What is a Pattern on a Cat?

Everyone has heard the word “tabby.” Tabby is a pattern, not a color, and not a breed. All tabby cats will have necklaces on their necks, bars on their legs, rings on their tail, plus usually have spots on their tummies, too. But the “tabby” pattern on the body itself can be one of four different patterns. Sometimes, the tabby pattern is combined with white to make a very striking color effect.

What makes the pattern on the cat a tabby pattern? If you look closely at the fur on a cat with a tabby pattern, you’ll see that there are bands of color on each individual hair. These bands of color, called “agouti”, alternate bands of a light color and a dark color.

Let’s take a look at the four different tabby patterns:

Classic Tabby

The Classic Tabby pattern can easily be noticed because the cat will have swirls and a circle on its side. It also has a “butterfly” pattern across its shoulders which lead into thick lines down the spine. This cat is a Silver Classic Tabby American Shorthair.

Mackerel Tabby

The Mackerel Tabby pattern is defined by stripes instead of swirls. This pattern does not have a “butterfly”, but it does have thinner spine lines than a Classic Tabby. The solid stripes on the body go from the spine to the belly. This cat is a Brown Mackerel Tabby Maine Coon Cat.

Spotted Tabby

The Spotted Tabby pattern has spots instead of lines. The spine lines will be spotted also. This cat is a Silver Spotted Tabby American Curl Shorthair.

Ticked Tabby

The Ticked Tabby pattern is a little more complex in that each hair shaft has “bands” of light and dark color on it. Overall, you will see an evenness to the pattern and the cat will not obviously look like a “normal” tabby would. If you look closely, you can see the ticking on this cat. This cat is an Ebony Silver Ticked Tabby Oriental Longhair.

Patched Tabby

All of the tabby patterns above can also be combined with red and/or cream to create a Patched Tabby. The patched tabby will have splotches of red, or sometimes cream, scattered throughout the tabby pattern. It’s easy to see the patching on the pattern of this cat. This is a Brown Patched Classic Tabby and White Scottish Fold Longhair.

One thing all tabbies have....

All tabby cats, regardless of the tabby pattern, will have an “M” on their forehead.