What Exactly is a White Tabby Cat?

White Tabby

Cats are interesting pets. Many of them even look interesting, with the only thing that matches their varying personalities being the many combinations of colors that you have the opportunity to enjoy. This was never more prevalent than in the case of the tabby cat. A term used to denote the type of coat rather than the breed in question, the tabby comes in many variations and is often quite unique in appearance in its own right. In fact, you sometimes have the opportunity to enjoy some truly rare combinations. One that people frequently ask about is the the white tabby cat.

Understanding the Tabby Cat

Before you can gain a more thorough understanding of a white tabby, you have to first understand what is meant when someone refers to a cat as a tabby cat in general. It’s important to remember that again, it doesn’t have anything to do with breeding. In fact, cats of various breeds can be called tabbies because it’s all about the type of coat that they have as opposed to anything else. By definition, a tabby is a cat that has horizontal stripes on the body and an “M” pattern on the top of the head. As a result, virtually any type of cat can in theory be a tabby cat. The question is, how do you have a white tabby cat if the very definition of a tabby requires it to have a marking on its head and you are talking about a cat that is entirely white? Is it even possible for such a thing to actually exist? As is the case with so many other things in the animal kingdom, the answer isn’t as simple as you might think it would be.

Types of Tabby Cats

According to most experts, there are roughly nine different types of tabby cats in existence which are fully recognized. None of them involve a white tabby. In fact, the closest that you might come is the silver tabby, which is considered to be one of the most rare types of tabby cats in existence. On the other hand, you also have what is known as the calico tabby, a cat which definitely has plenty of white on its coat.

That said, there’s nothing about it that would allow you to call it a white tabby because it also has a healthy dose of orange, brown or tan mixed with black. When you realize that the white tabby isn’t even recognized as a type of tabby cat and you think about the fact that a tabby has to have a specific pattern on its head in order to be considered as such, it makes you wonder how there can be such a thing as a white tabby cat. After all, a cat that is fully white doesn’t have the trademark marking on its head.

That effectively prevents it from being defined as a tabby to begin with. If you’re feeling a bit confused right now, that’s okay. Who would have ever thought that something as simple as sorting through the different color patterns on a cat could be so confusing? The truth of the matter is that it isn’t all about gaining a better understanding of the markings on a cat and what type of cat you might be referring to based on said markings. The truth is, it all comes down to a matter of genetics.

It’s definitely not the easiest thing to understand and it’s also the reason why there can be so many different variations of tabby cats in existence. Once genes get into the mix, a lot of different things can happen. In fact, it’s almost impossible to predict exactly how they will happen in every circumstance because some genes are more receptive than others. Take a look at the silver tabby, for example. You might be interested to know that many people actually mistake the silver tabby for a white tabby.

The Silver Tabby

You can have a silver tabby cat in the truest sense of the term possible. That’s because you’re looking at a cat that has horizontal black stripes and the trademark “M” pattern on the top of the head in conjunction with a coat that’s either silver or gray. That makes it easy to identify this particular cat as such. However, you might think about it in these terms as well. There are times when the hair that is either silver or gray is so light, it’s almost white. In many instances, these cats are mistaken for white tabbies because the hair that is actually gray is believed to be white in color. As a result, you’re not really looking at a white tabby at all. You’re simply looking at a cat that is either light gray or even silver that appears to the naked eye to be white in color.

Getting to the Bottom of Things

When it comes to fully understanding coat color, white cats in general are often considered to be among some of the rarest cats in existence. That’s because they must have a specific gene that hides every other color as well as hiding patterns in the coat, so you won’t run into a tabby cat that has markings, yet is truly white. As such, it makes it impossible for there to officially be such a thing as a white tabby cat. It’s already been well established that tabby cats have to have a certain pattern in order to be considered a tabby cat.

By the same token, white cats must have the gene that prevents any other color from appearing on the coat. It is therefore impossible to truly have such a thing as a white tabby cat. If there is no pattern to be spoken of, it is impossible for the cat in question to be a tabby. If they are truly white, they are not a tabby. The two simply do not go hand-in-hand. That said, it does not mean that people don’t get confused, nor does it mean that one’s eyes don’t play tricks on them from time to time.

The Question of Color

Think about it this way. When you see a horse that looks white in color, it’s easy to describe it as a white horse. However, it’s actually far more likely that the horse you’re describing as white is actually grey in color. To be a truly white horse, the skin underneath the coat must be pink. That means that you’re going to see some pink skin around the nose and the eyes, with not a trace of colored hair anywhere on the horse’s body. Unless you’re talking about an albino, it is very rare to find a truly white horse.

On the other hand, grey horses are fairly prevalent. They may have a very dark coat that’s almost black in color or they might have a coat that is so light that it looks white to the naked eye. However, if you’re seeing what looks like white hair with dark colored skin around the muzzle and eyes, you are in fact looking at a grey horse, not a white one. It’s basically the same concept with cats. Cats that have the gene for a grey coat color aren’t all the same. As such, that color can be either very light or very dark in nature.

In some cases, it is so light that the coat looks like it’s white, but it isn’t. If you’re looking at a tabby cat that has stripes and the trademark pattern on its head, you are in fact not looking at a white cat, regardless of how white the fur appears to be. Even if it looks completely white to you, you are in fact looking at a grey or silver tabby.

Age Matters Too

Just as in the example listed in the above paragraph with the horses, age also matters when it comes to cats. The color of an animal’s fur has a tendency to change a lot as it gets older. As a result, a tabby cat that is very old is likely to have a lot more gray mixed in and it might even appear lighter in color than it did when it was younger. This can sometimes confuse people into thinking that the gray hair which was once dark is actually white in color when it is in fact nothing more than a product of the aging process. Just as your hair has a tendency to get gray as you age, so too does that of cats, dogs, horses and various other animals.

Why Is the Term “White Tabby” So Popular?

By now, you’re probably asking yourself why the term white tabby is so popular if they do not actually exist. For the most part, it comes down to the types of things that have already been discussed. Either you are looking at a cat that is actually gray or silver as opposed to white or you’re looking at a cat that is quite old and its fur has gotten lighter over the years.

That said, there may be one other possibility that hasn’t been considered yet. It involves the abyssinian cat, a very special type of tabby that looks nothing like any of the other tabby cat patterns in existence. In fact, most people don’t even realize that this qualifies as a tabby cat pattern because it looked so unlike anything else in that particular category. To be honest, you have to look very closely to see the subtle nuances that create the differences in the abyssinians’ hair. Without it, it could very easily appear that the cat is really white. Why does this matter? Keep reading and you’ll find out.

Characteristics of the Abyssinian Cat

You already know that the abyssinian cat doesn’t have the traditional tabby markings, yet it is classified as a specific tabby cat pattern. Remember, you have to look at subtle differences here. Your first giveaway will be around the eyes. An abyssinian cat will have a slightly darker color around the size that goes around and underneath them.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the hair will be black in color, only darker than the rest of the hair. In addition, abyssinian cats have very subtle patterns in their hair which allow certain groups of hairs to gradually become lighter as other groups gradually grow darker. Interestingly enough, the overwhelming number of abyssinian cats have what amounts to a “hatch” pattern on their bodies where they have a stripe of white or colored hair followed by a stripe of darker hair, so on and so forth.

The thing is, the differences in hair color are so slight that you literally have to pick the individual hairs up and look at the very tips of the hair in order to discern the difference. The only other way to see it is perhaps when the cat is sitting in bright sunlight. Under the right conditions, you might just barely be able to see it. Otherwise, it looks like you are looking at a cat that is a single color. In some rare cases, it is possible to see an abyssinian cat that is either very light gray or even light silver in color.

In many cases, your eyes will trick you and you believe that you are looking at a white cat. However, those slight color differences will tell you that you are in fact not looking at a purely white cat because of the fact that any cat which is purely white has the gene which cancels out every other color. In short, you’re still not looking at a truly white abyssinian cat, only one that has such light colored hair that it appears to be white. At the end of the day, any cat which is truly white is not going to have any color patterns associated with it, nor will there be any other color on its hair anywhere on its body.

If even the slightest patch of color exists, it is not considered a truly white cat. As a result, you’re not going to run into a white tabby anytime soon because they simply don’t exist. That said, you might see a tabby cat or more likely, an abyssinian cat, which appears to be white in color. As long as the cat in question is loved, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

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