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What is a Tabby Cat?

By Jayn Corral

The SPA is fortunate to have a lot of cats and kittens categorized as a “tabby”—Sassy, Zeus, Zoe, Zahara, Xel-Ha, Aluxe, Delphi, Tina, Carlotta, Elsa, Suerte, and Gypsy. Tabbies are ideally suited to become part of human families. They are cute, intelligent, loving, outgoing, affectionate, playful, and merry. They can be moody if they don’t get their way but generally are easygoing. Since their physical appearance varies, it made me wonder what makes each one a tabby.

I learned that “tabby” is not a breed, as some people think, but rather a term used to describe coat color pattern which features distinctive stripes, dots, lines, swirls, and usually an “M” on the forehead. Tabbies can be brown, black, gray, orange, and ochre. The agouti gene is responsible for making these patterns which serve cats well as built-in camouflage. It also causes each individual hair to have bands of different colors.

There are five different types: Classic tabbies sport bold swirls on their side like a marble cake; mackerel tabbies have narrow stripes in a vertical pattern down their sides, resembling a fish skeleton; spotted tabbies, obviously, have spots; ticked tabbies have less distinctive markings and more agouti hairs; patched or tortoiseshell tabbies have separate patches of brown, black, and orange.

Some authorities say the word “tabby” comes from a striped-patterned silk made in the Middle East; others say it comes from the French phrase “striped silk taffeta” with the root tabis, meaning a rich, watered silk.

Many famous people have made tabbies part of their family. For example, Winston Churchill’s family included Mickey and Tango. The town of Talkeetna, Alaska, has been thrilled with their mayor, Stubbs, who supposedly won as a write-in candidate 15 years ago. During his tenure, Stubbs—an orange tabby—never raised taxes.

Please help feed our tabbies and all our dogs and cats by contributing generously to our Pet Food Money Bank. Our goal is to raise 250,000 pesos (about US$14,500), 100 percent of which will be used for food. Some of our aging cats and dogs need food designed for older animals. Even younger animals have health conditions that require a unique diet. Animals in foster care usually are on special diets. These combined factors have caused our food costs to greatly increase. For more information, please see our website at or contact the SPA, Los Pinos 7, 152 6124.


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