Orange Tabby Cat

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orange tabby taking a nap
Image Credit: Lux Blue, Shutterstock

Tabbies are a common house cat, distinguishable by their trademark fur patterns and markings. While the orange tabby is the most recognizable and highly popular, almost any cat breed can be a tabby, as it is a combination of fur patterns and markings, while the coat color is based on genetics.

Interesting fact – all orange cats are tabbies, but not all tabby cats are orange. Read on to find out why this is!

What Are the Types of Tabby Cat? 

Roman Milavin, Shutterstock

There are five types of tabby cat: Classic, Mackerel, Spotted, Ticked, and Patched. All tabbies, regardless of their color, will have one of these five typical patterns. Let’s take a quick look into what each is and how to spot them!

Classic Tabby 

This pattern is the most common. They tend to have prominent, bold swirls that appear on their bodies, sometimes resembling blotches of color or a marble effect. There will usually be three broad lines running along their back, from their neck to their tail, as well as rings around their neck. Plus they tend to have broad bands around their legs and tails and little button-shaped blotches on their bellies.

Mackerel Tabby

This pattern resembles the coat of a tiger or, ironic enough, a mackerel fish. Mackerel tabby cats have a dark stripe the runs down the length of their spine with smaller stripes that fan outward, somewhat resembling a fish skeleton.

They have thin stripes around their legs and tails, sometimes resembling bracelets, white stripes on their chest can look a little like a necklace. The stripes across the belly can be solid or broken, and their bellies again have button-shaped marks.

The spotted tabby is different from the previous two as, rather than stripes, it tends to have spots that are oval or circular shaped, which can vary in size and resemble dark blotches.

When the spotted tabby cats have a more structured pattern of shapes running in straight lines, they can look quite similar to the mackerel tabby, especially as they often have similar markings on their necks and chests. However, some spotted tabby cats have a more random pattern of markings, which makes them look quite different.

The ticked tabby cat doesn’t tend to have such clear markings in terms of stripes or spots. Instead, it is the hairs themselves that are striped. The agouti gene means that the hairs are multi-colored with a flecked pattern of coloration.

They often don’t have distinguishable markings, but the fur itself has colored bands that point to it being a ticked tabby cat. The final type is the patched tabby cat. Rather than having prominent stripes or spots, these tabby cats have different patches across their fur.

It can have markings that are associated with any of the other types of tabby cats too, especially when it comes to distinctive markings on their heads or legs. These tabby cats are sometimes known as tortoiseshell tabbies, which is shortened to “torbie”, and is different from a non-tabby cat with tortoiseshell fur, which is known as a “tortie”.

orange tabby cat m-shape on forehead

What Does the “M” Mean on Tabby Cats’ Heads?

One of the most distinctive features of a tabby cat is the “M” shaped mark on the forehead. Religious legends claim that this is due to cats being petted on the head either by Muhammed in Islamic legends or by Mary in Christian legends.

Meanwhile, Egyptian legends suggest that it stood for “M”, the first letter of the Egyptian word for cat, “mau”, or some people have even tried to claim that it is because the tabby cat spent too long looking at a mouse hole. Of course, none of these are true, not least because the Roman alphabet came into use long after tabby cats were marked with the “M”.

It is a pattern that is a result of a DNA pattern. The most likely reason for how it developed is that it helped them to somewhat disguise their bright, distinctive eyes.

What Makes an Orange Tabby Cat Different?

So what makes an orange tabby cat different from the other tabby cats? Well, one of the main differentiators is that almost all orange tabby cats are male. That’s right. Due to the genetics of the chromosomes, the male orange tabby cats only need one of their parents to have the chromosome for it to be passed on, while the female tabby cats need both parents to pass it on.

For that reason, over 75% of orange tabby cats are male. Interestingly, this same genetic make-up works in reverse for the calico, or tri-colored tortoiseshell cats. Over 80% of calico cats are female, but whereas male calico cats tend to be sterile, this is not a problem for the minority of orange female tabby cats.

Another interesting marker of the orange tabby cat is its freckles. Yep, similarly to people with ginger hair, our orange tabby cat friends develop tiny black spot freckles on their skin. These freckles are most noticeable where the fur is thinnest, around their lips and noses. They start to show through once the tabby cat is one or two years old.

Are Orange Tabby Cats Friendly?

Orange tabby cats are super friendly. It’s one of the reasons why they have always made such popular pets for humans. They are comfortable being around people and tend to be quite sociable. They also tend to adapt quickly to new surroundings, which helps them to settle in with their new family. Plus, orange tabby cats love to play.

If your orange tabby cat tends to have to spend most of the day indoors, make sure you get it a large indoor cat tree, so that it can climb, scratch, and flex its muscles. This will help to keep it healthier as well as be more stimulating.

Are Orange Tabby Cats Healthy?

As we mentioned earlier, an orange tabby cat isn’t a breed of cat, so each one could inherit different health-related genes from their parents. That being said, it has been noticed that orange tabby cats do have a tendency to be a little greedy, and often tend towards obesity.

This could just be because they are so cute that their owners always give them that extra plate of sardines they’ve been eyeing up, but either way, it is something to look out for if you have an orange tabby cat.

What is the Life-Expectancy of Tabby Cats?

Again, this tends to depend on the specific breed of the orange tabby cat, as they are all different. However, they will tend to survive between 10 – 16 years, depending on their breed and any inherited issues from their parents. This is one of the reasons to get a purebred orange tabby cat, as then you will know far more about its genetic history and be better able to keep it healthy.

Remember that although cats can sometimes seem aloof, we still need to help them by feeding them quality food (in the right portion sizes), grooming them regularly, and cleaning their teeth a few times a week. By taking good care of your orange tabby cat, you should be able to help it to live a longer and healthier life.

Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

How Tabby Cats Help Us 

Tabby cats are super playful, but they also know how to chase out vermin in real life. The tabby cat has always been a friend to humans and helped us out in this way, still to this day. They also provide comfort and can help people with mental health conditions.

There was even the case of Bob the cat, who helped James Bowen in London, who was currently struggling with homelessness and heroin addiction, to become clean and working again.

Famous Orange Tabby Cats 

There is no doubt that one of the most famous cats is Garfield. His creator, the author Jim Davis, said “In my head, the sky is blue, the grass is green and cats are orange.” And it turns out, he’s not alone. Here are a few other notably orange cat characters!

  • Thomas O’Malley from The Aristocats
  • Puss in Boots from Shrek (and other fairy tales)
  • The Cat and the Fiddle by Dick Whittington
  • Oliver from Disney’s Oliver and Company
  • Orangey from Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Crookshanks in the Harry Potter series

And that’s not to mention real-life orange tabby cats, such as Winston Churchill’s Tango, the aforementioned Bob, and the cat depicted by Pablo Picasso in Cat Eating a Bird.


You likely have already have encountered several orange tabby cats in your life, perhaps you even own one or two right now. We are sure that they will be cuddly, warm, and social little creatures who enjoy having fun, and perhaps overeating a little. They are one of the most popular cats and for good reason. Do you think there are any other typical traits of orange tabby cats that we missed?

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Feature Image Credit: Lux Blue, Shutterstock

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