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What is a Tiger Cat? Is it a breed or just a coat pattern?

If you have a desire to own a wild cat, there are plenty of domestic cats with more than a slight resemblance to their wilder relatives.

Cats come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns and there are more than 40 different breeds. With its distinctive striped pattern, is the Tiger Cat one of them?

Contrary to popular belief, not all tiger cats are a specific breed. When people talk of tiger cats they are referring to one of two particular felines. One is a tabby with a striped or mackerel tabby pattern and the other is the relatively new Toyger cat breed created by crossing a Bengal and a striped tabby cat.

The stripes of tiger cats have earned them their nickname. They are darker than the rest of their fur and closely resemble those sported by tigers. Tabby tiger cats are the most commonly occurring of the tabby cat patterns.

A Toyger cat showing off his tiger stripes.

The Toyger cat breed

The name Toyger is a portmanteau of the words toy and tiger. It aptly describes this breed as these cats do have the appearance of toy-sized tigers.

The Toyger breed was developed in the USA in the 1980s by Judy Sugden, whose mother founded the Bengal cat breed. The coloration and stripes of this cat are much more reminiscent of those of a real tiger compared to those sported by tabby cats.

Despite its wild-cat appearance, the Toyger has no wild blood pumping through its veins and makes the perfect pet for those who hanker after owning a pet that closely resembles a real tiger.

A Bengal cat sitting on a block of wood.
A Bengal cat

The Tabby tiger cat

Many people call striped tabby cats Tiger cats. Also known as mackerel tabbies. Many cat breeds and crossbreed can sport this pattern and some are more tiger-looking than others.

Tiger cats vs tabby cats: is there a difference?

There is a fundamental difference between tiger cats and some tabby cats because not all tabby cats have tiger stripes.

The term tabby cat covers four particular cat patterns: the mackerel tabby, the classic tabby, the ticked (agouti) tabby, and the spotted tabby.

Only a cat with a mackerel tabby pattern is striped. The classic tabby has whorls of pattern, the spotted tabby is more like a leopard than a tiger and the ticked tabby has stripes of color on every hair shaft giving it an agouti pattern.

A Mackerel Tabby kitten

What are Tiger cats called?

Tiger cats are also called mackerel tabby cats. As you probably know a mackerel is a fish and the mackerel tabby pattern is often likened to a fish skeleton, hence the name.

The mackerel tabby or Tiger striped cat is the most commonly occurring tabby cat pattern in existence.

Is a Tiger cat a breed?

Only the Toyger tiger cat is a breed, albeit a relatively new one.

Other Tiger cats are simply striped tabby cats though it is often thought that the tabby cat is a specific breed. The truth is, many cat breeds and mixed breeds can have a tabby pattern.

A tabby cat is basically a cat with a striped or brindled coat. Another way to distinguish a tabby cat is by the dominant M marking on its forehead. It was once thought this was the mark of a Maine Coon but it is really a mark of any breed of tabby cat.

Are Tiger cats good pets?

Like any cat, a Tiger cat is capable of being a good pet as long as it is socialized well as a kitten. Some tabby cats such as Maine Coons are well-known to be excellent for families with children.

The way a cat is treated by its owner has a bearing on its temperament as it matures, so as long as you care for a Tiger cat properly, continue to socialize it, and play with it, it should in return be a loving pet.

Other cats that resemble wild cats


The Bengal was created from the Asian leopard cat (scientific name, Felis bengalensis) and shorthaired domestic cats.

They have spotted coats and athletic builds and can vary in size up to 7 kg. Despite their wild appearance, they make wonderful pets.

Egyptian Mau

Egyptian Maus are a rare, small to medium-sized short-haired cat breed. Their coats are naturally spotted giving them the appearance of a cheetah. The coloring that forms the spots only occurs on the tips of each hair shaft.


The Ocicat resembles a wild cat but has no wild DNA. It was created from the Siamese and Abyssinian cats and has a spotted appearance.


The Cheetoh is very much a 21st-century creation. Breeder Carol Dryman set out with the intention of creating the wildest-looking domestic cat. A descendant of the Ocicat and Bengal, the Cheetoh has the distinctive coat pattern of a cheetah.

As wild as it looks, the Cheetoh is a perfectly tame domestic kittie and would make a perfect pet for any cat lover who wants to own a wilder-looking feline.


The Serengeti is a cross between the Bengal and Oriental Shorthair breeds. The result is a loving, energetic, and agile cat.

It sports a mixture of cheetah spots and tiger stripes.


The Savannah cat is a hybrid created from an African Serval and a domestic cat. The result is a tall, athletic cat with a striped and spotted coat.

The name Savannah is taken from the biome where serval cats reside. These beautiful, wild-looking cats are expensive, ranging from $16000 for an F1 generation cat to $1500 for an F5.


The Abyssinian is a domestic short-haired cat with a distinctive “ticked” tabby coat, where each individual hair is banded with different colors.

So, this cat has no tiger stripes or leopard spots but does have a wild cat appearance just the same.

What is a Tiger cat? Conclusion

Until the 1980s Toyger came along, a tiger cat was simply another term given to a tabby cat with a stripey coat pattern.

Of all the domestic cats, the Toyger has the most convincing tiger stripes if you want to own your own mini wild cat.