Skip to Content

Is my cat a tabby or a torbie?

Many cat owners wonder if their beloved feline is a tabby cat or a tortoiseshell-tabby mix, known as a torbie. Determining whether your cat is a tabby or torbie can be confusing at first glance. However, with some basic knowledge about cat coat genetics and patterns, you can identify the differences between tabby cats and torbies.

In this article, we will cover the key features that distinguish tabby cats and torbies. We will examine the origins and genetics behind tabby and torbie coat patterns. We will also provide some tips on how to tell them apart by looking at your cat’s distinctive markings and colors. With the information provided here, cat owners will have the knowledge to determine if their cat is a tabby or a torbie.

What is a Tabby Cat?

The tabby is one of the most common cat coat patterns. Essentially, a tabby cat has stripes, dots, or swirled patterns along its coat. These markings can vary in width and arrangement. Tabby cats have signature “M” shaped markings on their foreheads. They also often have stripes on their legs and tail.

Tabby is not a breed of cat, but rather a coat pattern that can manifest in many different breeds. From Bengals to American Shorthairs, tabby markings can appear in cats across all backgrounds. The tabby pattern stems from the cat’s agouti gene, which controls distribution of color across each hair. This creates the characteristic striped appearance.

There are four basic types of tabby patterns:

  • Classic/Blotched Tabby: This is the most common tabby pattern. Broad stripes run along the cat’s body and swirl on the sides. Markings are bold and distinct.
  • Mackerel Tabby: With this tabby pattern, narrow stripes run in parallel down the cat’s sides. The stripes resemble fish bones.
  • Spotted Tabby: In this pattern, the stripes break into spots along the cat’s body. The spots align in rows or a spotted leopard-like pattern.
  • Ticked Tabby: With this pattern, there are no defined stripes. Instead, the tabby markings present as agouti banding on each hair, giving an overall salt-and-pepper speckled appearance.

In addition to the pattern itself, tabby cats can have various background colors. For example, an orange tabby has an orange coat with darker tabby stripes overlaid on top. Tabby patterns appear on grey, brown, and other colored coats as well.

What is a Torbie Cat?

A torbie is a tortoiseshell-tabby mix. Tortoiseshell cats have a patchwork coat of red and black fur. Tabbies have striped, spotted, or mackerel markings. When these two patterns combine in a cat, the result is a torbie.

Torbie cats have the distinctive tortoiseshell patching of black and red/orange. However, they also exhibit tabby markings like stripes and spots within those patches. This creates a variegated blend of colors and patterns in their fur.

Genetically speaking, tortoiseshell coloring derives from a cat having two X chromosomes. Normally, female cats have XX and male cats have XY chromosomes. The X chromosomes carry color genes. Since females have two, they can express both black and orange at the same time. This creates the tortoiseshell pattern.

For a cat to be a torbie, they also must carry the tabby pattern gene. This causes the tabby markings like stripes and spots to appear within the tortoiseshell colored patches. Male cats can sometimes be torbies in rare cases where they inherit an extra X chromosome (XXY). However, most torbies are female because they more commonly carry the XX genetics.

Distinguishing Features of Tabby vs. Torbie Cats

When trying to determine whether your cat is a tabby or torbie, look for these distinguishing features in their coat pattern and coloration:

Tabby Cat Features

  • Coat has stripes, spots, swirls, or ticked speckling
  • Markings distributed evenly across coat, not just patches
  • Coat is one solid background color like grey, brown, orange, etc.
  • Has an “M” shape pattern on forehead
  • Rings or stripes on tail and legs

Torbie Cat Features

  • Patchwork coat with orange and black patches
  • Patches have visible tabby stripes, spots, or swirls within them
  • Not just one solid background color across coat
  • More random assortment of color patches rather than neat stripes
  • Usually female (XX chromosomes)

Tabby cats tend to have a more uniform, orderly pattern across their whole coat. Torbies have a mosaic of orange and black patches accented with tabby markings just within those patches. The torbie’s organized chaos of colors and patterns arises from the combination of tortoiseshell and tabby genetics.

Examples of Tabby and Torbie Cat Markings

Seeing photographic examples of tabby and torbie cats can further help visualize the differences between their patterns.

Tabby Cat Examples

Tabby Pattern Example Photo
Mackerel Tabby
Spotted Tabby
Ticked Tabby

Torbie Cat Examples

Torbie Pattern Example Photo
Torbie with stripes
Torbie with spots
Patched torbie

As you can see from the examples, tabby cats exhibit orderly stripes, spots, or ticked markings across a solid background coat. Torbies have a patchwork of orange and black fur, with tabby patterns mixed within those patches. This key difference is the easiest way to tell tabbies and torbies apart.

How to Identify Your Cat’s Pattern

Follow these tips when examining your cat’s coat to determine if they are a tabby or torbie:

  • Look at the overall coloration. Is it one solid color like grey or orange? Or is there a mosaic of orange and black patches?
  • Examine the forehead for an “M” marking. This is a key tabby feature.
  • Check the tail and legs. Are there rings/stripes or solid patches of color?
  • Look closely at the patches. If there are visible stripes, spots, or swirls within orange and black patches, it is likely a torbie.
  • Consider the cat’s gender. Female cats are more prone to exhibiting torbie patterns.

Taking your time to observe the colors and patterns across your cat’s entire body will provide the clues you need to determine if they are a tabby or torbie.


In summary, tabby and torbie cat patterns arise from different genetic influences. Tabbies exhibit bold stripes, spots, or ticked markings across a solid background coat color. Torbies have a patchwork of orange and black fur with tabby patterns mixed within those patches.

There are distinctive features to help tell the two patterns apart. Look for organized tabby stripes on the body, legs and tail versus a more random patchwork of colors on the torbie. Examine the forehead for a tabby “M” marking. Also consider the cat’s gender, since torbies are more often female.

Understanding the origins of tabby and torbie patterns helps cat owners better appreciate the uniqueness of their pet’s coat. With some close observation and the knowledge provided here, you can get to the bottom of your cat’s special tabby or torbie markings.