Skip navigation

Tabby Cat Facts

Share article on Facebook Share article on Pinterest Share article on Twitter (opens new window)
tabby cat sitting on a beige blanket in a bedroom

What is a Tabby cat? “Tabby” is not a breed but a coat pattern in cats. Its appearance can vary slightly from stripes to whorls, spots, and more.

These variations all have their own names, but often an “M” shaped marking appears on the head of Tabby cats, just above the eyes. The Tabby pattern can be seen across a wide range of purebred cats and in mixed breed cats.

History of Tabby Cats

Where do Tabby cats come from? When it comes to the Tabby cat origin, it’s thought that the array of Tabby patterns seen today all started with the mackerel pattern, which is the natural coat pattern of the African wildcat. The distinct ‘M’ marking on a Tabby’s forehead is thought by some to stand for either ‘Mau,’ which is the Egyptian word for ‘cat,’ the Virgin Mary, or also Mohammed, who is said to have loved Tabbies.

Other Tabby patterns came about from selective breeding and mutations of mackerel Tabby cats.

Fur Patterns

There are now five different Tabby coat patterns, making many unique-looking Tabby cats to choose as your companion!

Classic Tabby cat laying on a scratching post

Classic Tabby

The classic Tabby pattern is made up of whorls that create a shape resembling a target on the side of the cat. The classic Tabby is sometimes referred to as a “blotched Tabby.”

Mackerel Tabby cat sleeping on a chair

Mackerel Tabby

Mackerel Tabby cats have rings around their tails and legs and bands of solid or broken stripes around the rest of their body.

Spotted Tabby cat sleeping on a blanket

Spotted Tabby

Instead of having bands of stripes, spotted Tabby cats have bands of spots. The spots vary in size and can resemble broken stripes similar to those of a mackerel Tabby.

Patched Tabby cat laying on a couch

Patched Tabby

Patched Tabbies have patches (hence the name) of dark or grayish brown and patches of red or orange with the Tabby pattern throughout both colors. They are often referred to as Tortoiseshell (or Tortie) Tabbies because the brown and orange spots are like those seen on the shell of a tortoise.

Abyssinian cat, or ticked tabby, sleeping

Ticked Tabby

You won’t see bands of stripes or spots on a ticked Tabby (otherwise known as Abyssinian Tabby or agouti Tabby cats), except possibly on their legs. But, if you look at their individual hairs closely, you’ll notice that each of them has bands of light and dark coloring.

Ticked Tabby cats also have the signature Tabby “M” on their head.

Tabby Cat Personality

Because Tabby cats exist across a variety of breeds, their personality traits are more distinct to their breed rather than the markings that distinguish them as Tabbies.

Here’s a look at the personality traits of some breeds with tabby cat markings:

Abyssinian cat lying on a black and white checkered blanket


Nicknamed “Aby” cats, these highly active and curious felines often sport ticked Tabby coats. Aby cats are always looking for something to climb, chase, or get into. They love heights and would probably appreciate having a ceiling-height cat tree in the home.

Aby cats also love attention and playtime. They’ll follow you around the house and try to win your attention if you seem preoccupied with something else. If you’re thinking of adding an Aby cat to your family, make sure to stock up on toys to keep them busy, or they might start playing with things around the house that aren’t toys.

If you and your human family members will be away at work or school during the day, you may also want to consider a playmate for your Aby (if you do not already have other furry family members) to keep this energetic feline entertained.

American shorthair cat asleep in a cat tree

American Shorthair

American Shorthairs have a middle-of-the-road personality type, meaning they enjoy playtime but are not overly active or demanding of attention. You’ll also find that most of them are classic Tabbies.

These felines are smart and sociable. They won’t run and hide under the bed when strangers come over. While they may not enjoy being carried around and coddled, they do like snuggling up next to their family on the couch and sleeping at the foot of the bed.

Maine Coon cat staring wide-eyed at the camera

Maine Coon

The Maine Coon, the most popular pedigreed Tabby cat, is known to be good-natured, adaptable, and easy-going with kids. They like attention and being near their family, but if you’re busy, they’re content just supervising you while you’re completing tasks.

They really enjoy chasing mice and other rodents, and if there aren’t any around to chase, they’re happy chasing after toys.

Oriental cat with big green eyes resting on a blue blanket


Oriental Tabby cats come in over a hundred combinations!

These diverse-looking Tabbies are vocal and, well, high-maintenance. If you’re looking for a cat that’ll constantly be in your lap and wants to follow your every move, this could be the breed for you.

If an Oriental is going to be home alone during the day, a playmate is a good idea. Otherwise, these attention-craving cats could get into trouble.

Ocicat hissing by a scratch post


This breed comes in a spotted Tabby pattern that makes it look like a wild cat, most notably an ocelot, which is why it was given the name “Ocicat.” Ironically, the Ocicat has no wild cat DNA in its gene pool whatsoever. It came to look the way it does through careful breeding.

Ocicats are commonly social and enjoy the company of both their family and new acquaintances. Most don’t mind being picked up and carried around. They like to play games and will even gladly walk on a leash if you train them.

American Curl cat being held by a woman in a green sweater

American Curl

The American Curl, named for its ears that curl backward, comes in a variety of Tabby patterns.

This newer breed is known to have a gentle, friendly disposition. They usually love people, including children. American Curls are moderately active and like being in tow, but they won’t make a fuss or be vocal for attention if they see you’re busy. They are adaptable and suited for most any loving home.

Domestic shorthair cat with a red collar and tag atop a black and white plaid blanket

Domestic Shorthair

This giant group of mixed breed cats comes in all sorts of Tabby patterns and colorings. And, their personalities may vary as much as their looks!

As the most common type of cat, you’re sure to find one whose personality suits you well. They can be a great companion in any home.

Tabby Cat Health

The health of Tabby cats can vary depending on their breed, but their average life expectancy can be upward of 15 years. The most common health conditions reported by ASPCA Pet Health Insurance pet parents with Tabby cats are hyperthyroidism, vomiting, urinary trouble, upset stomach, and weight loss.

One of the best ways to look after your feline’s health is to take them for annual check-ups with their veterinarian. These yearly appointments are an ideal time for you to talk with your veterinarian about any questions or concerns you may have about your cat’s health, behavior, and lifestyle. Visits to the veterinarian are also an ideal time for your pal to be updated on any necessary shots.

Even if your cat appears to be in great health, it is essential that you do not cancel or skip their examinations. Cats are notorious for being naturally lethargic animals, so it can be difficult to tell with your bare eyes whether they are sick.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


A small tan and white dog stands in shallow water

Water Safety for Pets

Before a paw touches the water, it can be helpful to read up on water safety tips for your pets. Learn how to make their time in the pool safe and fun.


Happy Pomeranian with its tongue out lays in grass

10 Fun Facts About Pomeranians

Pomeranians are known for being bold in spite of their small size. Find out some fun facts about this fascinating breed.


Himalayan cat with blue eyes lays down with paws stretched forward

Fun Facts About Himalayan Cats

Some may joke Himmies are just Persians in a Siamese costume, but we know how uniquely special they truly are.