What is a Tabby Cat? What Every Prospective Owner Should Know

a child gently pets a tan tabby cat perched on a counter top

Note: While the breeds in this collection tend to be tabby, individual pets will vary. Please consult the adoption organization for details on a specific pet.

The term “tabby cat” refers to the patterns and markings of a feline’s fur, rather than a specific breed. In fact, many different breeds can be tabbies; it all depends on their appearance.

If you’re seeking tabby cats for adoption, here’s what you should know about their coloring, personality traits, lifespan and more.

What is a Tabby Cat?

A tabby cat has certain patterns in their coat, and you’ll often find an M-shaped marking on their forehead. In addition to their range of colors, their fur may also have spots, stripes and whorls (circular patterns). 

The gene that determines tabby characteristics is found across all domestic cats. That may sound surprising, given that some cats appear to be one solid color. Look closely in the right light, however, and you’ll likely find subtle tabby patterns. 

Tabby Cat Appearance

There are a diversity of tabby cat colors and patterns. From black tabby cats to cream tabby cats; tabbies with stripes to tabbies with swirls; their appearance varies from one feline to the next.

When it comes to appearance, there are four broad categories of tabby patterns.

Classic Tabby 

Even if you’re unsure about the definition of a tabby cat, you may be familiar with the classic tabby pattern. These felines’ stripes are wide and typically curve to form whorls. They have three big stripes extending from the shoulders to the tail. (American Shorthair tabby cats often feature these characteristics.)

Mackerel Tabby Cat

Mackerel tabbies have long, narrow stripes running vertically along their sides. A common pattern, it’s said to resemble a fish skeleton (hence the name “mackerel”).

They also often have ringed stripes around their legs and tails, as well as stripes on their chest that can look like a necklace.

Spotted Tabby 

Spotted tabbies have distinct round spots that are usually darker than the rest of their fur. You may also notice a faint necklace line.

Ticked Tabby

It can be easy to miss the tabby characteristics of ticked tabbies. They often appear to lack any stripes or spots. However, while it can be hard to see, the hairs themselves are striped.

Patched Tabby 

A patched tabby is a calico or tortoiseshell cat with tabby markings. So, a calico tabby cat may have the distinct tricolor pattern of calicos in addition to tabby stripes and spots.

Types of Tabby Cats

Tabby cat breeds can include: 

Tabby Cat Personality 

A tabby cat’s personality depends on factors like an individual’s breed. So, you might expect a Bengal tabby cat to be energetic and playful, while a Birman tabby may be more laid back.

Socialization also plays a role. If your tabby is introduced to a variety of people and experiences as a kitten, they’re likely to be more outgoing as an older cat.

Adopting a Tabby Cat

Depending on availability in your area, finding tabby cats for adoption can be relatively easy, as many breeds have tabby patterns in their coat.

To get started, complete Petfinder’s pet adopter profile. This connects you to a large database of animal shelters and rescue organizations. (You can also view pictures of tabby cats that are available as you search.)

Frequently Asked Questions About Tabby Cats

How Long Do Tabby Cats Live? 

The tabby cat lifespan is generally between 13 to 17 years. This can vary depending on breed and individual health conditions. Where they spend time also matters. For example, if your ginger tabby cat is primarily an outdoor feline, their lifespan will likely be shorter. 

Are Tabby Cats Friendly? 

While all tabby cats are different, they have a general reputation for being friendly feline companions. After all, there probably wouldn’t be a National Tabby Cat Day (yes, that’s a thing) if they weren’t at least a little friendly.

If you want to adopt a social tabby, talk to the shelter or adoption agency about their behavior, and find out any information you can about their background.

How Big Do Tabby Cats Get?

Tabbies vary in size. A Maine Coone tabby cat will likely be big, given that breed’s typical size. Expect an American Curl tabby, on the other hand, to potentially be 10 pounds or less.

Are Tabby Cats Hypoallergenic? 

No, tabby cats are not hypoallergenic (no cat is completely hypoallergenic). However, there are some tabby breeds that produce lower levels of proteins that cause allergies in humans. 

Siberian, Siamese and Devon Rex are examples of tabbies that may be a good choice for people with cat allergies.

Do Tabby Cats Shed?

Depending on their breed, some tabbies will shed. Cats can shed all year, but you might see excess shedding during the spring and fall. Additionally, a longhaired tabby cat may actually shed less than a shorthair, but the additional fur can be more challenging to groom.

How Much is a Tabby Cat? 

It depends. If you’re, say, adopting an orange tabby cat from an animal shelter, you’ll likely pay an adoption fee that might include spaying or neutering and vaccinations, among other things. Usually, shelters try to keep the fees affordable.

Private breeders who sell purebred tabby cats often charge more than your local animal shelter.

So, if you’re wondering, “How much does a tabby cat cost?”, the price widely varies and is primarily based on whether you adopt from a rescue organization or breeder.

What Are Common Tabby Cat Colors? 

Whether it’s a gray tabby cat with black stripes or a ticked white tabby cat, felines with tabby patterns can have a variety of colors.

‘Tabby-cat orange’ evokes an image familiar to many people, perhaps because of one of the most famous fictional tabbies—Garfield.

What Are Some Tabby Cat Names? 

Because the appearance and personality of tabbies can widely vary, there are many names that may fit your feline companion. But if you’re looking for inspiration, here are some suggestions for tabby cat names: 

  • Stripes 
  • Ginger 
  • Tiger 
  • Sierra 
  • Tabby 
  • Chex 
  • Copper 
  • Fox 
  • Dusty 
  • Cosmo 
  • Echo 
  • Oakley 
  • Cookie 
  • Biscuit 
  • Ziggy

Explore more cat breeds and find your perfect feline companion with Petfinder. 

12 Cat or Kitten Breeds