Mackerel Tabby Color Pattern, Tabby Cat MarkingsPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Justin Brough
A tabby cat with stripes is very well-known... and is the original coat design on pet cats!
Tabby Cats are some of the most familiar types of cats. Their fur coats can have five different color tabby coat patterns. One of the most common types of coat markings are those of the striped tabby cat, which is called the Mackerel Tabby pattern. The other four types are the Blotched Tabby, Spotted Tabby, Ticked Tabby, and Patched Tabby. The Mackerel Tabby pattern is the only striped coat pattern seen in domestic cats. Other types of cats with striped coats, as well as a spotted patterning, are the Exotic Cats or wild cat species.
The classic tabby markings are comprised of a mixture of light and dark banded hairs and black hairs. The black hairs are clustered together in patches or apparent stripes to create the tabby pattern. In the Mackerel Tabby, the resulting pattern is of dark stripes on a lighter background. The stripes are long, thin, mostly vertical, and moderately curved. They often break into short bars or stripes on the sides and stomach of the cat.
The Mackerel Tabby pattern often causes two interesting markings. First is an "M" shape formed by the dark hairs, which is often found on the forehead of these cats. Second, they also often have a "peppered nose", where black dots are found on the otherwise pink nose. Besides tabby cats, there are other types of cat colors and coat patterns. Others are the Tri-color Cat or Tortoiseshell Cat color Patterns which include the Torbie Cat and Calico Cat, and there is the Orange cat or Ginger Cat as well.
For more information on different types of cats, see:
Types of Cats and Cat Breeds
The Mackerel Tabby pattern is the original tabby pattern. It is believed to have originated from the African Wild Cat Felis sylvestris lybica and the European Wild Cat Felis sylvestris sylvestris. Both of these wild cats have a pale, striped tabby pattern. But when the breeds mix, the result is a much more prominent Mackerel Tabby pattern.
At first, the Mackerel Tabby was common in all types of domestic cats. However, other Tabby patterns arose from mutations and selective breeding of the Mackerel Tabby. The most common of these patterns is the Blotched Tabby, which is more widespread than the Mackerel Tabby today.
Though it is not obvious all the time, all cats possess the tabby gene. However some cat breeds also possess genes that either mask or suppress the tabby appearance.
- Black Cats - Blue Cats
Solid black and blue cats always have a gene combination that suppresses the tabby pattern. But sometimes there is still a faint striping that can often be seen in the sunlight. This is called "ghost striping".
- Orange Cats
- On the opposite end, orange cats possess a gene that suppresses the tabby-suppressing gene from being expressed. Therefore, you will never see a solid orange cat, but only orange Tabbies.
The Mackerel Tabby is found in many different variations of tabby cat colors. These can be divided into three basic categories.
- Basic Mackerel Tabby
The first category, the basic Mackerel Tabby, is comprised of dark stripes on a light background. This category includes the Blue Tabby, Blue Silver Tabby, Brown Tabby, Cameo Tabby, Dilute Cameo Tabby, Chestnut Tabby, Chestnut Silver Tabby, Chocolate Silver Tabby, Cinnamon Tabby, Cinnamon Silver Tabby, Cream Tabby, Cream Silver Tabby, Ebony Tabby, Fawn Tabby, Fawn Silver Tabby, Lavender Tabby, Lavender Silver Tabby, Red Tabby, and Silver Tabby.
- Basic Tabby Pattern Plus White
In the second group, the basic tabby pattern is accompanied by areas of white. These include Tabby and White, Blue Tabby and White, Blue Silver Tabby and White, Brown Tabby and White, Cameo Tabby and White, Cream Tabby and White, Red Tabby and White, and Silver Tabby and White.
- Tabby Pattern Restricted
Finally, the last category is made up of tabby patterns that are restricted to the extremities on an otherwise purely white cat. This variation is known as the "Van Tabby Pattern" and includes the Van Tabby, Van Tabby and White, Van Cream Tabby and White, Van Parti-color Tabby and White, and Van Red Tabby and White. Though Tabbies can have patches of white, or even be mostly white, white is the only color that the Tabby pattern has never shown up on. Even though Black is not named in this list, occasionally a very faint Tabby pattern can be seen on a black coat.
Though the Tabby Cat is often mistaken as a breed, it is not a breed, but a coat pattern. The Mackerel Tabby coat pattern is accepted in many different breeds.
Domestic cat breeds that can exhibit classic tabby markings include:
- Natural Breed Cats
American Shorthhair and American Longhair Cat
British Shorthair and British Longhair Cat
European Shorthair Cat
Maine Coon Cat
Norwegian Forest Cat
Siberian Forest Cat
Turkish Angora Cat
Turkish Van Cat
- Mutation Cat Breeds
American Bobtail Cat
American Curl Cat
American Wirehair Cat
Cornish Rex Cat
Devon Rex Cat
Scottish Fold Cat
- Hybrid Cat Breeds
Exotic Shorthair Cat
Oriental Shorthair Cat
Many Exotic Cats, those that are wild cat species, can also exhibit a tabby cat patterning with striped coats. These types of cats can exhibit other color marking as well, such as a spotted patterning.
- Animal-World References: Cat Breeds - Exotic Cats
- Desmond Morris, Cat Breeds of the World, A complete Illustrated Encyclopedia, Viking Penguin, 1999
- Cat Colors FAQ: Common Colors, Fanciers.com
- The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)