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Tabby Cat: Facts, Origin & History (With Pictures)

Written by: Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Last Updated on May 31, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

tabby cat sitting on the jute wicker rug

Tabby Cat: Facts, Origin & History (With Pictures)

Even though tabby cats are well-known and popular throughout the United States and in other parts of the world, many people have questions like, “Are tabby cats territorial?” and “Are tabby cats mean?”, due to their hardened and street-wise reputation.

Since “tabby” is not a breed and is instead simply a coat pattern (that can be displayed on a wide variety of breeds), they can’t all be put into one stereotypical box and labeled as a specific type of cat. That said, there are similarities that tabby cats share and that all cat lovers should know about.


Breed Overview


9 – 16 inches


8 – 12+ pounds


12 – 15 years


Gray, orange, brown, black, white (usually a combination of various colors)

Suitable for:

Families with kids, adult families, seniors, houses, apartments


Smart, outgoing, shy, adventurous, independent, sociable, active, laid-back, vocal

Tabbies come in various colors, shapes, and sizes. They can also have a variety of temperaments depending on things like their heritage, upbringing, and natural instincts. Some tabby cats are striped, while others display spotted or swirled patterns. What’s most interesting about tabby cats is their temperament and personality because you never know exactly what you’re going to get until your kitty is fully grown and set in their ways.

Tabby Cat Characteristics

A high-energy cat needs a lot of physical and mental stimulation to keep healthy and happy, while a low-energy cat needs minimal physical activity, but still needs mental stimulation. When choosing a cat, It’s important to ensure their energy levels match your lifestyle.
Cats that are easy-to-train are more willing and skilled at quickly learning prompts and actions with minimal training. Harder-to-train cats are usually more stubborn or aloof and require a bit more patience and practice.
Certain cat breeds are more prone to various genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every cat in those breeds will have these issues, but they do have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Due to their size or potential genetic health issues of a specific breed, some cats have shorter lifespans than others. Proper nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, and hygiene also play an important role in your cat’s lifespan and quality of life.
Some cat breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other cats and animals. Cats that are more social have a tendency to rub up on strangers for scratches or jump on laps for cuddles, while cats that are less social shy away, hide, are more cautious, and even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed or gender, it’s important to socialize your cat and expose them to many different situations.

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The Earliest Records of Tabby Cats in History

The tabby cat came into existence sometime in the Middle Ages (during the Ottoman Empire). However, this type of coat did not become common or popular until at least the 18th century. It’s thought that up to about 80% of cats living in today’s world have tabby markings! Tabbies are known for maintaining the innate instinct to rid their homes of vermin and other pests.

tabby cats sitting on windowsill
Image Credit: Okssi, Shutterstock

How Tabby Cats Gained Popularity

Tabby cats gained popularity during the 18th century when they were used to keep ships and households free of rats and other disease-carrying pests. Their success at doing so made them companions that humans relied upon to keep stored food safe, to help ensure health, and to provide companionship. Tabby cats are typically independent yet social, curious yet cautious, and protective overall.

Formal Recognition of the Tabby Cat

Since tabby cats are not categorized by breed but instead by coat color and pattern, there is no formal recognition for them as a whole. Depending on their breed, they may be formally recognized by organizations like the Cat Fanciers’ Association. Breeds that can have tabby coats and that are recognized by the Cat Fanciers’ Association include:

  • Maine Coon
  • Birman
  • Bengal
  • Persian
  • American Shorthair

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Top 3 Unique Facts About Tabby Cats

1. Personality and Temperament Can Vary Widely

Since tabby cats can be one of many different cat breeds, each feline’s temperament and personality can range from mild to wild. For example, tabby Maine Coons tend to be adaptable, sociable, good-natured, and good with kids. Abyssinian cats are usually extremely active and can be quite mischievous. American Shorthairs are usually shy and attention seeking.

2. They Display Multiple Coat Patterns

Tabby cats can have one of a variety of different coat patterns with unique looks and markings.

Four are extremely common:
  • Classic: This coat type features whirls and blotches of black, gray, and white hair that work together to create what looks like a “target” on the cat’s sides.
  • Mackerel: With rings around the legs and tail, Mackerel tabbies tend to have stripes around the entire body that may be solid or broken.
  • Spotted: No stripes or bands are found on this type of coat. Instead, it features spotted markings that can be any size or shape.
  • Patched: As the name suggests, this coat type features patches of colors, usually gray or brown, that are splattered across the cat’s body.

Despite this variety, all tabby cats will have an “M” shape on their foreheads. It can be more or less prominent, depending on the individual cat, but it’s always there!

3. Almost All Tabbies Are Pest-Control Specialists

Although tabby cats are made up of many different breeds, they all seem to have a penchant for hunting mice, rats, and other pests like cockroaches and spiders. They are not shy about using their hunting skills, which can be helpful to any homeowner or apartment renter.

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Does the Tabby Cat Make a Good Pet?

Absolutely! Tabby cats can make excellent pets for various reasons. Many are known for their patience with children, curiosity, loyalty, and ability to handle various social situations. They can also get along with other cats and pets living in their household. Of course, each cat is different!

Are Tabby Cats Mean?

No, most aren’t. There is always an exception to the rule, but for the most part, tabby cats are laidback pets that can get along well in family environments of all kinds.


Tabby is a coat pattern that can appear among a wide variety of cat breeds. So, there is sure to be a tabby cat out there that encompasses the personality and temperament that you are looking for in a feline companion.

Featured Image Credit: evrymmnt, Shutterstock

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