To many people, the term “tabby” is almost synonymous with the word “cat.” Some people think of the standard “domestic short hair” cat as a tabby. However, the term tabby actually doesn’t refer to a breed of cat, but rather a fur pattern. If your cat has fur with spots, stripes, or whorls and the distinctive M on his forehead, he’s a tabby.
Four different tabby patterns exist. The tabby stripes that many people refer to as “tiger stripes” actually are the pattern found in a “mackerel” tabby, which is the most common variety. A “classic” tabby has a whirling pattern like marble cake. A spotted tabby has spots on his sides, and a “ticked” tabby actually doesn’t have stripes or spots at all. On any tabby, the individual hairs have bands of color. This banding pattern is called “agouti” and ticked tabbies have agouti hairs. Many Abyssinian cats are ticked tabbies, and the agouti hair is what causes their fur to seem to shimmer in the light.
Tabbies also come in a number of different colors: brown, blue (the cat fancier term for gray), red (the term for orange), cream, and silver. Of course, not all cats are tabbies. Solid color cats exist as well. They may be black, gray, blue (a slate gray color), and white. The feline gene for solid color is recessive, so many cats that appear to be a solid color actually may have tabby markings if you look closely in the light. Don’t be surprised to see evidence of extremely subtle tabby stripes on your black cat when he’s lying around in the sun. Black and white cats are often called “tuxedos” since they often look like they are dressed in formal attire.
Cats that have multiple patches of colors are generally tortoise shell, patched tabby or calico. Patched tabbies have two separate colors of tabby on the same cat. For example, a “blue patched tabby” has patches of blue tabby and patches of cream tabby. A calico cat has separate solid blocks of red (i.e. orange), black, and white. A tortoiseshell or “tortie” on the other hand mingles the colors together.
Points are another variety of feline coat pattern. If the cat has darker fur on its face, paws, and tail, it’s considered a “pointed” cat. Although you find this pattern in Siamese cats, many other breeds and non-purebred cats also have points. In other words, just because your cat has points, that doesn’t mean it’s a purebred.