just the right light. Also, you’ve probably never seen an orange, red, or cream-colored cat without tabby markings. The gene that makes a cat orange, red, or cream is the same one that expresses tabby markings.
Tabby cats all have thin lines on their faces, markings around the eyes, and a distinct “M” on their forehead. There are many different “theories” about where the letter marking comes from.
Tabby in the Manger
One legend about the origin of the “M” on a tabby cat’s forehead is the story of Mary and a tabby cat in the manger. Baby Jesus was fussing and cold, so Mary asked the animals to move in closer to keep him warm. The manger was too small for it to work, but then a little tabby cat nestled in next to the baby and cuddled him with purring and warmth. It is said that Mary bestowed her initial on the cat’s forehead as a blessing of gratitude.
Mohammed and the Tabby
Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, is said to have loved cats because one saved his life from a snake. Another time, Mohammed cut off the sleeve of his shirt before leaving prayer because his cat was asleep on the sleeve and he didn’t want to disturb them. Yet another story claims that it was Mohammed who bestowed all cats with the ability to land on their feet.
These stories have come from the assumption that the “M” on the tabby cat symbolizes Mohammed’s high esteem for cats. Whether the legends are true or not, cats are protected and respected within the Islamic world and even allowed inside mosques.
Mother or Egyptian Goddess
In his book, “Beloved of Bast,” author Jim Willis wrote that the “M” tells a tale of an old tabby barn cat named, “Mother.”
In Ancient Egypt, cats were revered. The goddess Bastet was often depicted with a tabby cat’s head, and the sun god Re was also represented as a tabby cat.
Breeds That Express the Tabby Coat Pattern
There are many cat breeds that express the tabby coat pattern in any of the five variations. The first known documented tabby cat was presented at a cat show in London under the title, “English Tabby,” in 1871.
The following is a list of breeds that the Cat Fanciers’ Association accepts as being allowed the tabby pattern:
Tabby refers to a coat pattern rather than a particular breed of cat. Since it’s the most common coat pattern, there are numerous cat breeds that exhibit it in its various forms. From a historical perspective, tabby cats are prominent, so there are numerous legends about their markings. While there’s no way to say if the religious or historical legends are true, tabby cats certainly have made their mark.
Featured Image Credit: Esin Deniz, Shutterstock