10 October, 2018

Understanding the Different Tabby Cat Markings!

beautiful orange tabby cat on blanket

The Tabby is not a specific breed of cat. In fact, it is said that all felines possess the tabby cat gene. Tabbies are categorized as such because of their color and markings. They may be of any breed or mix, shape or size. Let’s see what’s to learn about these strikingly beautiful cats.

The Symbolism of Tabby Cats

Symbolism abounds around the common tabby, most of which centers on the marking on their foreheads. All tabbies present markings of thin pencil lines on their faces, expressive markings around the eyes, and a distinct “M” on their foreheads.

One interpretation of the symbolism of the ‘M’, is that it depicts “Mau” (pronounced Meow, of course), which is the ancient Egyptian term for “cat”.

Another lore has it that the prominent ‘M’ is the mark of the Muslim prophet, Mohammed. The story goes that a cat rescued Mohammad from a snake attack. There is, however, a second attribution to Mohammad which suggests that his favorite cat, Muezza had fallen asleep on the robe Mohammed was wearing. To heed the call to prayer, Mohammad carefully cut the sleeve off his robe off with a knife, so as not to disturb Muezza when he left.

Christian symbolism attributes the mark to be a blessing of the Virgin Mary. Although our tabby does not earn a mention in the scriptures, this is how the legend goes. Newborn baby Jesus was discontent in the manger of scratchy hay and made his feelings known while Mother Mary was trying to get a well-earned rest.

Hearing the unhappy baby, a tabby settled into the manger beside him, and the baby snuggled peacefully against the cuddly kitty. Mary stroked the tabby’s forehead thankfully, leaving her mark as an enduring sign of gratitude.

What is a Tabby Cat? Appearance, Traits, and Breeds

Much like calico and tortoiseshell cats, “tabby” refers to a cat’s color pattern. The classic tabby pattern or the blotched tabby involves elaborate swirls on the sides and butterflies over the shoulders.

While the tabby comes in many varied colors and patterns, all depicting the characteristic stripes, it must be remembered that this is not a breed, and so these cats present in many varieties.

Tabby cats have a unique pigment in each hair shaft, which is seen in bands of light and dark. Their hair shafts are never filled with solid pigment. Not to get too scientific, but three genes cause the tabby pattern. The genes are the Agouti Signaling Protein (ASIP), Mc1R and Taqpep.

These genes determine a coat’s level of darkness and the appearance of the pattern. They also dictate whether the coat will be solid or banded. The pattern on a kitten at birth will remain as such throughout its life, and will never change.

All tabbies have a spine line down the center of the back. They have bars or stripes on the legs, buttons down the tummy and rings around the tail. Some have more elaborate markings, such as bracelets, necklaces or butterflies across the shoulders.

The pattern of the coat in no way impacts on the personality, body build or dominant traits of any kitty. Tabbies, therefore, do not share distinctive personality types, attitudes or body types. They come in all shapes and sizes and with their own individual characters, honed solely by genetics and environment.

mackerel tabby cat lying on its back

What is the Average Size and Weight of Tabby Cats

A tabby has no average size or weight, since just about any breed and type of cat may have the tabby pattern.

From Classic Tabby to Mackerel Tabby Cats: The Many Colors of Tabbies Explained!

Being that tabbies are the most common of feline patterns, it stands to reason that the patterns have many distinctive variations. They aren’t limited to one pattern or color. Tabby coats can bear patches, swirls, and dots, and come in a wide variety of colors.

Classic tabbies have marbled or blotched coats. Mackerel tabbies are known as ‘tigers’ and have narrow stripes that run parallel down their sides. Those with spots down the sides, regardless of the size of the spots are known as Spotted Tabbies.

Orange Tabby Cat

While it is true that not all tabby cats are orange, orange cats are always tabbies! This is because a cat’s genetic code inextricably links the orangeness and the tabbiness.

Looking closely at an orange cat, you will see that they all have the distinctive tabby markings on the legs, face and body patterns, regardless of how feint. An orange cat, known as a Marmalade in Britain, may seem to be a solid color, but they never are.

Brown Tabby Cat

Brown tabbies have a warm brown or bronze tone to their background color with black stripes.

Silver Tabby Cat

The silver tabby presents with a silver-white background color with black tabby markings.

Black Tabby Cat

Black tabbies come in a range of darker and lighter shades of black, always with the stripes being a darker black than the coat.

Gray Tabby Cat

Cats with coats of gray stripes on a buff or gray background are usually known as a “blue tabby.”

The Dilute Tabby Cat: A Special Kind of Cat

Dilute is often used to describe tabbies, calicos, and tortoise-shells. Dilute tabbies present a coat with a paler or lighter version of the original color pattern.

The color resembles a pale orange rather than a brighter marmalade. A cream or buff would be a dilute tabby, whereas the classic tabby would have a black, gray or blue coat.

two tabby cats jumping in the air

Male Tabby Cat: Why 80% of Orange Tabby Cats are Male!

It is true that more than three-quarters of orange tabbies are boys, and that’s because of the way in which the orange color is passed down in the chromosomes. Pheomelanin is the red pigment or melanin that produces vibrant orange coats in cats, and is known as the ‘ginger pigment’.

Cats with the ginger gene have their brown or black pigment replaced by ginger pigment, and they will have ginger hairs instead of brown or black hairs. Just like humans, cats with two X chromosomes are girls, and those with an XY combination are boys.

The ginger gene is carried in the X chromosome, and since male cats only have one X chromosome, they either have the gene or they don’t. If they do have the ginger gene, they will be an orange tabby cat, no exceptions.

While orange males only need one copy of the ginger gene, female cats need two copies of the ginger gene. That is why male orange tabbies are the more common.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Tabby Cats

  1. Tabby cats were named after a striped silk made in Baghdad.
  2. Orlando The Marmalade Cat was the star of a series of children’s books in the United Kingdom and was based on the author’s real-life cat, also named Orlando.
  3. Morris, an orange tabby cat, was the star of TV commercials in the 1970s. Although he did become famous, Morris started his life as a rescue cat in Chicago. All the cats who took over his role in the adverts after his death were also from shelters.
  4. Tabby patterning has a purpose, and it is to camouflage the cat during hunting. A cat with a coat which is broken up with small markings is harder to spot than a cat of a solid color.
  5. Winston Churchill had many tabby cats, but Jock the Marmalade cat was said to be his favorite. Provision was made for Jock to stay on at Chartwell after Churchill’s death, and it is reported that a ‘Jock’ has lived at Chartwell ever since.

What is the Average Size and Weight of Tabby Cats

The heaviest tabby cat weighed in at 46 pounds and 15.25 ounces. On average cats weigh between 6 and 10 pounds and are 12 to 15 inches in height.

Since tabbies are just cats and not a specific breed, they generally comply with these average figures.

How to Look After Your Tabby Kittens

Kitties need the love and care of a human, and a dedicated forever home. Tabby kittens are after all just cats and will thank you for a loving lap, a sunny spot in the house and a constant bowl of nutritious nibbles to enjoy at their leisure.

tabby kittens fearless look as he is on the prowl

Animals shelters are a good place to adopt a homeless tabby cat. An American navy veteran recently took his family to the Blount County Animal Shelter which partners with Pets for Patriots, in waiving adoption fees for veterans.

The family adopted Dylan, an orange tabby, and their story has subsequently touched many. You can do the same for a tabby kitten in your region.

Common Questions on the Tabby Cat

I heard that Marmalade cats or orange tabbies are always males. Does this mean that my female orange tabby may be a rarity? 

Why can I not find a breeding club for tabby cats? 

Do all tabby cats have an ‘M’ on their forehead, and why do they have this particular marking?