Why Are All Ginger Cats Tabby?

Why are all ginger cats tabbies?

Cat coats consist of two pigments phaeomelanin (red pigment) and eumelanin (black or brown pigment). The gene for ginger (red) is located on the X chromosome and is therefore sex-linked. One interesting phenomenon with ginger cats is that they are always tabby.

The tabby coat pattern is made up of two components; the base agouti (ticked) background which is composed of alternating light and dark bands on each hair, and the overlying dark spots, swirls or stripes. The default ‘wild type‘ cat is a brown mackerel tabby.

As cats have evolved, genetic mutations have occurred many of which are responsible for the vast array of colours and patterns we know and love. One such gene is non-agouti (a/a) or hypermelanistic, which overlays the agouti base colour with melanin pigment to produce a solid coloured cat.  The non-agouti gene does not affect phaeomelanin (red), and therefore all ginger cats exhibit the tabby pattern.

Ginger tabby patterns

The ginger cat can exhibit one of three tabby patterns; mackerel spotted and classic. The basic wild-type mackerel tabby, the recessive recessive classic tabby and the spotted tabby.

  • Mackerel tabby – Well-defined, evenly spaced thin vertical stripes on the sides of the body which extend from the shoulder to the tail, rings around the legs and tail and pale ground colour.
  • Classic tabby – Also known as blotched tabby, the classic tabby pattern consists of dark whorls on a lighter background. The ideal classic tabby will have a bullseye or oyster mark on each flank.
  • Spotted tabby – A variant of the mackerel tabby however a modifier gene breaks the characteristic mackerel stripes up into spots.

In addition to the red tabby pattern, some cats can also have areas of white due to the white spotting gene.

Ginger in male and female cats

As the orange (ginger) gene is sex-linked, if a female inherits one copy of the orange gene and one copy of black, she will be tortoiseshell or torbie. This is because she carries both non-orange and orange which are both expressed.

Tortoiseshell cat
Tortoiseshell cat. Scink/Shutterstock

For a female cat to be ginger, she must inherit two copies of the orange gene (one from each parent) to be ginger. The male only needs to inherit one copy of the orange gene as phaeomelanin masks eumelanin, so a red cat masks the black. This is why there are more male ginger cats than females.

What’s the difference between a ginger cat and a tabby cat?

Tabby is a pattern that consists of stripes, sworls or spots on an agouti background. All ginger cats are tabby but not all tabby cats are ginger. Tabby occurs in several colours including ginger, brown and silver.

Feature image: Lucky Business/Shutterstock


  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio