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Tabby vs. Calico Cats: What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)

There is a significant difference between tabby cats and calico cats. The main difference is in their coloration. These patterns can occur in many different breeds, which means not all tabby cats and calico cats are the same in the least.

The only similarity between all the tabby cats is their pattern. All tabby cats look similar, but besides that, they can look and act very different from each other. For this reason, it isn’t easy to compare tabby cats and calico cats. Each category can be so different!

However, throughout this article, we do discuss the few set characteristics these cats do have.

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Visual Differences

Tabby Cat vs Calico Cat side by side
Image Credit: (L) Lana Leon, Shutterstock | (R) Jumpstory


Tabby Cat Pattern Overview

Tabby Close up
Image Credit:Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

Tabby cats are one of the most common cat patterns. They appear in various breeds and are likely one of the most common patterns out there. However, there are a lot of differences between one tabby cat and another.

The tabby cat pattern has been around for a very long time. It may have originated in the Middle East, as it is reminiscent of ancient patterned silk from the region. It may also be French since it is similar to a French phrase that means “striped silk.”

Either way, it is a worldwide pattern today. It is seen all over the world and in many different breeds.

Types of Tabby Cats 🐈

There are a few types of tabby patterns out there today. Some breeds have all of these patterns, while others only have a few types available.

The classic tabby coat has blotched, broad stripes that curve over their whole body. This pattern is likened to a marble cake.

The mackerel tabby has continuous or broken stripes that run perpendicular to the spine. They are usually reasonably small stripes.

The spotted tabby has a similar pattern to the classic tabby, but with spots – not stripes. This is a rarer pattern and is not seen in all species.

The final pattern is agouti. The body is solidly colored, but small stripes are on the legs, tails, and face. These stripes are typically skinny.

Tabby Portrait
Image Credit: alex_dorohov, Pixabay

Tabby Cat Coat Colors

Tabbies come in many different colors. They can be shades of brown, grey, and red. Any color a cat comes in, you can find a tabby cat of that color (except white, of course). You can tell what color a tabby is by looking at their stripes’ color and the tip of their tail. These will be the cats’ “true” color.

Some researchers speculate that the tabby pattern was originally camouflage in the wild. However, there is no way to know for sure.

Genetics 🏥

Two primary genes and one modifier gene cause all the basic tabby patterns. One gene control whether or not the tabby pattern is expressed at all. The modifier controls precisely how the tabby pattern shows up.

How a tabby cat looks will depend mainly on their patterns. Different kittens in the same litter can have very different patterns because of the large number of genes that play a role.

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Calico Cat Pattern Overview

Calico Close up
Image Credit: Candid_Shots , Pixabay

A calico cat is a particular pattern that can occur in a variety of different breeds. These cats are somewhere between 25% to 75% white with larger patches of orange and black. These colors can fall in nearly any pattern, though.

This pattern almost exclusively occurs in female cats, as it is liked to the sex genes. However, it can occur in male cats on an infrequent genetic occasion. These male cats are often very “female” and are often sterile.

Types of Calico Cats 🐈

These cats come in only two main types: standard and diluted. Normal calico cats can have any pattern. They always have white, orange, and black across their body, however.

Dilute calicos are the same, except they are lighter in color. Sometimes they can have stripes and spots on their larger spots. There are “diluted” enough to see underlying patterns if they have them.

Calico Cat Coat Colors

These cats are 25% to 75% white. They have orange and black spots all over their body. Usually, their neck and belly will be white. They may only have a few spots or a whole bunch of spots.

Diluted calicos are these same colors, expect the spots are lighter. The black is more like a grey, and the orange is more like a cream. Sometimes they may have darker stripes or spots inside their other spots.

Calico Cat Sofa
Image Credit: richardsidwell, Pixabay

Genetics 🏥

Genetically speaking, Calico cats are like tortoiseshells. However, they also have the white spotting gene.

These genes tide on the X genes, so only female cats can be calicos. Males are only calico when they accidentally inherit two X genes, which causes them to be very female-like but technically male. They are usually sterile and act very much like a female. In breeds where males are bigger than females, male calicos may be smaller than usual males.

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Which Breed is Right for You?

The only difference between calicos and tabbies is what they look like. Therefore, your aesthetic likes are the only thing that should determine which pattern you seek out.

In certain breeds, one pattern may be more expensive than the other. Calicos are relatively rare on some occasions, for instance. If you’re set on a calico, you may find yourself paying a bit extra. Tabbies are very common, so they are typically not more expensive.

Furthermore, calicos are typically only available as females, as male calicos are very rare. If you want a male, you likely will not be able to get a calico. Instead, you may need to settle for a tabby!

Of course, if tabbies or calicos don’t occur in whatever breed you want, you will likely not be able to find one. These patterns do not occur in all breeds, after all.

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay/  CNuisin, Shutterstock