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How to Take Care of Tabby Cats

I am an expert when it comes to taking care of tabby cats—I almost feel that I am one.

Tabby cats come in an assortment of furs, from gray to orange.

Tabby cats come in an assortment of furs, from gray to orange.

How to Take Care of Your Tabby Cat

I'm clearly an expert when it comes to taking care of tabby cats.

Sure, there are plenty of people who love cats, decorate their homes with cat-themed décor, send people cards with cats on them, and will happily talk your ear off about Mister Tiddums. But, when it comes right down to it, who are you going to believe, some human with an adorable kitty sweatshirt or me, an actual cat?

Good, I'm glad you see it my way.

The fact that you're reading this suggests that you have an admirable desire to improve yourself. Whether you're new to tabbies or you've lived with us for years, learning more about how to meet our needs, wishes, and whims can only make you a better person. And if you're a better person, you'll be a better person to your tabby cat. So, you see, we all win.

What makes a tabby? This Egyptian Mau has a slender body with tabby spots, striped legs and tail, and the Tabby M on its forehead.

What makes a tabby? This Egyptian Mau has a slender body with tabby spots, striped legs and tail, and the Tabby M on its forehead.

What Is a Tabby Cat?

As I discussed in my classic article, The Truth About Tabbies, a tabby cat is any cat with tabby markings. These markings can be in any color and a variety of shapes. They can also occur on any number of breeds, from slender Egyptian Maus, to tailless Manxes, to enormous Maine Coons. Different breeds of cats have dramatic differences in size, hair length, and coloration, but all of them are members of the same species, Felis silvestris catus.

When most people say "tabby," they're thinking of your normal, generic, domestic shorthair cat. The nice thing about tabbies like us is that we're easy. We don't have thousand-dollar pedigrees. We don't need to brushed twice a day. We're not prone to a lot of weird hereditary diseases like some purebreds.

We're just straight-up cats, created by thousands of years of genetic success to be efficient, adorable little hunting machines.

No tail? No problem. This Manx cat has broken stripes, and that makes it a tabby.

No tail? No problem. This Manx cat has broken stripes, and that makes it a tabby.

Getting Adopted by a Tabby Cat

It's great that you've decided to share your life with a tabby cat. But, before you run off to procure a cat, there are some things to consider.

The first is whether you want a kitten or an adult cat. On the one hand, kittens are a bit more trainable, and yes, we all know how cute they are. On the other hand, an adult cat might already be litter-box trained. An adult cat is also less likely to damage your belongings when you're not home to keep an eye on it.

Then, there's the question of whether you want one cat, or more than one. Sometimes, two cats can be easier to live with than one. Cats provide each other with companionship and entertainment, which keeps us out of trouble. (Don't tell her I said so, but life would be pretty boring around here without my co-kitty, Piglet.)

Speaking of more than one cat, do you have any animals in your home already? What about kids? Some cats get along well with strange cats, dogs, and children. Others not so much.

Give some thought to these questions. Then go to your local animal shelter and describe your living situation to them. The adoption counselors there will help you find a cat that will be the perfect addition to your household.

Cream Tabby Kitten

Cream Tabby Kitten

Tabby Cat Facts

Bringing a tabby into your home shows that you have excellent taste, but cats differ from humans in many important respects. Expecting us to act like you, eat the same food as you, and even understand your language is a recipe for disaster. Below are some quick and dirty facts about cats that every tabby-lover should know.

  • Cats are not born knowing how to "fend for themselves" in the wild.

    While we have an innate drive to chase things, we don't know how to kill prey unless our mothers taught us. If we are suddenly abandoned outdoors, we are facing a short life and a very painful death.
  • Tabby cats are obligate carnivores.

    That's a fancy way of saying that we eat other animals, and only other animals. Well-meaning vegans have made their cats very sick trying to impose their animal-free diet on us.
  • Cats need to eat cat food, not people food.

    Cat food is specially prepared to give us the nutrients we would get by hunting and eating prey in the wild. It has just the right balance of vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy.
  • Tabby cats need plenty of fresh, clean water.

    Drinking dirty water can make us sick, so if the water smells bad or stale, we might avoid it. We can get dehydrated just like you.
  • Tabby cats need a clean, well-kept litter box.

    Our litter-box needs to be big enough to use, and kept clean enough that we won't go elsewhere.
  • Tabby cats have emotions, just like you.

    Cats have complex brain structures that allow us to feel afraid, angry, sad, and happy.
  • Our emotions are like yours, but our motivations are not.

    If we do something you don't like, it's not because we're deliberately being "naughty". There's a good reason for it that's rooted in our nature as cats.
  • Tabby cats need regular veterinary care.

    Taking us to the vet once a year ensures that we're healthy. Since cats are good at hiding illness and injury, it takes a vet to catch a problem while it's still small.
  • Tabby cats need our claws to defend ourselves.

    Declawing is a traumatic operation that many veterinarians now refuse to perform. Prevent problems by giving Tabby ample places to scratch to her heart's content.
  • Spay or neuter your tabby!

    Failure to spay and neuter leads to untold numbers of homeless, unwanted cats every year. It is the only responsible choice. Besides, it makes us much easier to live with!
Fractal cats, blue mackerel tabby, brown mackerel tabby, tuxedo cat

Fractal cats, blue mackerel tabby, brown mackerel tabby, tuxedo cat

Spaying and Neutering

If a cat chooses you to be its human minion, you are accepting a responsibility to spay or neuter that cat.

I know what you're thinking. "Really, CC?" you say. "You hate the vet. And now you're advocating surgery?"

Yes. Yes, I am.

It is estimated that a pair of breeding cats can produce about 400,000 kittens over their breeding lifetimes. That's four hundred thousand. From a single breeding pair of cats!

Those kittens will lead short, brutish, nasty lives, with an average lifespan of only two years. They fall victim to cars, disease, and predation by larger animals -- but not before producing more kittens, who will in turn lead short, brutish, and nasty lives.

Furthermore, feral cats have a significant and negative ecological impact. We are not native to most parts of the world. We've migrated there in the last few hundred years, along with European humans, and we've landed in all kinds of places.

Feral cats have decimated bird populations in Australia and the Americas, even causing extinctions on numerous islands throughout the world. Ferals also interbreed with local wild cat populations, causing some species to be threatened with extinction through hybridization.

So please, for the good of all cat-kind, make sure your tabby companion is neutered or spayed!

Feral Brown Tabby Cat. Looks like he's been through a war, doesn't it?

Feral Brown Tabby Cat. Looks like he's been through a war, doesn't it?

So You've Been Adopted by a Tabby

Cats are not the kind of high-maintenance pet that dogs are. You've never heard anybody say "I'm as sick as a cat," now, have you?

Didn't think so.

Cats are cool. We're independent. We don't need to be walked twice a day, and we're not praise junkies who get sad if you fail to keep up a steady stream of "So who's a good boy then?".

But that doesn't mean we don't need you. There's a reason we adopt you as our personal minions. Contrary to widespread belief, we're not born knowing how to hunt food for ourselves. If our mother didn't teach us, we never learned, and that means we rely on you.

We rely on you for healthy food, clean water, a well-kept litter box, and—as much as I hate to admit this—regular veterinary care. We rely on you to keep us out of harm's way, whether it comes in the form of toxins, speeding cars, or other animals in the neighborhood. We also rely on you for companionship, entertainment, and a nice, warm lap.

If you share your life with a tabby, you've accepted a responsibility to be an educated caretaker. To put it more bluntly, you need to know what the heck you're doing. Learn as much as you can about cats—what kind of food we need, what things are poisonous to us, what shots we're supposed to have, and how our brains work. Believe me, you and your tabby will both be happier for it.

Red Tabby Cat Crossing a Ditch

Red Tabby Cat Crossing a Ditch

There Are Hazards for Tabbies in the Great Outdoors

Tabbies, at least of the most proudly "generic" sort, are a healthy bunch. We're robust, intelligent, and hardy. I myself have only needed one visit to the vet that wasn't for routine preventive care, and that was because I got bitten by another cat during a fight and it got infected, but that's OK because you TOTALLY should have seen the other cat! It was bigger than me and I absolutely KICKED its BUTT!


Anyway, the fact that we're generally pretty fit does not mean that our lives are without their dangers. My story (as clearly awesome as it is) illustrates why many humans think cats should be kept strictly indoors. If your tabby companion is a barn cat, like me, it might not be possible to keep it indoors; but if you adopt a kitten or cat from a shelter, it's a good idea to keep Tabby in the house. Outside, we might get hit by a car. We might get lost. Other animals can injure cats, give us diseases, or even kill us.

Brown Mackerel Tabby with Yarn

Brown Mackerel Tabby with Yarn

Tabby Hazards In The Home

So if you keep Tabby inside, you're good right? No worries!

Well, not so much. There are plenty of things in the average home that can pose a hazard to Tabby.

For instance, did you know that aspirin is extremely toxic to cats? And yet, many well-meaning people have inadvertently killed their injured cats by administering aspirin as a painkiller.

Numerous plants are also toxic to cats as well. Various lilies are popular houseplants, and this entire family—the allium family—is highly poisonous to cats. Since this family includes garlic and onions, you should be aware that these human-friendly foods are also toxic to cats. Other human foods that can be a problem for cats include avocados, chocolate, grapes, and macadamia nuts. It's rare (but not impossible!) for these foods to kill Tabby outright, but over time they can cause organ damage.

Other household items can pose a threat to cats. Electrical wires, such as those for lamps and appliances, can electrocute a cat that chews on them. Feline curiosity might lead us to jump up on a stove, unaware that it's lit, leading to severe burns. Even string and yarn, which we love to chase, can cause intestinal blockage if we're allowed to ingest it.

If I didn't know Stuart very well, I would be afraid and angry about being handled by someone so much bigger than me.  As it is, I'm uncomfortable being so far off the ground.

If I didn't know Stuart very well, I would be afraid and angry about being handled by someone so much bigger than me. As it is, I'm uncomfortable being so far off the ground.

Tabby Cat Emotions

Tabbies are cats, and cats are mammals. That means our brain's structure is not that different from yours. Like humans, cats experience fear, sadness, anger, disgust, desire, and happiness. These emotions are based on our brain physiology, and are responses to stimuli in our environment. Cats can also experience frustration, anxiety, and depression.

It's important to realize that the emotions we share with humans do not give us human motivations. We don't "act out" or "misbehave" in order to "punish" you. If we're doing something you don't like, there's always a reason, and it's always rooted in our needs as a cat.

Let me give you an example. In the photo above, Stuart has picked me up even though I didn't want him to (after all these years we're still working on his obedience training). In the photo, I'm merely annoyed, because I know Stuart won't hurt me. If I didn't know him well, I would be afraid because he's actually 20 times as big as I am. Of course, I would scratch and bite him in order to get away! I wouldn't be trying to "punish" Stuart, I'd just be trying to protecting myself. If you were picked up by a strange giant with dubious intentions, wouldn't you do whatever you had to escape?

Don't do it!

Don't do it!

A Word About Declawing – And That Word Is DON'T

I'm gonna say it again. DON'T DECLAW.

Unwanted scratching is a common cat behavior that drives humans nuts. Some humans try to address this by declawing their cats—sometimes before the cat has even developed a scratching problem!

Declawing cats used to be a common, routine practice. Fortunately, this fact is changing, because declawing is incredibly traumatic for the unfortunate cat.

Humans think of declawing as if the operation involved their own fingernails being removed under anesthetic. First of all, does that sound fun to you? Would you subject yourself to that operation voluntarily?


Then why would you do it to your cat?

But as it turns out, declawing is even worse than that.

Declawing Is Needless Amputation

Now imagine that those finger joints are your chief defensive weapon. Without them, you are completely defenseless, at the mercy of every other animal you meet for the rest of your life. You are unable to protect yourself in any way, and you know it. Do you think you might go a little crazy?

Unlike spaying and neutering, which are fairly simple operations, declawing is amputation. It is therefore much more painful than either of those operations, and it takes significantly longer to heal from the operation physically. Except that, in a way, you never exactly heal from an amputation. Your muscles and bones are an integrated structure, and when you remove something, the rest of the structure no longer fits together properly. The result can be a lifetime of pain.

Tinkering with a musculoskeletal structure is, of course, preferable to death. A life-threatening injury is the only time when amputation should be considered. If the problem is that you failed to get Tabby a scratching post, amputation is out of the question.

Aside from the physical scarring of declawing, declawed cats suffer psychological trauma. It's not uncommon even for humans to experience depression after a major illness or surgery, and in the case of declawing, the cat in question is well aware that they are now virtually defenseless. Declawed cats can develop anxiety and depressive disorders as a result. They can also undergo radical personality changes. Some of them might become fearful, hiding even from the humans they know well. Others can become extremely aggressive, compensating for the defenses they no longer have.

Dilute blue grey tabby scratching corrugated cardboard.

Dilute blue grey tabby scratching corrugated cardboard.

Alternatives to Declawing – Tabby Needs to Scratch!

Many veterinarians absolutely refuse to perform declawing amputations. Some of them will only declaw a cat if they're certain that the human "owner" will abandon the cat if it is not declawed.

Cats need to scratch. It is a physical need that cannot be changed. It can, however, be channeled. If you provide your cat with scratching toys, unwanted scratching should not be a problem. If it remains a problem, you can try double-sided tape on the objects you don't want scratched—we hate having sticky things on our paws. Ultimately, there are claw caps that can be used, much more cheaply and kindly than a declawing amputation.

It might take some time to train your cat not to scratch the rugs or furniture. You might need to try several different scratching toys and various other solutions. Some of us have strong preferences for what we scratch. Please be patient.

And if you really value your furniture over the health and well-being of a living creature, do not consider bringing a cat into your home. Close this browser window, right now, and get yourself a chia pet instead.

The End of the Beginning

I hope I've covered some of the important basic things you should know about tabby cats. Spaying and neutering are key. So is finding an alternative to declawing. So is healthy food, clean water, a nice litterbox, regular veterinary care, and lots of love and attention.

That being said, if you share your life with tabby cats, you will always be learning more about us. We will continually surprise you with our curiosity, our intelligence, and our unique personality quirks.

Since there's always more to learn about tabbies, I'll be writing more about them in the coming weeks. I might even let my co-kitty Piglet in on some of the fun.

Image Credits

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Did You Learn From This Article?

@ym,h car company on July 09, 2020:

i love cats

Peggy Hancock on July 01, 2020:

Van I I vaccinate my ginger kitty myself?

@poop on June 19, 2020:

this was extreamly helpful to me who might have a tabby cat

@Tabby on April 29, 2020:

Replying to @tabby about the neglected cat in a bin. I will find those j7nkies, And end their careers. They will be PUNISHED!

leo on January 14, 2020:

leo is a boy or girl

Tabby on January 20, 2019:

We just got our tabby cat. We saved her from two j7nkies who put her in a cage and stuck her in our dumpster. My husband heard her crying some how she got out and came runing from behind the dumpster right up to us she smelled horrible and let me pick her up with no problem so we took her in the house and went back to the store to get bath stuff cat food flea meds and everything she will need . When we got back the ladies were there they pulled her cage out if the dumpster and asked us if we seen her i said no. She us happy as ever. When we open the door she doesnt even try to run to it she . She has blessed our family with so much joy. Im not sure if it far to say we saved her because i feel like she saved us as well.

tabby lover 23774 on September 07, 2018:

I have a Orange tabby and he loves to scratch the couch but he loves he's dog brother Maddox

Tabby LOVER on May 05, 2016:

I have a orange tabby, and didn't get her a scratching post. She doesn't scratch the furniture like our other cats, and I found that exceptionally normal behavior until I read this article. Is she scratching something outside, or is there something going on?

Marko on February 21, 2015:

If you have no idea which company to chsooe for buying resume and require professional resume writing service, visit home page. You can look over resume templates and buy resume from expert resume writers.

anonymous on May 14, 2013:

Cool, helps a lot! Cool cat names! :)

anonymous on January 09, 2013:

Well Done for this web page, I have learned a lot. Thank you

anonymous on December 27, 2012:

i love how you set it up because we have a baby tabby

anonymous on November 26, 2012:

thank you i found this very helpful. i have two tabbies in my home and the are doing something i didn't understand however after reading this i feel much better and i know what i have to do to take better care of them. thank you very much.

anonymous on October 14, 2012:

I'm not a good tabbies owner-_- We(my family and I) should spay before she gave birth to 6! and we should give more freedom to the tabby babies..Thanks for sharing,my Comot & Nipon love it :]

anonymous on September 08, 2012:

Thank you, I did learn a few things. Do you know the lifeline of a tabby? I've been searching, but can't really seem to find it.

anonymous on July 10, 2012:

I have learnt a thing or two thank you! I have two tabby cats and they are both VERY clever. My boy, Rascal (yes, he is a rascal! And he looks a bit like you!) loves cuddles and my other is a very proud lady (Skye) who will frequently box Rascals ears for being a little mischief!

anonymous on July 05, 2012:

that is really good i used to know nothing about tabbys or cats in general!

Thank you

PS you are great!

Terry Lomax from Rep. of Ireland on July 04, 2012:

You are truly awesome, and so is this lens. I live with 2 cats, a black short hair and a maine coon, got them both from a rescue over 13 years ago. Cats are smart, tough, very affectionate, and greatly misunderstood by many humans. This lens should be displayed everywhere.

RuralFloridaLiving on July 04, 2012:

Love cats--tabbies are great companions. Thanks for a great lens.

amy-lynn on May 14, 2012:

This was very informational.. I was wondering.. how do you tell a female kitten from a male kitten??? I'm adopting a tabby kitten in two weeks from its mama.. and I would really like to know who gender I am getting. I have a boy dog, so would the gender of the kitten matter cause of my dog?

Indigo Janson from UK on November 18, 2011:

HQ are asking me to recommend a lens that "best represents the quality we want to see on Squidoo". I whole-heartedly recommend this one! :)

David Dove on August 30, 2011:

Loved every word of it, particularly the message on de-clawing, thank you. The feral was particularly wonderful, what a character.

termit_bronx on August 05, 2011:

Cute cats and a very informative lens. At home we have 5 cats and they are all cute, too! :)

mivvy on July 22, 2011:

I love your photos, especia;;y theone with the big claw.

TravelingRae on July 04, 2011:

Great lens! I love my brown tabby. He definitely picked me. His evil previous owner (definitely an owner, not a mom like me) neglected him and even amputated this toes to remove his claws! You'd think he'd be traumatized, but no. I've never met such a loving cat. I guess he's grateful to have found a good forever home.

JoshK47 on June 29, 2011:

Great lens about tabby cats! Great work. :)

anonymous on March 27, 2011:

Absolutely excellent information and so interestingly written. Thank you for yelling out about declawing, what a barbaric practice.

HubLens Admin on January 04, 2011:

Very educational for a cat lover and I think all cats appreciate your message of "Don't declaw". Thumbs up.

anonymous on December 22, 2010:

I got my kitten lil' orange tabby, nami, from a barn with my gf. we love her, she does pretty amazing things. she was no bigger than half a subway sandwich; now, she's like a really big Christmas ham! with the same aromatic intensity around the litter box!

Indigo Janson from UK on September 18, 2010:

So glad this got a purple star! ;) I see you have a couple more angel blessings too... yay!

Richard from Surrey, United Kingdom on September 18, 2010:

Tabbies rule! And so does this lens. Invaluable information. Congrats on its recent purpleness too :) *Blessed*

Lisa Marie Gabriel from United Kingdom on September 09, 2010:

Blessing this lens. Tabbies are great! :)

grannysage on May 02, 2010:

Aawww, tabbies are so cute. My cats totally agree with the declawing issue. It's a horrendous thing to do to a cat. My cats must have taught me well...I got 100% on the quiz. Lenrolling this to my two cat lenses.

Indigo Janson from UK on April 12, 2010:

On my first day as a Squidoo Angel.... I came back to bless a wonderful lens.

*~*~ Angel Blessed ~*~*

Delia on March 17, 2010:

5*...another great lens about a Tabby..and another lensroll to my cat's lens

norma-holt on March 03, 2010:

Another well done lens. It deserved op marks and lensrolled to pet health


anonymous on February 23, 2010:

My two cats thank you from the bottom of their hearts. You have "pawed" some really great advice to both the potential companion or a long time companion. Thank you for your insight, us humans can use all the help we can get.

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on February 23, 2010:

All of the fur babies pictured here are beautiful, even that poor feral cat. This really is an awesome care resource. We all love cats in our family. My daughter takes in all strays. It gets very expensive, but she has a heart of gold. Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens. (I trust you CC. Please don't eat the mouse:)

Holley Web on February 22, 2010:

Awww.. CC you are a gorgeous Tabby! I was a minion to my girl for over 20 years. I do miss having a precious cat around to do it's bidding :) A wonderful lens with excellent information!

anonymous on February 22, 2010:

Thank you CC for the great information on Tabby cats. Missy was on my lap while I was reading and she kept pawing at the pictures of the cats and kittens. She's a medium hair tabby. Has yellow and green eyes.

Indigo Janson from UK on February 22, 2010:

Hey, CC... your wonderful lens was my very first choice for my Monday posts on the Squidoo Lens Review blog. Make sure you tell Addy to claim your review badge.

kimmanleyort on February 22, 2010:

Although I am not a cat owner, I love a lens written from a cat's point of view. Your photos are amazing too and show the tabby cat's unique personality. Congratulations on being featured at Squid Lens Reviews!

GrowWear on February 19, 2010:

As a human minion, years ago, to a beautiful blue-eyed Siamese that came to me full-grown and declawed, I can attest to the fact that I would not have lost her to a couple of big dogs that found her loose one day if she had had claws for protection. She liked to run out if she caught the door open sometimes. I still feel a sense of terrible loss. ...My grandmother had tabbies all over her farm. Love that claw picture. Love all animals.

Indigo Janson from UK on January 18, 2010:

CC... you are awesome. :)

This second lens from you is as impressive as the first. A wonderful guide to tabby cat care, and a delight to read.

Cynthia Arre from Quezon City on January 18, 2010:

My husband and I are lucky enough to have been "adopted" by a wonderful tabby so I really appreciated the information you have on this page. I even learned new things I didn't know about before (and I thought I was already well-informed!) Adorable lens, Addy. *blessed by another angel*

justholidays on January 18, 2010:

It's very well done. I would say that I agree 100% with one of your paragraphs: you're adopted by a cat and must forget about adopting one as they only decide whether they love you or not. You've made an inspiring page for anyone who's thinking of adopting a cat - or any other animal - or anyone who already have animals at home.

SquidAngel blessings.