Tabby Cats 101 – Colors, Lifespan, Personality, and Fun Facts

Tabby cats refer to certain cats with line markings on their coats. It does not refer to a certain cat breed, although domestic cats are common breeds with tabby markings.

Cats that belong to the pure breed registry can also have patterns; thus, making the term tabby cat nonexclusive to the domestic cats alone.

Tabby cats are fascinating by nature, their unique patterns come in different colors, markings, and sizes.

Tabby cats have a very interesting history behind their patterns. After talking to die hard tabby cats owners we came to the conclusion that they might have certain qualities that differ from normal cats

Why are Tabby Cats Special?

Tabby cats are special because their patterns have its’ own genetic and historical origins. The pattern of tabby cats came from its modifier genes.

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Cats, by nature, have markings but those with markings that are visible make an exception. Scientifically, the gene called agouti is responsible for making the cat tabby or not.


The cats appear with markings if he or she has the agouti gene or part of it is dominant (A/A or A/a). The cat with recessive agouti gene (a/a), however, is a non-tabby cat which means that it does not have any markings.

These cats can also be referred to as solid cats. There are also other cats with different sets of patterns other than a tabby.

These include tri-color cats, calico, tortoiseshell or torties, tuxedo, bicolor, and pointed markings. Of all these forms of patterns, the tabbys are special because it is the oldest pattern known to be present in cats.

It is a most popular pattern and people can easily spot tabby cats. The most notable characteristic of the tabby cat is the “M” marking that can be found at the forehead of the cat. There are variations of stories about this letter marking.

Some say that it came from the word “Mau” which means cat for the ancient Egyptians. These early civilizations of humans are believed to have identified cats as holy creatures.

Others also stated that the marking in the tabby cats’ foreheads came from Islam’s prophet Mohammed, who was fond of tabby cats. For Catholics, the “M” marking could also come from the Virgin Mary who blessed the cat that warmth the newborn Jesus at the manger.

size, appearance, and Marking

The size, appearance, and marking of cats can vary according to colors. There are variations of types of marking but the most common of all are red to cream, to black, blue, silver, brown, and tan. Some of these color markings are explained here as follows:

  • Orange – Tabby cats with orange markings are most common among male cats. The appearance of the orange marking can also come in different patterns such as in mackerel, classic pattern, a ticked pattern and a striped.
  • Grey – Grey markings in tabby cats are also common. The usual appearance comes in contrast with a lighter color of the coat, which makes it more prominent.
  • Ginger – Dark orange markings are often referred to as ginger markings.
  • Brown – The most usual way to identity a tabby cats is also through its brown markings. It can also help refer the cat as the classic tabby and classic patterns come along with it.
  • Black –Dark markings such as the black in color is also the most common among tabby cats. When it appears with an opposite coat color such as silver, black marking are highly visible.

Personality and temperament of tabby cats

Certain cat owners and lovers attest to the different personality and temperament of tabby cats. Tabbys are known for their fun and easy going nature, also contend that cats with a specific marking such as the orange tabby can have its distinct personality, too.

In general, tabby cats were considered to be friendlier and extremely loving. Some say Specific personalities can also come in a tabby with a specific color marking.

Orange tabbies were considered unique because its coat can be related to its gender since most of orange tabbies are male.

Orange and ginger tabbies also earned their reputation of being lazy and docile. These perceptions of such tabbies were further propagated through media presentations of cat characters such as Garfield and Morris, which are both orange tabbies.

There are more fun facts about tabby cats. Here is a list of fifteen fun facts known to be related with tabbies:

    1. Orange and black based tabby cats are often called “marmalade cats.”
    2. Morris is an orange tabby cat that starred as a commercial model for 9lives, a cat food product, for decades.
    3. Some believe that tabby cats are the most favorite cats of witches.
    4. tabby cats lifespan ranges from 10-15 years
    5. Tabby cats with stripes patterns are often called as “tigers” for obvious reasons.
    6. The word “tabby” has different origins. Some thinks it came from the Attabiy district in Baghdad, which largely sells patterned silks. In 14th century, the word “atabis” was also used in France to refer to these colored marked cats.
    7. Tabby cats are known to be more affectionate, even with other animals.
    8. Some of the common purebred cats with markings include Maine Coons, Abyssinians, Bengals, British and American Shorthairs.
    9. Professor and author Jim Willis also had his own version of telling the story behind the “M” marking of tabby cats. He wrote a story about these marked felines as part of his 2002 book, Pieces of My Heart — Writings Inspired By Animals and Nature.
    10. Garfield is also another famous orange tabby, which is also an American shorthair breed.
    11. Orange tabbies may develop little black freckles on their nose and mouth area, usually common after the first year or two of their lives.
    12. Tabby cats’ patterns can come in four common types: classic swirls, mackerel, ticked and spotted.
    13. How big do tabby cats get? A Main Coon Tabby cat can grow to up 10 to 16 inches in height and up to 8.2 for a male cat.
    14. Since most of the orange and ginger tabbies are males, it could also explain their mischievous behaviors.
    15. Aside from common tabby names such as Garfield, Morris, and Tiger, tabby cats can also be named as Marble, Spot, Tigger, and even Tabby.
    16. Tabby cats were considered as old as the Earth.
    17. Tabby cats are also favorite cats that can be dressed with costumes such as the Tiger for orange tabby or a pirate for a black tabby


17 thoughts on “Tabby Cats 101 – Colors, Lifespan, Personality, and Fun Facts

  1. AvatarKatherine M Reichert

    I have a dark black an grey Tabby cat, she is two years old now I rescued Nov 2016. Animal shelter. I love her, she likes eating meat loves Jimmy Dean sausage for breakfast. An chicken breast at night, what do they like to eat normal, cz she don’t like dry food….

  2. AvatarKerry Gray

    Do not feed her any human food its very bad for them.however i own tabby torti an calico..its recommended by bets to mix wet with dry .hlf can wet typically friskies followed by dry mix it together an your cat will eat an love you.also introduce treats .pounce treats or greenies

  3. AvatarMichael

    Hello. I have a question. I recently brought a kitten home to my daughter. She is a tabby cat with the most unusual coat. I used to help my sister rescue cats and have a lot of experience with them as we had up to 30 felines up for adoption at a time, yet I am stumped on this one.

    Her face is Tabby w/the usual white trim around the eyes and on her snout with a black nose. She has blueish grey eyes and its looking they are not going to change at this point (many kittens start with blueish greyish eyes that eventually turn to a brownish/yellowish color). Her front arms are Grey with black stripes, her tummy is white and spotted black. Now this is where I am a bit confused… The rest of her coat is predominantly black. The top of her head has two tan stripes that go down to the middle of the back of her neck then stop. Then start again on her back and go all the way down to her tail (looks like a chipmunk coat minus the white trim) then she has three beige/tan stripes on either side of her coat in the same exact spots on both sides along with a few smaller beige/tan stripes that seem to compliment the longer stripes only the smaller stripes are located higher up on the side of her coat and once again the patterns match perfectly on both sides of the cat.

    Simply put, I understand that a cats coat is not a cats breed ie. Tabby is not a breed. Although, a cats coat is an indication of a cats breed or specific breeds including hybrids have certain characteristics and/or markings on their coats, which I understand vary but only so much.

    My confusion stems from the fact that my tabby doesn’t seem to fall under any of the cat breeds or breed characteristics.

    She is a very cute cat and I would love to hear what others think. I have a lot of pics because she is so unique looking… I call her “Chipmunk cat” because she looks like a chipmunk!

    P.s. I have only seen such unique or different coats on ferel cats yet this cat came from litter number three from my friends domestic cat.

    If a picture will help I will send some.

  4. AvatarKay

    My daughters tabby gave birth to a beige and faun tabby with blue eyes he has dark tabby tail and ears what would those colours say about his genetics. He is very unusual and attractive frightened he could be stolen.

  5. AvatarBetty Turley

    I have two cats one is 3 yrs old and a tabby that is 7 mos old. the 7 mo gulps his food down and , now and then will upchuck his food within 2 hrs of eating. I have put his food in a egg carton, he doe not like this at all, i put it in a bowl with a golf ball, this kind of slows him down, i feed him a very small portion at a time. He was thrown out of a car window and I adopted him, I was wondering if the original owners did not feed him like they should have and this made him want to gulp his food down. How do I teach him to eat slowly, what do I do to help his upchucking??? I feed the older cat up on the counter to separate them. The two of them get along very well. I have also put him on a two day diet of chicken only Please Help. .

  6. AvatarWendy

    Chicken-only is a bad diet for a cat, even short-term. They must have taurine in their diets, either as a supplement or within the commercially-produced food. Sorry your guy is having eating issues, and what a tough way to start life, too. Consult a vet or vet call-in line, maybe they can help guide you?

  7. AvatarBethann Poole

    I have two cream and white tabbys they are very large cats, I obtained one of them from a neighbor who has a feral colony all cream and white tabbys one calico female. All the cream tabbys are exceptionally large cats. Is this a trait of this color of cats. I have an orange and white tabby no where near as large. So I’m wondering if beige tabbys are mostly large cats. Sounds silly I know but I have noticed a lot of personality and physical traits over the years that seem to be color specific. Am I just wrong or am I on to something.

  8. AvatarWanda

    We recently. adopted a black and grey tabby. He was declawed and neutered and is micro chipped. He is a little over a uear old…not quite twi yet. A lot of times…he will nip at us when we pick him up or by just being playful….not sure if it is because he has been declawed. How do we get him to stop nipping? Other than that…he is very friendly and playful….our little baby has a unique personality and we love him to pieces.

    1. AvatarJodie Mueller

      In my experience, there are two reasons a cat will nip–overstimulation and interactive response. I had a kitten who was a nipper. I remember waking up one morning to a pain on my nose, opening my eyes and seeing this kitten yelling a me. She didn’t like me sleeping in and bit the tip of my nose–at 8 weeks that was all she could manage. But she nipped at everything. My aunt had had a lot of cats and suggested “controlling her bite” by putting the tip of my finger in her mouth when she tried to bite. The first time I tried it, the little kitten pulled her head back and flattened her ears. What had happened! I had to repeat it at most another two times and then when she seemed ready to nip, all I had to do was point my finger at her, and she would take on this offended posture–head back, ears back–no nip. I would then stop pointing, her offense would last a second or two past that, and we’d go back to what we were doing before the impending nip. I’d have say it was about two to three years of sensing when she was getting too worked up to pause petting her and be prepared to point, when suddenly, instead of starting the nip point cycle, she licked my elbow instead. My initial response was surprise, but immediately I thought that I’d take this over nipping any day. I came to understand in that moment that it was very important to Mitzi to express herself through her mouth. It’s just how she communicated. She liked being groomed by other cats, she liked grooming other cats–she was always using her mouth in a tactile manner to express herself. It was a few more years before I wasn’t on guard with her for the occasional nip, but she turns 15 in two months, and unless she is pretty high on cat nip and we’ve been playing hide and seek on her cat tower or petting her in a manner that I’m aware works her up, I have no worries about her nipping. The behavior can be worked with, but it takes time and patience. Now I know you have an older cat–longer, sharper teeth means more is at stake. In the case of my little kitten, every time I controlled the bite, it resulted in no bite at all. Cats do love to take offense–and expressing appall at the violation of her control was always more important than finishing the nip. I can’t guarantee the same results–a cat is much quicker than a kitten–but I think it is important to look at the behavior from the perspective of what the cat is trying to get out of it.

      Do not jam your finger in the cat’s mouth–there’s no need to hurt the the cat. I barely made any contact at all with my cat when trying this technique.

  9. AvatarRobyn Combs

    We have a 2 year old female black tabby that we got as a kitten. She is not very loving or affectionate. She likes to be alone and when we try to hold her she meows and then growls and hisses and wants down. She just doesn’t seem to want to bond with anyone but me…..Mom. And that’s only for brief moments in the mornings occasionally. We try giving her treats, getting involved with interactive kitty toys, even putting her kitty bed in our common family area in a quiet corner….still nothing. We didn’t get a kitten 2 years ago to have it hide from us all the time and hate us. What do we do?

  10. AvatarTrisha Vela

    I SORELY MISS my deceased, GORGEOUS Tabby cat, Bella. She was SO unique and just so BEAUTIFUL. She passed away from kidney failure on November 11, 2017. I MISS my little bangle tiger. 🙁

  11. AvatarVera

    I have a tabby cat plus it has six toes on the front of its paws I believe it’s very rare plus it has the m and she is great and black

  12. AvatarVera

    I have a gray and black tabby cat it has a m on its forehead plus it has six toes in front it is a mixed cat the mother was Tabby and the father has six toes on each feet so my cat has 6 toes in front and it has the m on its forehead

  13. AvatarMarc

    I have a brown patch tabby that’s 17 yrs old, but lately has had some issues with her litter box she stays inside quite often without doing anything . What can help

  14. AvatarJodie

    I feel like no one is answering anyone’s questions. Mitzi, my beautiful little 6.5 lb classic brown tabby, hated being picked up and definitely preferred other cats to me early in her life. She was an 8 week old feral kitten when I adopted her. Her mother had been trapped at a used car dealership and I dropped in to see about the “free kittens” sign about 20 minutes before ASPCA showed up to collect the mixed litter and mama cat, who was a silver spotted tabby and in a rage over being caged had managed to hang by her claws from the top of the cat as she tried to scream and spit her way out.

    Mitzi did not like getting picked up. Her sister, Sonja, thought it was the best thing that ever happened to her–sh was born to not be feral. Mitzi took years of picking up. Initially I could only pick her up like a lamb–her chest would be against my left bicep and her body against my chest and my other arm would lock her in. And we’d try holding just past toleration. Once she settled–a pause in irritation or antsy-ness past the initial hold–I would let her go. Over several years she’d repeat, and then slowly, she stopped needing to be picked up and held in a certain way, and then slowly she started to want to be held. My experience was that I had to be willing to play the long game. Now she wants to be picked up–completely different cat at almost 15 than 1, 3 or even 6. I wish you luck in figuring out your cat–I’m convinced that if you are persistent in trying and find those moments where your cat can bear interaction a moment longer, then a moment longer, etc., then you will get to the relationship you want.


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