What Characteristics Define a Mackerel Tabby Cat?

The Tabby cat is the most common type of cat in the world. Contrary to popular belief, the Tabby is not a breed of cat but rather any domestic cat with distinctive markings including stripes, spots, lines or swirls.

The patterns serve as camouflage as the cats are hunters of small prey. Tabby cats inherit their fur markings from either parent. Through breeding programs, many unique coat patterns have emerged.

Tabby cats are classified in four categories based on their markings. The Classic Tabby features marbled markings. The Ticked Tabby features distinct bands of colors. The Spotted Tabby features spots. The most common type of Tabby is the Mackerel. The Mackerel Tabby features stripes.

What exactly is a Mackerel Tabby cat?

Most Common

The Mackerel Tabby is the most commonly seen Tabby. Often seen in feral cats, the Mackerel’s striped coat is created by the dominant gene. The word “Tabby” comes from a seventeenth century French term for a wavy pattern in silk taffeta (“Tabis”). By the eighteenth century, the term Tabby was used to refer to cats with patterned coats.

Mackerel Tabby coats can be seen in many purebred cats. These include the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest Cat. The newest breed of Mackerel Tabby is the Toyager.


The Mackerel Tabby was named because its stripes resemble a fish skeleton. The Mackerel Tabby is defined as a cat that has dark vertical stripes that run through its coat along the spine and gently curve around the body.

Some stripes appear as bands which are called “necklaces”. The Mackerel features lines on its legs and a ringed tail. The pattern can be solid or broken. The Mackerel Tabby’s trademark is a distinct “M” pattern above its eyes.

Some owners joke that the “M” stands for Mischievous because Mackerel Tabbies tend to be outgoing, full of energy and slyly intelligent. Mackerel Tabbies resemble the wild tiger although the cats are entirely domestic. The Mackerel Tabby’s coat background is generally gray or orange.

Fun Facts

Mackerel Tabbies tend to be intelligent and playful. The cats are clever and entertaining. Even as kittens, Mackerel Tabbies will be curious and stubborn. The Mackerel pattern in Tabbies was the first and is the most common pattern.

The gene is dominant, and therefore, is the most common that appears in breeding programs. In lore, the Mackerel Tabby, not the black cat, was associated with witchcrafts. Witches supposedly kept a female Mackerel patterned Tabby which possessed magical powers.

This is why the cat has nine lives. The Mackerel Tabby is attached to many legends. One is the story that when Jesus was born the manger was so cold, his mother Mary tried to gather the animals to warm the infant.

Nothing worked until a Mackerel Tabby lay next to the baby. That is why there is an “M” for Mary on the Mackerel Tabby’s forehead. In ancient Egypt, cats were called “Mau”. Legend has it that the “M” marking is for “Mau”. Islamic legend notes that the “M” is for the prophet “Mohammad”.

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