Explaining the Tabby Cat Genetics

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

A tabby describes the coat of a domestic cat. It’s an ancient cat gene that produces interesting markings including distinctive stripes, swirls lines, and dot patterns with an “M” mark on the cat’s forehead. Tabbies are mistaken to be a cat breed but the coat pattern is seen in various cat breeds. Generally, tabbies are assumed to be a product of mix breeding. Its coat pattern occurs from the original coloration of the domestic cat’s direct ancestor, the African Wildcat.

Mackerel Tabby

The mackerel tabby is the most common type of tabby. The mackerel tabby features vertical stripes along its body with ringing in the tail and lining in the legs. Most feral cats come in mackerel tabby markings but some types of purebred—like Siberians, Devon Rexes, and Manx—also bear this pattern. Mackerel tabbies are also referred to as “tiger cats” because the mark is similar to a tiger’s.

Ticked Tabbies

Possibly the original domestic tabby variety, the ticked tabby is the oldest of all tabby patterns. This kind of marking is seen in Singapura, Abyssinian, and Somali cat breeds though this pattern could also pop into other cat breeds. Rather than the distinctive swirls, lines, and dots associated with tabby patterns, the ticked patterns appears in one uniform color from afar but upon close inspection, you can see individual hairs banding with two or more colors, causing a salt and pepper coloring. Just like all types of tabbies, the ticked tabbies also feature the “M” mark on the cat’s forehead.

The Classic Tabby Marking

Cats with classic tabby marking features thicker stripes that travels horizontally across their bodies. The stripes resemble a bull’s eye with spirals and swirls. Main coons, Turkish Angoras, and Bengals often feature the classic tabby markings. The classic tabby marking seems to be the most recessive of all tabby markings. Both parents of the cat have to carry a specific gene in order to produce a litter of cats with this pattern. When only one parent carries the gene, it will produce a mix of mackerel tabbies and classic tabbies.

Spotted Tabbies

As the name implies, spotted tabbies come in spotted markings instead of the usual stripes. The spots could vary in size — from small to rosettes. This type of coat is seen in Bengals, Ocicats, and Egyptian Maus. Tabbies with spots can come in a variety of colors but the spots are usually black. Even black-spotted tabbies tend to have even darker spots as contrast to its dark coloring.

Cats with the tabby gene could come in different patterns. Mostly seen in feral populations, white cats with blotches of tabbies along their bodies are common. This pattern is also seen in purebred cats as well. Combining tabby with calico will result in the usual calico colors but with stripes and spots over the normal coloration. In pointed breeds, the tabby patterns will come with light colors along the body of the cat and darker color on the head, ears, and paws. The tail will be ringed and the face will have stripes.