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The Truth About Tabby Stripes

January 7, 2013

Call me crazy, but I find cat fur somewhat fascinating.

It all started a few years ago when CG had to go to the hospital and came back with some shaved areas. Within a few months the hair grew back in at the right length and tiger pattern that it had been before.

For some reason, I think that’s really cool. I mean, human hair just grows and grows. But cat hair – cat hair knows the perfect length to grow. Plus, all of his tabby stripes grew back. It was the coolest thing.

Consequently, I started looking into the details. Here are some of the fun things I discovered:

Tabby isn’t a breed, rather it’s a specific coat pattern. It’s identified by its stripes, dots, swirling patterns and an “M” on the cat’s forehead. The patterns are not related to color, so the combinations can vary a great deal.

Photo courtesy

There are four distinct tabby patterns, including:

  • Classic: These tabbies have bold, swirling patterns on its sides, like a marble cake. Some people call this pattern “blotched.” Classic tabbies also have swirls on their cheeks and unbroken lines which run from the corners of their eyes to their shoulders. The lines from the back of the head extend to the shoulders and form a butterfly shape.
  • Mackerel: This is the most common type of tabby patterns; most people call it the “tiger” pattern. This pattern is identified by its vertical/parallel, gently curving stripes on the side of the body. They may be broken or continuous down to the belly, where they sometimes turn into spots. This pattern is called mackerel, because the markings look like the bones of a fish. The mackerel tabby also has rings around its legs, “necklaces” around its neck and chest, and “mascara” lines around his eyes.

Photo courtesy You As A Machine

  • Spotted: Like mackerels, spotted tabbies have rings and necklaces, but these markings are broken and spotted. The spots can be large or small and are distinctive.
  • Ticked: Ticked tabbies don’t have stripes or spots, rather they have traditional tabby markings on their faces, and agouti hairs all over the body. Agouti means that the individual hairs are striped with alternating light and dark bands.

There’s also another tabby pattern called “patched.” This pattern occurs in female tabbies, and means that red or cream colors are intermingled or present in patches on the cat’s body.

In addition to all of the patterns above, tabbies can also have white on their bodies – such as on the chest (lockets) or feet (shoes or socks). When a cat is almost all white, except for small tabby areas, the pattern is referred to the “van” pattern.

Do you have a tabby? What type of tabby do you think he/she is? Please share in the comments!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. catsandbunnies105 permalink
    January 7, 2013 12:11 pm

    Are the Classic and Mackerel switched in the above group of cat pictures?.

    • January 7, 2013 12:13 pm

      No, but in the post the Mackerel definition comes before Classic – perhaps that’s confusing?

      Edit: I just updated the post to reflect the order of the photos 🙂

  2. January 8, 2013 5:55 am

    I have two tabbies, a classic and a mackerel both of whom break into spots underneath, indeed I’m watching Dora [mackerel] grow her stripes back after spaying. It’s a wonderful mechanism.
    Have you also noticed that tabbies and torties who have markings on their nose also often have similar dark markings in their mouths on their upper palates?

  3. Lauren Torggler permalink
    January 8, 2013 7:41 am

    I’m pretty sure Mimosa is a Mackerel, but she too breaks into spots on her belly. I always said she looked like a tiger on top and a snow leopard when she rolls over.

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