Why Are Tabby Cats So Common? Detailed Answers!

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Tabby cats are not a specific cat breed. They are not even a particular color. The term ‘tabby’ actually refers to a coat pattern. Some research shows that 60-70% of the world’s population of domestic cats are tabby cats, but what makes them so common?

Tabby refers to a coat pattern, not a specific cat breed, but this misconception makes them seem more common. Many cat breeds can have Tabby coats, which is why most people have seen them. In addition, tabby coats are genetically dominant over solid coats.

There are four different tabby coat patterns, which come in various colors and can be found in multiple breeds. There are four potential reasons for tabby cats’ commonness: the misconception that tabby cats are a breed, ancient natural section, genetics, and selective breeding.

5 Types of Tabby Coat Patterns

The five types of tabby coat patterns are mackerel, classic, spotted, ticked, and orange. A common feature of all five tabby patterns is the M shape on the forehead.

Mackerel Tabby Coat Pattern

The mackeral tabby coat pattern is characterized by thin continuous or interrupted stripes of dark color running down the sides of the cat and perpendicular to the spine. The resemblance of this pattern to a fishbone is how it got its name. There are also thin bands of color around the chest, neck, legs, and tail.

Classic Tabby Coat Pattern

The classic tabby coat pattern is characterized by broader bands of dark color, which curve over the cat’s sides in whorls, usually ending in a bullseye or target dot. It also has three long, parallel stripes running down the back of the cat. The rings around the cat’s neck and tail resemble those of the mackerel tabby coat. The classic tabby coat is also known as blotched or marbled.

Spotted Tabby Coat Pattern

Most of the spotted tabby coat pattern displays spots of darker color as opposed to stripes. However, you often see interrupted bands on the legs and tail, and the necks of spotted tabby cats can still display the necklace rings.

Ticked Tabby Coat Pattern

Cats with ticked tabby coats will display no stripes or patterns on most of their body. Only their legs, tail, and face will have thin stripes or rings. Ticked tabby coats are also called agouti tabby coats.  

Orange Tabby Coat Pattern

The orange tabby coat is a variant that is orange and white.  In pop culture, you would have likely seen the orange tabby with Garfield.  Most orange tabbies are male, with a much smaller percentage being female.  Think 80/20 rule.  In this case, 80% of orange tabbies are male, while 20% are female. 

Why Are Tabby Cats So Popular?

Tabby cats are so popular because many different cat breeds can have a tabby pattern.  Additionally, tabby cats look cool and have a wild aesthetic to them, which people like. However, as mentioned earlier, tabby cats are not a unique breed of cat.

The misconception that tabby cats are a cat breed can make them seem more common than any one cat breed because multiple cat breeds can display tabby coats.

What Breeds of Cats Can Be Tabby?

Pedigree societies are very particular about what features cats must possess before they can be classified as a specific breed. So, for example, not all breeds are allowed to display the tabby coat pattern, but some are. Indeed, some can’t be pedigree if they don’t show a tabby pattern.

Some common cat breeds that have tabby coat patterns:

Pixie-bobAmerican BobtailAmerican Curl
American ShorthairAmerican WirehairBirman
Dragon LiCornish RexDevon Rex
Egyptian MauExotic ShorthairLaPerm
Maine CoonSavannahNorwegian Forest Cat
OcicatOriental ShorthairPersian
RagamuffinRagdollScottish Fold
Selkirk RexSiberianSingapura
SomaliTurkish AngoraTurkish Van
Common Cat Breeds With Tabby Coat Patterns

What’s So Special About Tabby Cats?

Tabby Cat

The patterns of tabby-coated cats improve their ability to be camouflaged in the natural environment. This fact may have influenced ancient natural selection.

Before the domestication of cats, their characteristics were subject to the influence of natural selection, just like all animals. Natural selection is the continuation of specific traits that ensure survival because the individual creatures displaying those features lived long enough to reproduce and pass the traits onto their offspring.

Wild cats with the ability to camouflage themselves were better able to hunt and hide from their predators and were more likely to survive and reproduce. In this way, the tabby pattern would have been passed down from generation to generation, influencing many cat breeds until cats became domesticated.

Is Tabby a Dominant Gene?

The tabby gene does not determine if a cat will have a tabby coat; it determines the pattern (mackerel, classic, spotted, or ticked). Whether this pattern will be displayed or not (whether a cat will have a tabby coat or not) is determined by the agouti gene.

Gene variations are called alleles, and a cat will inherit two alleles for each gene, one from its mother and one from its father. The type of allele determines the genotype, and the physical expression of the genotype is the phenotype.

Alleles can be dominant (will be expressed under most circumstances if present) and recessive (will only be displayed if the dominant allele is not present).

Initially, it was thought that the tabby coat was the result of only two genes: the agouti gene with two alleles and the tabby gene with three alleles. However, it now seems as if there is more than one tabby gene.

What Does the Agouti Gene Do?

This gene determines whether the coat will be tabby or solid. There are two alleles for the agouti gene: the dominant agouti allele (A), which produces banded coloring on individual hairs, and the recessive non-agouti allele (a), which produces solid coloring on individual hairs.

If one or both parents contribute the A allele, the cat will be a tabby. If both parents contribute the a allele, the cat will be a solid color.

Is Tabby a Dominant Gene?

So, the gene that makes cats tabby is dominant over the gene that makes cats a solid color. This is one of the reasons tabby cats are common: you are genetically more likely to get tabby cats (provided you are not breeding two aa cats)

Tabby Genes

This term “Tabby gene” is a little bit deceptive because, as mentioned, the tabby genes do not determine if a cat is a tabby; it determines what pattern of tabby coat a cat has. In addition, tabby genes are genotypically (in the genetic makeup) expressed in agouti and non-agouti cats but only phenotypically (observable physical makeup) expressed in agouti cats.

Breeding Tabby Cats

Tabby-coated cats are also probably more common because of selective breeding. Selective breeding is when people only breed cats who have the desired characteristic or set of characteristics.

Selective Breeding Cats

Selective breeding is practiced among pedigree cats who cannot be registered without specific characteristics. For example, breeds like the Abyssinian must be ticked to be considered pedigree, so people are more likely to only breed with cats that have a strong ticked phenotype.

Tabby is Not a Breed

Remember, tabby refers to a coat pattern, not a breed of cat or color. So, the tabby pattern can be expressed in various stunning colors, and people may selectively breed them for their appearance. In cat coat genetics, they talk about five main colors: black, brown, light brown, orange, and white. Different genes produce and act on these different colors to produce the variations you see in cats.

Why do Tabby Cats Have an M on Their Forehead?

There is lore around the M on the forehead of Tabby cats, but it seems like those are all old wives’ tales.  The truth is that the M on a tabby cat’s forehead, which is an excellent indicator that you are looking at a tabby cat, is due to genetics.  It is pretty remarkable that tabby cats (tabby is a coat pattern) in different cat breeds can have the M on their forehead. 

My cat Charlotte is a Domestic Shorthair that is also a Tabby, and she does have the M on her forehead. 

Why are Tabby Cats So Popular?

Tabby cats are popular for two main reasons.  The first reason is that the tabby coat pattern looks wild, which is quite cool looking.  The second reason is that many cat breeds can have the tabby coat pattern, which makes them visible to everyone around cats.  Therefore, tabby coat patterns are well-known.

Are Tabby Cats Common?

Tabby cats are pretty common.  Tabby cats are common because the genes are usually dominant, and the tabby coat pattern looks wild, which has a great aesthetic.

What’s So Special About Tabby Cats?

Some people will say that tabby cats have different personalities, but tabby is a coat pattern, not a cat breed.  So, the special sauce for tabby cats is that they look wild and cool.  This wild-looking coat pattern is likely to have provided fantastic camouflage for hunting historically for these cats.

At What Age is a Tabby Cat Full Grown?

Tabby is a coat pattern, so there is no specific age that a tabby cat will be full-grown.  A cat’s breed will determine when they are full-grown.  For example, it might take a Siberian cat five years to stop acting like a kitten.  It might take a Maine Coon three to five years to become fully grown. 

How Much Does a Tabby Cat Cost?

I adopted my tabby (a Domestic Shorthair cat) through the Humane Society in Indiana for $55.  There is a strong chance that your local animal shelter has a tabby cat just waiting to be adopted for a low cost.  Tabby cats need good homes to live in. 


Tabby cats are so-called because of their coat patterns, not their coloring or breed. Many breeds can have tabby coats, so tabby cats are more common than any one breed because they are not limited to the population of just one cat breed.

The tabby coat’s camouflaging nature may have promoted the natural selection of these cats in ancient times, meaning more domesticated cats come from tabby lines.

If you enjoyed this article, please check out a few more:

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Christopher Carlson

I have an Domestic Shorthair Tabby named Charlotte. She is full of energy when she isn't sleeping most of the day. I share what I learn about cats on this site.

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