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What is a tabico cat?

What is a tabico cat?

A tabico cat is a cat that has a coat with both tabby and calico markings. Tabico cats are almost always female, as the calico coat pattern requires two X chromosomes. The tabby pattern provides the stripes and swirls, while the calico pattern contributes splotches of red, black, and sometimes white or cream. This combination results in a uniquely patterned coat that many cat lovers find very appealing.

Some key facts about tabico cats:

Coat Colors Tabby striping with red, black, and sometimes white/cream patches
Gender Nearly always female
Genetics Require two X chromosomes to express calico colors
Patterns Mackerel, classic, spotted, patched, or swirled tabby stripes
Origins Natural variation rather than specific breeding

In this article, we’ll explore the origins, genetics, physical features, temperament, and care of tabico cats. We’ll also look at some famous tabico cat examples. Read on to learn all about these beautifully multi-colored kitties!

Origins of Tabico Cats

Unlike some hybrid cat breeds that have been deliberately developed by crossing different pedigrees, tabico cats have appeared naturally in the general feline population. Whenever a cat inherits both the tabby coat markings and one of the calico colorations, the tabico pattern emerges.

This combination is not the result of planned breeding efforts. Rather, it occurs by chance when cats that carry genes for both the tabby and calico patterning are bred. The tabico pattern arises spontaneously across many cat breeds and mixed breed populations.

Some cat registries do recognize the tabico as a distinct coat variety. For example, The International Cat Association includes tabico as an acceptable color description. However, tabico is not considered a separate cat breed. Tabico coats can appear in any breed of cat that also displays the classic and mackerel tabby patterns.

While not a deliberate hybrid, the origins of tabico cats can be traced back to the development of the tabby and calico patterns in domestic cats. Let’s look at a brief history of both:

Tabby Origins

The word “tabby” is believed to derive from Attabiyah, a neighborhood in Baghdad, Iraq that was known for producing fine tabby cloth. The swirling, striped pattern on this silk resembled the agouti striping that appears on some cats’ coats. Over time, the word “tabby” became used to describe cats with a distinctive M-shaped marking on their foreheads along with stripes and swirls along their bodies.

Natural tabby patterns have appeared in wild cats for millennia and were observed in African wildcats before domestication. As cats were bred in human environments about 10,000 years ago, tabby coats emerged as one of several naturally occurring fur patterns.

Over the centuries, tabby cats spread around the world as valued hunters, mousers, and companions. Prominent tabby breeds include the Abyssinian, American Shorthair, Bengal, Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest Cat, and Somali.

Calico Origins

Calico refers to a color pattern involving large solid patches of black, red, and white fur. The name comes from Calicut, a port city in India that European traders visited to buy a type of patterned cotton cloth called “calico” that resembled the colors of calico cat fur.

Like the tabby, calico coloration arose naturally in cat populations over thousands of years. For the red and black patches to appear, a cat must have two X chromosomes. Female cats (XX) can inherit the genes for both colors, while male cats (XY) cannot exhibit calico coloring unless they have an extra X chromosome causing Klinefelter’s syndrome.

Early domestic cats with calico coats appeared all over the world, prized for their unique beauty. Famous calico breeds include the Japanese Bobtail, Manx, and Turkish Van.

Combining Tabby and Calico

As cats with tabby striping and calico patches reproduced, occasional kittens would inherit both coat patterns. The fusion of stripes and color patches resulted in striking tabico coats.

No single breed can claim tabico cats. They occur in many pedigrees and mixed populations wherever both tabby and calico cats are found. Tabbicos sprang up through natural genetic variation and human appreciation of their eye-catching markings.

Genetics of Tabico Cats

The key genetic factors that produce tabico coats in cats include:

Sex chromosomes Two X chromosomes (XX)
Agouti gene Codes for tabby stripe pattern
Orange gene Controls development of red pigment
Dense pigment Allows full expression of black fur
Piebald spotting Produces patches of white fur

Let’s look closer at each of these:

Sex Chromosomes

Calico or tortoiseshell coloration requires two functioning X chromosomes. Female cats have two X’s, while male cats have one X and one Y chromosome. For a male cat to exhibit calico colors, it needs an extra X due to a genetic condition like Klinefelter’s syndrome. Even then, the male calico will likely be sterile.

Therefore, almost all calico and tabico cats are female. Very rarely, fertile male tabbies with Klinefelter’s syndrome inherit both the tabby and calico genes. But female cats are far more likely to exhibit the tabico coat.

Agouti Gene

The agouti gene controls distribution of black pigment in hair shafts, forming the tabby pattern of stripes and swirls. The gene encodes proteins that cause hairs to be black at the tips, with bands of lighter and darker color along the shafts. Different versions of the agouti gene create the classic, mackerel, spotted, ticked and other tabby patterns. At least one intact agouti gene is required for tabby marking to appear in cats.

Orange Gene

The orange gene controls whether a cat can produce reddish-orange phaeomelanin pigment. In calicos and tabbies, having at least one orange gene results in patches of brilliant red fur. The gene product blocks production of black eumelanin pigment in some hair follicles so phaeomelanin can appear. The orange gene must be present for tabico cats to have red patches in their fur.

Dense Pigment

Full expression of black fur requires the dense pigment gene. Alone, the orange gene can suppress black fur color. But when dense pigment is also present, it prevents the orange gene from completely blocking eumelanin. This allows dark fur to appear in patches alongside red tabby stripes.

Piebald Spotting

Large white spots result from the piebald spotting gene, which prevents pigment from appearing in certain hair follicles. Most calicos inherit at least one copy, producing solid white patches amid the colored fur. The piebald gene is what gives tabico cats their “salt-and-pepper” look blending white with tabby stripes and calico patches.

In summary, the perfect genetic “storm” for a tabico coat requires two X chromosomes, at least one agouti, orange, and piebald allele, and two copies of the dense pigment gene. With all the right genes inherited, the calico and tabby patterns amazingly combine in females cats to generate the lovely tabico look.

Physical Features

No two tabico cats look exactly alike due to the randomness inherent in their patchwork coat genetics. However, some general physical traits tend to distinguish these beautifully multi-colored kitties.

Coat Colors

While individual patterns vary, most tabico cats will have:

– Patches of dense black fur
– Patches of bright reddish-orange fur
– Cream, ivory, or white spots or patches
– Dark brown, light brown, or reddish tabby stripes that may be mackerel, classic, ticked, spotted, or swirled

The distribution of these colors produces a vibrant, calico-tabby blended coat unlike any other cat fur pattern. The colors may be marbled, mingled, patched, or ticked to generate unique swirls and stripes specific to each individual tabico.

Coat Texture

Tabico cats can have short, medium, or long fur that is smooth in texture. Their coats lack the dense undercoat characteristic of fluffy breeds like Persians or Norwegian Forest Cats. The tabico pattern can appear in shorthairs, longhairs, silkies, rexes, sphynxes, and more.

Coat length impacts the appearance of the tabby stripes and calico patches. Short fur will show smaller patches and fine stripes. Longer fur allows for bolder stripes and splotches of color. But coat texture does not affect the tabico pattern itself.

Eye Color

Eye color is not linked to coat color in cats. Tabico cats may have copper, gold, green, yellow, orange, or blue eyes.Odd (heterochromatic) eyes can also occur. Eye shade often complements the vibrancy of the tabico coat but does not directly relate to the patterning genetics.

Body Type

When it comes to build, tabico cats vary significantly based on their underlying pedigree or lack thereof. Mixed breed tabico cats come in all shapes and sizes. Purebred tabicos will reflect the body type of their specific breed. For example:

Breed Body Type
Maine Coon Large, muscular, and robust
Siamese Long, sleek, and graceful
Manx Compact, dense, with no tail
Turkish Angora Fine-boned, slender, and elegant

So while the coat pattern consistently identifies tabico cats, their builds can vary significantly. Overall, the tabico pattern can appear in any body shape and structure found across the incredibly diverse domestic cat species.

Tabico Cat Temperament

Do tabico cats have distinctive personalities that set them apart? Overall, experts say there is no consistent “tabico temperament.” Tabby and calico traits seem to blend, with considerable individual variation.

However, some anecdotal trends suggest that tabico cats exhibit engaging, active, and affectionate traits that make them delightful pets. Let’s explore some of their purported personality advantages.


With their stunning speckled, striped, and multi-colored coats, tabico cats never hide their light under a bushel. Their vibrant looks seem reflected in bubbly, energetic, kitten-like personalities well into adulthood. Many tabico cats love to play, racing, leaping, chasing, and cavorting with toys and humans. Their zest for playtime amusement makes tabicos fun companions.


Endlessly fascinated by their surroundings, tabico cats display natural curiosity and intellectual interest in everything happening around them. They tune into conversations, explore new spaces avidly, and notice the slightest changes to their environments. This curiosity keeps tabicos engaged, alert, and bonding closely with their families.


With strong opinions on all topics, tabico cats tend to be quite “talkative” compared to other cats. They communicate in a range of vocalizations from chirps to meows. Some even develop large vocabularies of words and phrases they’ll say. Tabico cats want their views heard and have no problem expressing themselves clearly to their adoring humans.


While independent at times, tabico cats generally form close bonds with their favorite people. They crave intimacy and snuggling in addition to lively play. Being in the same room with their beloved humans relaxes tabicos. And they reward affection and attention with plenty of sweet nuzzling and cuddling in return.

So while generalizing any cat’s personality is difficult, many tabico cats share a reputation for energetic, inquisitive, chatty, and loving temperaments that make them fantastic feline companions. Their gorgeous coats contain big, vibrant personalities as well!

Caring for Tabico Cats

Do tabico cats have any special care needs compared to other domestic shorthairs? Beyond appreciation for their unique beauty, tabicos do not require specialized housing, nutrition, or health management. Here are some care tips:


Active, playful tabico cats thrive in homes that provide plenty of safe spaces to explore, climb, run, and play. Cat trees, tunnels, scratching posts, catios, and open layouts satisfy their curiosity. Provide welcoming beds and sunny windows for napping. Set up litter boxes in quiet spots. Make sure all electric cords and toxic chemicals stay safely out of reach. Child-proof as needed if young kids are also in residence.


Feed high-quality commercial cat food appropriate for the cat’s age and activity level. Supply fresh water always. Avoid fish-based varieties to reduce risks of hyperthyroidism. Canned or raw diets work well for picky eaters. Treats are fine in moderation. Monitor your tabico’s weight and adjust portions if needed to prevent obesity.


Schedule annual vet exams and keep vaccines up to date. Check ears and teeth regularly. Brush and comb long-haired tabico cats frequently to prevent mats. Provide parasite preventatives as prescribed. Spay or neuter by 6 months old. Watch for signs of illness and see the vet promptly if concerns arise. With basic preventative care, most tabicos live long, healthy lives.


In addition to playing, engage tabicos mentally with treat puzzles, new toys regularly, clicker training, food foraging, and other activities. Watch cat TV programming when you can’t directly interact. Give them birdwatching access. Set up perches near windows. Rotate catnip treats and novel playthings to keep their agile minds stimulated.

With affection, good nutrition, vet care, safety precautions, and plenty of playtime, tabico cats make marvelous, rewarding pets sure to delight their families with their vibrant, gregarious personalities.

Famous Tabico Cats

Many gorgeous, beloved tabico cats have found social media fame and admiring fans. Let’s look at some of the internet’s most popular tabbies-calicos:

Lil Bub

One of the earliest and most influential celebrity cats, Lil Bub came to prominence in 2011 for her adorable “perma-kitten” appearance and earnest gaze due to genetic anomalies. Her captive tabico colors and friendliness charmed millions. She authored books, made TV appearances, and raised over $700,000 for animals in need through her fame.


Born in England in 2011, Monty’s dramatic facial markings, including a “Monty-stache,” and his affectionate personality have earned him over 300,000 Instagram followers. His photos reveal a classic tabby coat enriched by calico splotches of black, orange, and white. His devoted fans call him “the internet’s favorite cat.”

Snoopy Babe

With over 1 million TikTok fans, Snoopy Babe is a female tabico kitten adopted in Bangkok, Thailand in 2021. Videos chronicle her adventures cuddling with her dog siblings, playing with toys, making mischief, and bonding with family members. Comments praise her bright calico spots and pretty tabby stripes.


Adopted in 2018 by owners who run the popular @Foster_kittens Instagram account, Stryker appears in numerous photos and videos modeling seasonal costumes, playing with other kittens, and enthralled with catnip. This handsome brown tabby and white calico boy has won over 200,000 followers who find him adorable.

From Lil Bub to Snoopy Babe, charming tabico cats like these have demonstrated how their delightful patchwork coats and playful personalities captivate fans worldwide. Their unique blend of tabby and calico features produces signature looks that make them icons of cat cuteness.

Should You Consider a Tabico Cat?

For cat lovers seeking a pet with vigor, distinctiveness, and affectionate charm, adopting a tabico can make an excellent choice. Their eye-catching patchwork fur patterns provide plenty of visual interest. And their playful, inquisitive, vocal natures make them highly interactive companions.

Before choosing a tabico cat, make sure you can meet their needs for:

  • Plenty of playtime, exercise, and mental stimulation
  • Cat-proofed spaces they