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Tabby Cat Colors and Patterns: a complete guide

The tabby cat has many colors and more than one pattern. If you are sure the tabby cat is a breed, you’re not alone. What defines a tabby cat and what are the tabby cat colors and patterns?

The tabby cat is not a breed but is the most common coat pattern to occur in many cat breeds, and the one you’ll see more often is the brown tabby cat.

There are four distinct tabby cat patterns, each with its own distinctive markings. Discover some surprising tabby facts and how to distinguish one pattern from another with the help of the photographs and descriptions in this article. By the end, you’ll be an expert!

The Four Types of Tabby Cat Pattern

Green-eyed mackerel tabby cat
Green-eyed Mackerel Tabby looking thoughtful

The tabby cat pattern features stripes, swirls, spots, and ticks and can come in many colors.

All tabbies have the same distinctive facial markings: a dark line leading from the outer corner of each eye at a downwards angle to below each ear, and a darker M-shaped pattern on their foreheads.

All have stripes or bars of darker fur on their legs, buttons of darker colors on their tummies, a darker stripe of fur along the center of their backs, and rings around their tails.

Of all the possible colors, the brown tabby cat is the most prevalent. Four distinctive tabby patterns have been aptly named as follows:

  • Mackerel tabby (striped)
  • Classic tabby (blotched)
  • Ticked tabby (Agouti, Abyssinian)
  • Spotted tabby

Do all tabby cats have an M on their forehead?

One particular mark found on all tabby cats is the forehead M and it’s more distinctive on some cats than others. It can be quite an obvious capital M pattern or quite a faint shape that’s only loosely shaped like an M.

The tabby MIt is not, as many believe the mark of a Maine Coon. Tabby Maine Coons do sport an M but sometimes it’s not so obvious because of their long fur or coloring.

What About Tortoiseshell?

Some people think of tortoiseshell tabby as a fifth tabby pattern. Tortoiseshell is, in fact, a coat coloring of which there are four color variations.

All tortoiseshell cats can have either a mackerel, classic or ticked pattern and these are often referred to as Torbie which is short for a tortoiseshell tabby.

A full description of all the possible tabby coat colors, including tortoiseshell, is coming up.

Tortoiseshell cat

Distinguishing Between the Four Tabby Cat Patterns

You may have heard phrases such as mackerel tabby, classic tabby, spotted tabby, and ticked tabby and wondered how you are supposed to know which is which.

And then, of course, there’s the tortoiseshell tabby. How does that fit in? Here’s an easy-to-follow guide plus photos to help you become an expert in no time.

The Mackerel Tabby Cat Pattern

short haired red tabby

The Mackerel tabby is by far the most common cat coat pattern with the brown Mackerel tabby being the one you’ll spot the most.

It consists of narrow stripes that start at the dark stripe along their spines and run vertically down towards their tummies.

The lines are parallel to each other, evenly spaced and resemble the skeleton of a fish (hence the name mackerel). Cats with this pattern can look like little tigers.

Silver mackerel tabby

The Classic Tabby Cat Pattern

tabby kitten
A classic tabby kitten

The classic tabby kitten above is showing off the classic tabby cat pattern perfectly. You can see why this pattern is often referred to as a blotched tabby because of the elaborate swirls on the sides of the body and butterfly-like patterns over the shoulders. 

Brown classic tabby cat
Classic brown tabby

The Ticked Tabby Cat Pattern

Ticked tabby chausie
The Hybrid Chausie with a ticked tabby pattern

The ticked tabby has multiple bands of color on each hair shaft on its body and head and the usual tabby rings on its legs and tail. You will sometimes hear this referred to as the Agouti tabby or Abyssinian tabby pattern. Chausie and Abyssinian cats show good examples of this pattern.

An Abyssinian ticked tabby

The Spotted Tabby Cat Pattern

Bengal kitten
Spotted tabby Bengal kitten

The spotted tabby cat pattern is similar to the mackerel or classic pattern except the stripes or swirls are broken rather than continuous, giving rise to a spotty pattern on the body. The hybrid Bengal shows a good example of this pattern as do Ocicats.

Bengal cat
Spotted tabby Bengal adult
Two ocicats
Two Ocicats with spotted tabby coats

Brown Tabby cat, Black, and Other Tabby Cat Colors

This is a list of many of the possible cat coat colors. Each can have either mackerel, classic or ticked tabby patterns meaning 66 possible tabby variations from these colors alone:

  • Brown – This has a warm brown or bronze background with the tabby pattern in black.
  • Brown and White – As for the brown but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.
  • Brown Patched (Brown Torbie or Brown Tabby Cat) – The background color is a coppery brown whilst the tabby pattern is black with patches of red. This is similar to the black tabby cat pattern.
  • Brown Patched and White (Brown and White Torbie) – As for brown patched but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.
  • Silver – A pale silver background with the tabby pattern in black.
  • Silver and White – Silver and white make up the background color of this coat while the tabby pattern is black.
  • Silver Patched (Silver Torbie)– A pale silver background with tabby markings in black with patches of red and/or cream.
  • Silver Patched and White (Silver and White Torbie) – as for silver patched but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.
  • Blue-Silver – The background color is pale silver. The tabby markings are a deep blue (gray).
  • Blue-Silver and White – as for Blue-Silver but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.
  • Blue-Silver Patched (Blue-Silver Torbie) – as for Blue-Silver but the tabby marking also has patches of cream.
  • Blue-Silver Patched and White (Blue-Silver and White Torbie) – as for Blue Silver Patched but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.
  • Red (orange/ginger) – A red background with a deep, rich red tabby pattern.
  • Red and White – As for red but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.
  • Blue (gray) – A pale bluish-ivory background with tabby markings in deep blue (gray).
  • Blue Patched (Blue Torbie) – As for Blue but with patches of cream in the tabby markings.
  • Cream – A pale cream background with the tabby pattern in a darker cream or buff color.
  • Cream and White – As for Cream but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.
  • Cream-Silver – The background color is off-white. and the tabby markings are cream. This cat has a white undercoat.
  • Cream-Silver and White – As for Cream-Silver but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.
  • Cameo – The background color is cream and the tabby pattern is red.
  • Cameo and White – As for Cameo but with white on the bib, tummy and all four paws. There may or may not be white fur on the face.

Which Cat Breeds Can Have Tabby Pattern Coats?

Norwegian Forest kittens
Norwegian Forest kittens

Many mixed breeds and purebred cats can have tabby patterned coats. For example:

  • Abyssinian
  • American Bobtail
  • American Curl
  • American Shorthair
  • Bengal
  • Chausie
  • Devon Rex
  • Domestic Shorthair
  • Maine Coon
  • Munchkin
  • Norwegian Forest Cat
  • Ocicat
  • Siberian
  • Singapura
Mackerel Tabby Maine Coon
Mackerel Tabby Maine Coon Kitten

Tabby Pattern Genetics Made Simple

You may be surprised to learn that every single cat carries the gene for the mackerel, classic or ticked tabby pattern. The reason why the pattern is not always visible is due to genetic masking.

First of all, alleles are found in pairs in genes that determine a cat’s characteristics. The agouti gene determines if its coat will be a solid color or not. When this gene has two recessive alleles (aa) then the cat will be non-agouti and its coat will be a solid color.

If the agouti gene has one or two dominant alleles (Aa or AA) then the cat will be agouti, that is it won’t have a solid coat color.

If a cat is an agouti it is the tabby gene that actually determines the type of pattern its coat will exhibit. The dominant allele in the tabby gene causes the mackerel pattern, the recessive alleles cause either a classic or ticked coat.

Tabby Cat Personality

Do tabby cats have special personalities? I’ve owned many tabby and non-tabby cats throughout my life and they’ve all been different. I wouldn’t say the tabbies have had better personalities than the others. But some owners say that the tabby cat personality is unique!


You now know how to tell one tabby cat pattern from another though deciding on the coloring might be a little more tricky as there are at least 22 ways to classify these!

Maine Coon tabby kittens

Here are some of my favorite products for cats

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it helpful whether you own a cat or are considering it. I thought I’d share a few of the cat products I love which you might find really useful too.

The following are Amazon affiliate links, and if you decide to use them, I’ll earn a small commission from Amazon at no cost at all to you.

An indoor cat tree: This is an excellent item to satisfy a cat’s urge to climb and scratch. There are several sizes to choose from so you can pick the right height for your home. Our cats love this Amazon Basics tree with multi-levels, scratching posts, and a little hideaway.

Fred and Oscar in their Amazon Basics cat tree

Drinking fountain: Cats love to drink from flowing water. Many don’t seem to drink enough so a fountain is a good way to get them interested. This Orsda Fountain is quiet, has a large capacity, and looks stylish too.

Scratcher Lounger: The more cat-scratching posts you have the better. Many cats like to claw horizontally which is why we chose the PetFusion Ultimate cat scratcher. It has seen quite a bit of action from 4 Maine Coons but still looks great.

This article may contain affiliate links; if you click on a shopping link and make a purchase I may receive a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.