by Karen Lawrence

What is a tabby pattern?

A tabby pattern is swirls, stripes, spots, or bands of different colors that give a cat that "unique" look. Each of the four basic solid colors -- black(brown), blue, red, cream -- that cats are found in can be combined with a tabby pattern. Tabby patterns can also be with, or without, white. The silver gene can also produce silver tabbies (black and silver) in all patterns below. The four basic tabby patterns are given specific names depending upon how they look -- classic tabby, mackerel tabby, spotted tabby and ticked tabby -- as shown below:


Classic Tabby

This is a Silver Classic Tabby American Shorthair

Classic Tabby

The Classic Tabby pattern can easily be noticed because the cat will have swirls and a circle on its side. It also has a "butterfly" pattern across its shoulders which lead into thick lines down the spine.

Mackerel Tabby

This is a Brown Mackerel Tabby and White Manx

Mackerel Tabby

The Mackerel Tabby pattern is defined by stripes instead of swirls. This pattern does not have a "butterfly", but it does have thinner spine lines than a Classic Tabby. The solid stripes on the body go from the spine to the belly.

Spotted Tabby

This is a Brown Spotted Tabby American Bobtail Shorthair.

Spotted Tabby

The Spotted Tabby pattern has spots instead of lines. The spine lines will be spotted also.

Ticked Tabby

This is an Ebony Ticked Tabby Oriental Shorthair

Ticked Tabby

The Ticked Tabby pattern is a little more complex in that each hair shaft has "bands" of light and dark color on it. Overall, you will see an evenness to the pattern and the cat will not obviously look like a "normal" tabby would.

Then, what is a Patched Tabby?

The blue and black (brown) colors can also be combined with red in a tabby pattern to make the cat a patched tabby. It can also be with, or without, white. Patched tabbies are always female.


Patched Classic Tabby

This is an Brown Patched Classic Tabby and White Scottish Fold

Patched Tabby

All of the tabby patterns above can also be combined with red and/or cream to create a Patched Tabby. The patched tabby will have splotches of red, or sometimes cream, scattered throughout the tabby pattern. The patching appears to cover, or break, the pattern lines of the tabby pattern. The patching may, in some instances, also show the tabby pattern.

Originally prepared for For Kids ... About Cats, 2009
Updated April 2010


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