When (and how) Tabby Cats Get Their Stripes – FAQcats.com

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One of the most fascinating things about tabby cats is their striped coat. The tabby coat pattern is so unique compared to other types of cats. I decided to do some research to find out when and how tabby cats get their stripes.

So how do tabby cats get their stripes? Tabby cats get their stripes thanks to their genetic makeup. The tabby gene comes from the African wild cat which also has the striped coat pattern. Most domestic cats are tabby and mutations can cause changes in their appearance. This results in spotted, mackerel, spotted and tick marks.

It’s quite interesting how tabby cats have developed their striping patterns over the years. We’ll get into that next and talk about the different types of tabby patterns you can expect to see in cats today.

How do tabby cats get their stripes

Where do tabby cats come from?

There is a lot to learn about tabby cats when it comes to their origin. Tabby cat genes can be traced back 9,000 years to the African wild cat. The cat we know today is a direct descendant of the African wildcat. They feature many of the same unique stripes and spots throughout their coat.

The African wildcat uses its coat to survive and hide. Much of the same behavioral traits and physical appearances of coat and stripes are found directly in domestic tabby cats. DNA research has also linked the African wildcat to today’s domestic tabby cats.

There are 3 distinct genes that are responsible for most tabby patterns. The classic tabby (called mackerel) is the base gene. For this pattern to manifest, the cat must have two recessive mc genes. Additionally, there are two modifiers that affect the cat’s tabby coat type.

The type of gene the cat has will determine the type of pattern seen. For example, the Mc gene is responsible for the spotted tabby pattern. It’s a dominant gene, which is why it can break through the mackerel’s basic pattern. The ticked gene also has this effect, masking other tabby patterns that might be present on the cat.

Ultimately, the agouti gene that dictates whether the pattern is visible or not. It contains two alleles which are responsible for the different forms of the gene. The agouti gene is commonly written A/a where the uppercase A represents the dominant gene and the lowercase represents the recessive gene. If a cat were to have two a/a genes, then the coat would result in a solid with no tabby pattern at all.

The agouti alleles control the amount of black pigment visible in the cat’s coat. This is why it is possible to see tabby patterns in different colors. Below is a list of common tabby pattern colors.

  • Brown (dark spots/stripes and stripes on lighter fur)
  • Red (dark red spots/stripes on lighter fur)
  • Silver (dark gray spots/stripes)
  • Cream
  • Blue

There are two genes at play here; a dominant gene and a recessive gene. The combination of these determines the genes whose pattern variation is seen in the tabby coat.

Anything beyond the classic mackerel and tabby patterns is considered to be affected by a modifier. Of the modifiers, the ticked tabby cat has the most dominance. The ticked tabby cat has the most decomposed pattern of all.

Types of tabby cats

Now that you know a little more about how the genetics of tabby cats can determine their stripes and patterns, it’s time to dive deeper into each pattern. Generally speaking, there are 4 main types of tabby cats. Below is a list of each tabby cat pattern along with a detailed description of each.

Tiger mackerel

The tabby mackerel pattern is most popular among domestic short-haired cats. It’s easy to tell this pattern apart from the rest because of the way the stripes line the cat’s body. Typically, there is a thick strip that lines the entire back of the cat.

From there, the patterns run vertically along the sides of the cat. Each of the lines is uniform with each other. There are usually no stripes on the legs or paw area. The tail is also lined with vertical stripes.

Sometimes the scratches can be found on the stomach area or even broken in other places. The stripes also reach the cat’s cheeks and near the M-pattern commonly found on most tabby cats. Compared to the classic tabby, the lines are much narrower and more defined.

Spotted tabby (classic)

A spotted tabby pattern (also called classic) occurs when the cat has random outbreaks of stripes and shaped patterns on its body. For most tabby cats, this appears as a series of swirls through the body.

Patterns can run vertically, diagonally, horizontally and be located anywhere on the chat. This includes the legs, belly, back, tail and head of the cat. The dark striped line always runs along the back of the cat and the M is always present on the forehead.

Breeds most associated with the classic/spotted pattern include the American Shorthair, Bengal, Birman, and Siamese.

Striped cat

Ticked tabby cats are some of the most difficult to tell apart because they don’t look like other tabby cats. Abyssinian and Moggie breeds are known to carry this particular tabby pattern. The presence of the tabby pattern is not really visible on the body itself.

Instead, there are individual agouti hairs that carry the black pigment that forms stripes here and there. Agouti hairs have light and dark bands. This contrast is what creates the pattern although it is hard to see. Moggie tabby cats, for example, show off the pattern on their paws, tail, nape, and head.

Other cat breeds known to carry the ticked pattern include Somali, Sinapura, and Burmilla cats.

Spotted tabby cat

The spotted tabby pattern is found more on exotic cat breeds. Unlike other tabby patterns which feature patterned stripes and swirls, the spotted pattern is very different.

The spots are small and can be located all over the cat’s body. The pattern still follows much of what the mackerel tabby has, except the lines are broken up into small pieces that result in staining. The paw areas are usually closer together than the rest of the cat’s body.

How to know if your cat is tabby

Although the tabby coat pattern is present in the majority of domestic cats, it can be difficult to tell whether your cat is tabby or not. Here are some ways to tell if your cat is tabby.

  • Look for the M on the forehead
  • Highlight the agouti hairs
  • Look for the striped line on the cat’s back
  • Look for spotted patterns
  • Identify certain tabby colors

Most tabby cats feature the famous M hair pattern on their forehead. This is usually the quickest way to identify if a cat is a tabby cat. Also be sure to look for the light markings along the sides of their faces if the M isn’t well defined.

With some tabby cats that don’t display the pattern well on their body, you’ll have to choose agouti hair. This hair is individually styled and not immediately obvious. A typical agouti hair will have alternating dark and light coloring.

Most tabby cats have a thick striped pattern running down their spine. From there, the pattern of stripes or spots usually flows vertically down the sides of the cat. Also try to emphasize spotted patterns or unbroken patterns. In general, most tabby cats have certain colors that make them easy to spot.

The tabby pattern will usually contrast with the fur color of the coat. For example, some ticked tabby cats exhibit both translucent coat and translucent hair. Holding your cat under certain light can help make these coats more visible to the naked eye.

Do tabby kitten markings change?

Over time, a young tabby kitten will see its markings change. Some actually display the tabby pattern much less as they age. In this case, they may not actually be tabby cats, and these light markings are simply phantom markings. It is also an indicator that the tabby gene is indeed part of your cat, but it is not the dominant gene.

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