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5 Tabby Cat Breeds – Patterns & Markings (With Pictures)

Chelsie Fraser

By Chelsie Fraser

tabby cat lying on the Floor

“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

tabby cat eyes
Image By: Pixabay

Other names: Blotched Tabby

Defining Characteristics:
  • Swirling patterns along the side that resemble marble cake
  • Circular smudges on the body that look like bullseyes

2. Mackerel Tabby

a gray tabby cat lying on a cat couch
Image Credit: photosforyou, Pixabay

Other names: Tiger Cat

Defining Characteristics:
  • Narrow stripes run parallel down the sides of the body
  • Stripes run in a vertical pattern
  • Evenly spaced, non-broken lines
  • Stripes branch out from the spine resembling a fish skeleton

3. Spotted Tabby

Egyptian Mau Cat
Image Credit: MDavidova, Shutterstock

Other names: N/A

Defining Characteristics:
  • Spots on the sides that are round, oval, or rosettes

4. Ticked Tabby

ticked tabby maine coon_Remark_Anna, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Remark_Anna, Shutterstock

Other names: Abyssinian Tabby or Agouti Tabby

Defining Characteristics:
  • No traditional stripes or spots
  • Tabby markings on the face with agouti hairs (individual striped hairs that alternate light and dark bands)

5. Patched Tabby

brown patched tabby norwegian forest cat lying on grass
Image Credit: Pascale Gueret, Shutterstock

Other names: Tortoiseshell or Tortie

Defining Characteristics:
  • Separate patches of brown and red tabby on a single cat
  • Can show any of the other four tabby patterns
  • More distinctive markings on the head and legs

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.

anxious looking tabby cat
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

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:

  • Abyssinian
  • American Bobtail
  • American Curl
  • American Shorthair
  • American Wirehair
  • Birman
  • Colorpoint Shorthair
  • Egyptian Mau
  • Exotic Shorthaired Persians
  • Javanese
  • LaPerm
  • Maine Coon
  • Manx
  • Norwegian Forest Cat
  • Ocicat
  • Oriental
  • Persian
  • Ragdoll
  • Rex, including Devon, Selkirk, and Cornish
  • Scottish Fold
  • Siberian
  • Singapura
  • Somali
  • Turkish Angora
  • Turkish Van


“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

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