Orange Tabby Cats

Orange tabby in the garden

Orange tabby cats may seem fairly common at a glance, but it takes a particular combination of genetics to produce them. Find out how these popular cats get their signature look and the exact chromosonal combination required to make it happen.

Orange Tabby Combination

Orange tabbies can actually range from red to orange to yellow to buff. However, people generally refer to these cats as orange no matter which shade they are.

An orange tabby is the combination of two main traits:

  • Color
  • Pattern

Color

According to Berkeley.edu, melanin is responsible for producing color pigment, and it comes in two types:

  • Eumelanin - This type of melanin produces a range of colors that include varying shades of black and brown from dark to light.
  • Phaeomelanin - This type of melanin produces the color in a range from red (at its highest density) to cream (at its most dilute).

So, orange fur is created by the presence of phaeomelanin.

Tabby Pattern

Tabby is not a breed. It's simply a fur pattern that appears across a wide range of colors, including orange, and it's found in many breeds, including Persians and British Shorthairs to name a couple.

Tabbies generally have some degree of marking on their heads that resembles the letter M. This is more prominent in some cats than others. Orange tabbies, like tabbies of other colors, come in a variety of patterns. Berkeley.edu describes four distinct tabby patterns.

Pattern Description
Types of Orange Tabbies
Classic orange tabby
Classic Orange Tabby
The classic tabby pattern is very common.

With this pattern, the cat's fur:
  • Has a random series of of light and dark orange swirls
  • Almost looks like the cat has been tie-dyed
  • Carries the signature M marking on the forehead
Orange Mackerel Tabby
Orange Mackerel Tabby
The mackerel tabby pattern is also quite common.

With this pattern, the cat's fur:
  • Has bars or stripes
  • Striping is a darker shade of orange than the base color of the fur
  • Has the traditional M marking on the forehead
Somali cat showing ticked or Abyssinian tabby pattern
Ticked Tabby
The Abyssinian variation of the tabby pattern, also referred to as "ticked," is much more subtle.

This pattern produces:
  • A dark stripe down the center of the back
  • Faint or "ghost" striping that is barely visible
  • The classic M marking on the forehead
You'll find this pattern in Abyssinian and Somali cats in particular.
Orange bi-color spotted tabby
Orange Bi-Color Spotted Tabby
The spotted tabby pattern is slightly less common than the classic and mackerel patterns.

With this spotted pattern:
  • Fur is marked with patches rather than swirls or bars
  • Patches are a darker shade of orange than rest of body
  • Traditional M marking is still present
The tabby shown here also carries the bi-color trait.

Color Genetics and Gender

There's an interesting link between the orange coloration and a cat's gender. According to Arnold Plotnick, DVM, approximately 80 percent of all orange tabbies are males.

The gender of every cat is determined by the sex chromosomes it inherits. There is an X chromosome and a Y chromosome.

  • Female cats inherit two X chromosomes (XX).
  • Male cats inherit one X chromosome and one Y chromosome (XY).

The gene that produces the orange coloration is found on X chromosomes, so it's a sex-linked trait.

  • In male cats, it's fairly straightforward; they either have inherited an X chromosome that contains the orange gene, or they haven't.
  • It's a bit more complicated with female cats. Both XX chromosomes must carry the orange gene in order for a female be orange.

Other Points of Interest

  • According to Berkeley.edu, all orange cats are tabbies due to their genetic makeup.
  • The orange gene dominates all other colors except for white which, according to the Cat Fanciers' Association, technically isn't a color but rather masks a cat's true color to some degree.
  • These cats can also have long or short fur.
  • Many of these cats develop freckles on their noses and lips as they age. This is known as orange cat lentigo, and it's harmless.

Who Knew Color Could Be So Complicated?

Orange tabbies may not seem quite as fancy or exciting as some other kinds of cats, but there's certainly a lot going on beneath the surface to produce one of these cats. Now that you have a better idea of what it takes for a cat to be an orange tabby, you'll likely never look at one the same way again.

Orange Tabby Cats