Gray tabbies are one of the most beloved types of domesticated cats. Their distinctive markings seem to set them apart, yet tabbies are not a breed in their own right — the name refers solely to their markings, and similar patterns are found across many different breeds. Sometimes affectionately known as “tiger cats,” gray tabbies remind us of the feline companion's wild origins.
The gene for tabby fur is dominant and carried by many domestic cats. It’s possible to see the hallmark stripes and swirls even on solid color varieties when they stand in certain lights. Versions of tabby markings are found in breeds all over the world — from the Middle Eastern Abyssinnian through to the American Shorthair.
Experts believe that today’s common American tabbies were brought to the U.S. by European immigrants in the 17th century and take their name from a wavy Middle Eastern silk. Some cultures have developed their own legends around the origins of the "M" that appears on every tabby forehead: it’s said to be associated with both Mohammed and the Virgin Mary. Gray tabbies bear a particularly close resemblance to the wildcats from whom they descended.
There are five basic varieties of gray tabbies:
The sociability of most gray tabbies makes them open to being trained — particularly if you start when they’re young. With patience, almost all will learn to use a litter tray within a few weeks, and many will learn much more. However, just as with humans, these cats have a range of personalities. They also have an inner wild nature that needs to be given some free reign from time to time.
One of the most lovable things about gray tabbies is the way they can improve any space, just by choosing to sleep there! Many seem to prefer napping to physical exertion of any kind. However, even the most docile cat can switch into hunting mode if the mood strikes them. As with all cats, keep them away from any other pets that might be considered "prey" such as birds or rodents. Most environmentalists also suggest keeping cats from roaming outside, as this can deplete vital bird populations.
Most gray tabbies in the USA are non-pedigree domestic shorthairs, so they should not need excessive grooming. They tend to take care of their own cleanliness, for the most part. However, if you do notice significant amounts of shedding in warmer weather, or if your cat is longhaired, you may find brushing them every few days outdoors helps reduce the amount left on your furniture. This can also help strengthen the bond between you, as most cats love the scratchy feeling of the brush.
You can expect a healthy gray tabby to live between 15 and 20 years. As they tend to be non-pedigree, they aren’t particularly prone to genetic disorders or illnesses. However, it’s a good idea to get them immunized as soon as possible, protect them against parasites, and make sure they have regular checkups. Don't let their adorable appearance coax you into overfeeding them, either. Obesity from overeating is one condition all cats face.
Many pet owners find adopting litter siblings is a good way to make sure their cat gets plenty of socialization, and this can result in less rivalry than adopting two tabbies who don't know one another. However, grey tabbies seem to adapt well to new feline companions if introduced gradually. The same is true for introducing your children, friends, family, and other pets. Try to start with short periods of time and be nearby to supervise the first few interactions.
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Gray tabbies can be very playful and make great outdoor cats. This gives them ample opportunity to tap into their natural feline instincts. However, it’s possible to adapt your living space with toys and scratching posts if letting them outdoors is impractical. You could consider creating a “catio” enclosure so your cat can go outside on your balcony safely. Consider buying or making a puzzle feeder so your cat has to work for their food.
Although they can be very affectionate, gray tabbies also tend to have a self-sufficient side, which means they usually adapt well to new environments and are happy to be left alone during the day while you’re at work. Just make sure they have enough food, water, a comfortable place to curl up, and access to toileting facilities. Be around to snuggle or play when you get home and, for longer periods like vacations, hire a pet sitter.
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