CaseyAlthough the tabby cat may not be an unusual sight, it is indeed as special as the individual feline sporting the colours itself! The word has fascinating roots, deriving from the French, Tabus,which in turn comes from the Latin, attar. Both words refer to their original meaning, which hails from very far away to the Attabyah section of Bagdad where it signifies a type of striped silk. Although no one know exactly when, at some time the word was used to signify the dots and swirling patterns that are so prevalent on a cat’s coat.

Whatever the origins of the word, the tabby cat is often mistaken for a breed, and to confuse the matter a bit further, its colouration is found both in the mongrel population and in many known cat breeds. In fact, it is most interesting to note that the tabby colouration pattern is believed to be the original basic design on the coats of cats that roamed the ancient world.

Until the 1500s, the spotted tabby with its wild ancestral markings of stripes and spots was the dominant tabby type. At this time, a variant known as the mackerel appeared, which featured a striped coat. When cats are allowed to breed randomly, the result is an almost standardized colouration of brown mackerel tabby with green eyes.

There are three classic and distinct tabby types, a fourth spotted version and a fifth patched something other, which is still under genetic investigation. The most recognizable is the brown tabby in the United States and the black tabby in the United Kingdom. Technically speaking, this is a black cat with an irregular striped pattern (agouti) gene that causes the fur to break into designs of black and brown. Any cat colour, including tortoiseshell, can appear in a tabby pattern, and tortoiseshell tabbies are usually called “torties.”

GibbsThe first type, which is the most common, produces the mackerel striped tabby (stripes look like the skin of a mackerel fish and may break up into bars or spots). A second type is known as Abyssinian ticked or non-patterned agouti tabby, which results in a salt and pepper type of patterning. The third category is the classic pattern, which is distinguished by a blotchy type of design on the head of the cat, but the body markings are usually whorled and swirled with thicker stripes that create what are known as “butterfly patterns” on the shoulders. The fourth variation involves spots and the fifth includes tabby as part of another basic colour scheme. (For example, a patched tabby may also be a calico or tortoiseshell.)

The gene for the tabby pattern can be found in all domestic cats. Many carry a distinct “M” marking on their foreheads, the true indicator of the pattern, albeit one could logically argue that the appropriate letter really should be a “T.” All tabby cats have either a brick red or rose-coloured nose or light-coloured areas around the eyes.

Do you own a tabby cat? Or does it own you? Whatever the case, tabbies are very special cats indeed.

In Words,

Marjorie Dorfman (M.Dee Dubroff)

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Top photo: Casey

Bottom photo: Gibbs  - both classic mackerel tabbies 


A Morning Kiss

A morning kiss, a discreet touch of his nose landing somewhere on the middle of my face.
Because his long white whiskers tickled, I began every day laughing.

Janet F Faure

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