5 Facts About The Gray Tabby Cat

Have a gray tabby cat in your life or considering adopting one? We look at some of the fun facts associated with gray tabbies.

A gray tabby cat with green eyes close up.
A gray tabby cat with green eyes close up. Photography © MassimoCattaneo | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Of all the cats in the world of felines, the gray tabby cat is arguably one of the best-dressed kitties around. Gray tabbies sport that striking “M” on their foreheads like crowns. Remember — tabby is not a breed of cat, it’s a reference to a most recognizable coat pattern. The striped tabby motif appears on almost every type of cat from the ubiquitous Domestic Shorthair to the rarer Scottish Fold. Let’s learn some fun facts about the gray tabby cat!

A gray tabby cat with attitude close up.
Is he a gray — or grey — tabby cat? Photography © bebuntoon | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

1. Two Spellings and 50-Plus Shades of Gray

Is it gray tabby cat or grey tabby cat? According to Merriam-Webster, both spellings are correct for these two adjectives. Gray is the more popular spelling in the United States while grey is more prevalent in England. One mark of distinction for this fabulous feline is that Valspar has an interior paint color called Tabby Cat Gray! Gray is sometimes also referred to as blue — but let’s not split hairs.

2. Eye Colors

A gray tabby cat might have a variety of eye colors. And tabbies are also known to have brick red or gray pads on their paws. Genetics determine those tabby nose colors … but cat parents should know that cat noses can change color!

3. The Genes Behind a Gray Tabby Cat

Male cats get their coloring from their mother’s genes while female cats get a gene from each of their parents. Unlike orange tabby cats, gray tabbies can be found in both sexes equally. Tabby is considered a dominant trait, so it’s not surprising that the stripy tabby pattern is not only featured across breeds but also many members of community cat colonies boast the striking design.

The tabby stripes are also believed to be the best for camouflage. This strategic coat helped Felis catus survive on their own before becoming indispensable to the humble human. In fact, many of our house cat’s closest wild relatives hew to their tabby patterns. Lynx, the sand cat, Pallas’s cat and the Scottish wild cat are just a few whose appearance looks much like our domestic cat … but they’re best suited to hunt real prey, not catnip toys. And tabby is the coat of the “first” domesticated cats — the African wild cat, the Asiatic wild cat and the European wild cat. So, it only seems fitting that the tabby pattern is linked to the same genetics that give cheetahs their spots!

Timmy the gray tabby cat.
Timmy the gray tabby cat. Photography by Denise LeBeau.

4. A Gray Tabby Cat Makes a Good Housemate

As tabby patterns are prevalent across feline breeds, many community cats (a.k.a. feral cats) boast tabby coats. While there are some true feral felines who prefer to eschew human contact, many youngsters are friendlier to people. Or they simply come around because yummy food and a chin scratch feels pretty good. Partnerships between community cat caregivers and local shelters help save more cats’ lives. Through these partnerships, kittens get adopted into loving homes. Especially tabbies! I got to meet a sweet gray tabby cat named Timmy who represents all that’s wonderful about these partnerships and the stripy, tiny ghost tigers they rescue.

Timmy was accepted into the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s kitten program through a community cat caregiver. Its kitten room has a range of very friendly to extremely shy residents. Packing special salmon treats, I went into the room to see who could be plied with delicious goodies. Some kittens climbed right on my lap. Others would only accept a treat if it was tossed a safe distance away. But then there was Timmy, a gray tabby cat.

On his own, Timothy came up to my hand and sniffed cautiously. Within 30 seconds he was cheek rubbing my fingers with gusto. Then the unabashed kitty was head butting me like we were old friends. The Timster didn’t take any treats but continued to display affectionate behavior toward me, this invading stranger! Of the dozen or so kittens, Timmy was by far the friendliest and the only feline solely interested in human contact, and uninterested in soliciting fishy rewards. He’s not the first gray tabby cat that I’ve had the pleasure of playing with — I’d say they are among the most warm and loving cats around.

5. The Bottom Line on Gray Tabbies

Whether they’re from purebred origins or plucked off the streets, on the hunt for food or on the hunt for new friends, gray tabby cats have personalities that are as distinctive as their coats. They’re beautiful creatures on the outside and unique souls on the inside. It’s hard not to fall for a gray tabby cat. Adopting one, or two, gray tabbies is a surefire way to ensure there is a lot of love in your future.

Tell us: Do you have a gray tabby? What is he or she like?

Featured photograph: MassimoCattaneo | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Read Next: 8 Questions About Calico Cats — Answered

76 thoughts on “5 Facts About The Gray Tabby Cat”

  1. I have 3 grey tabbies and each one of them has their own unique personality, which is adorable! They are the BEST! Spoiled rotten, but in a really endearing way. They all 3 enjoy hanging out with their human after a long day at work so they really do help my stress level.

  2. My gray tabby, Dee, was on the cat tree one day and I couldn't tell if her eyes were closed or not. I saw open eyes. But upon closer examination, her eyes were closed. The vertical dark bars above her eyes, surrounded by lighter color (everyone calls it part of the "M" pattern) looked like two eyes. Nothing I've ever read has recognized this as camouflaged eyes, but I truly believe this is a defense coloring so a feline with this pattern can have their eyes closed (e.g. napping( but appear that they are awake to the casual viewer (or predator).

  3. I have Fabulous Fred the Amazing gray tabby. (I adopted him and his brother Taz and sister Tessie when they were kittens left in a parking lot.) Five years later Fred is the most brilliant cat I have ever had. He’s loving and incredibly smart. He has me totally trained.

  4. We adopted Hulk (aka Hunk) from my local humane society.
    We were attracted to him because he growled whenever someone strange came near him. He is a large 18 pounds.
    A very vocal boy and his tabby pattern is kind of unique, he has spots.
    I sometimes call him a DIVA with that "tude" he has. He has to be the boss.
    He is my boy even though he is not a lap cap and gets affection on his terms. He likes to play hide and seek!

  5. My yuri bean is a silver tabby and I landed on this site searching for answers as to why she is strikingly small for her age, but I tend to agree intensely regarding her wild and loving personality! My girl is so talkative and incredibly sweet :)

  6. I have a 7 year old gray tabby male named Buster. Buster has been by far the most loving, intelligent, and vocal cat I have ever had. He stays in the yard and comes when he's called and is great with my kids. He sleeps right next to me cuddling and purring every night.

  7. I'm reading your story and I wanted to reach out mainly to help maybe put your mind at ease , I have a beautiful silver tabby boy ,named Charlie. He was a tiny kitten when I bought him last year at 12 weeks old and is a gorgeous big 1 year old now.(he turned 1 in March) He boasts beautiful markings and is very vocal!! He loves his 'tower' which is a tall scratch post with a little den and round sort seat at top which is a little small for him now but he loves squeezing in the small seat thing and curls up asleep, even though he has radiator bed (which he never uses!) And beds and plenty of toys ( his favourites are chasing laser light and run along toys. ) he is very active and has his daily burst of 'madness' chasing up and down like a mentalist for an half hour. He is fed on whiskas gravy Tins and sainsburys nutrional tins also he always has whiskas nugget dry biscuits in a separate bowl. I give him the occasional treats and as a special meal tuna or chicken from time to time . Due to living on the top floor in a block of flats he is an indoor cat although I have tried to walk him on a lead he isn't to keen. My reason to reply to you though is because although Charlie is soooooo affectionate and loving with me , following me around the whole flat , allows me to pick him up and places his paws either side of my shoulders clinging to me like he's hugging me and brushing his nose on mine like a kiss and purrs very loud . When I sit down he climbs all over me marching and purring and lovessssss being smoothed , however when anyone comes round even regularly he runs for his life literally climbs the wall in fear and hides away right inside behind the upper part of my sofa and will jump or run away at the slightest noise, but he has been loved and cared fir his his whole life and loves Me to bits but acts like he has been mistreated round other people (obviously as I said he is spoilt and loved dearly , I think it's just in his nature because it is usually just me and him and its quietish!) I've also (with many treats) taught Charlie to lay down by clicking my fingers and pointing down while gently saying down . He runs to the door to greet me , he loves be groomed/brushed and being strokes he is very demanding when being stroked and wants both hands to smooth him! He loves when I say 'you alright ' in a silly voice and also 'yes little boy !' He is quite clumsy and extremely nosey he thinks he has to 'help out' with everything. U have to be careful and watch what could accidentally is on the floor because he can be a but dopey and I found him eating a hairband one time and was too late it was swallowed. He can jump very high . He has been litter trained since I got him and he seems to have 3 different types of meows lol 1) is his softly softly I'm very cute please mummy smooth me or let me in whatever room your in like the bathroom 2) his strange sounded im bored meows and 3) his annoyed high pitched moan meow … but I wouldn't change a thing about him!

    1. Holly, I just finished reading your comments about you're tabby cat; I too have a male abby~grey cat, whose behavior can seem odd, but never harmful. I inherited him when my adult daughter was packed & her klan of pets in vehicle, ready to roll on down to Florida (I do not know why(?) ) So her lovely dog, 2cats, 1 daughter & herself all secure~in vehicle & saying our goodbyes~ when she said " ok mom we will be in or near Fla. by 6pm… and as if on cue, Loki was out the window & gone… as if he knew Florida was far away (we're in New England) & he wanted NO PART OF IT❗
      So I spent the next 8 days going to her, now empty, house trying to lure Loki to come in & eat. It was winter & snowing: so I thought I'd put food out to lure him BUT I didn't want racoons + coming in for it🤨. In brief = I'd hang around, move food further inside the small window that I knew he could access. Eight days, I was heartbroken. As I drove there it dawned on me, he hears me coming in that back door so he has time to run. So I quietly parked in front, went inside, THERE HE WAS✨ & softly spoke " don't leave.. here I have this (can of good cat food) he cautiously waited, then ate & I moved away from him & closed window. He was fine after that but still today, he is cautious of everyone else… always runs to hide when there's noise. In 3+ yrs I've noticed he is hesitating at some noises, as if learning. I talk to him that it's ok If it is, because I'd rather he hide to sooth himself, than stress out with worry. But he has several behaviors I've not seen in my previous cat family. He has a way of rolling his body~like somersaults, for attn. I can only brush him if he's in mood. He will come when I call him-if he thinks it safe.
      My previous cat was 18yo, housecat mostly, occasionally yard cat. I've always been unsettled about (I'm acutely aware of age & health) his last day, he just left & by night I was very upset because I was afraid of what it meant. I asked all neighbors that I knew, cared for him, no sight of him. I still miss him & cry.

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