Considering tabby cats to be a feline breed can be a common misconception among cat owners. Calling a cat a "tabby" is a descriptive tag only. Tabby cats come in four basic patterns, which can then be classified into distinctive color groups, including brown, blue, red, cream or silver. A gray tabby is not an official category of tabby, so if your cat appears gray, look again to determine which colors are giving you this impression. A close examination of your cat or kitten will help you determine the correct terminology for your cat as well as how your pet should be registered.
Determining a Tabby Cat's Color
It takes careful inspection of your cat's coat to determine what type of tabby it might be. Examine the hairs on the tip of the tail to decide the tabby's main color. These hairs should appear solid in color for the full length of the hair. Determine if this shade is black, gray or orange (sometimes referred to as red). Also inspect the agouti hairs on your cat to determine its "ground color." Agouti hairs will be a lighter shade than that found at the tip of the tail. They form the main part of the feline's coat, except for the stripes. These hairs are variegated in color, containing bands of both light and dark color. Decide what the main color of these hairs is. It takes a combination of the cat's stripes and ground color to determine the tabby's official color.
Tabby Cat Color Types
A tabby cat's official color is determined through a combination of the cat's stripes and ground color. A cat with black stripes over brown or gray fur is called a "brown tabby." If your cat displays gray stripes on a buff or gray background, call it a "blue tabby." A "red tabby" is known for its orange stripes on cream fur. A feline with cream stripes on a darker cream ground color is known as a "cream tabby." Finally, a "silver tabby" will have black stripes on a pale background. The ground-color fur will have white roots. This category of tabby cats is unique, because it encompasses blue silver, red silver and cream silver cats.
Tabby Cat Patterns
In addition to color differences, you should understand your tabby's fur pattern. Most tabby cats can be recognized by a distinctive "M"-shaped stripe on the forehead. Beyond that, the patterns on the fur can differ dramatically from cat to cat. The "Mackerel Tabby" has dark stripes, just like the fish for which it is named. These cats have light chins and dark whiskers. The fur on the hind legs and tail will be dark, and the cat's feet are its darkest feature. The "Ticked Tabby" has a solid coat with darker dashes of fur across the background. The "Spotted Tabby" is also known as a "torbie." This cat's coat will appear to have spots, though they may just be incomplete stripes. The "Classic Tabby" has a coat of circular swirls which develop as a result of a recessive gene. The marks of this cat are distinctive and often held in high esteem by cat owners and breeders.
Many tabby cats display white patches, which should be considered when determining the feline's color and type. "And white" is added to the description of a tabby when the patches are large. If the white patch takes up the majority of the coat, the cat is "bicolor." A "harlequin" is a cat that is white with patches of tabby, and a "van" is white with patches of tabby on the head and tail. Small patches have their own terminology, such as "lockets" (on the chest), "mittens" (on the paws) or "buttons" (tiny spots).
About the Author
Joelle Dedalus began writing professionally for websites such as PugetSoundMagazine.com in 2009. She received her B.A. in English education at Iowa State University and is currently a M.F.A. candidate in creative nonfiction writing at Emerson College in Boston, where she is developing a manuscript on literary travel. Her areas of expertise include travel and literature, the outdoors and the arts.
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