Do tabby stripes grow or do tabbys grow more stripes?
December 16, 2009 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Do tabby cats grow more stripes as they get older, or do their stripes just get bigger?

My wife and I have a pair of cats. One is solid black, the other a gray tabby. We've had both since they were very young. We've recently been wondering if the tabby cat has grown more stripes with age, or if the number of stripes are static, and they simply get bigger/expand?

Common sense tells me "both", but does anyone know for sure how it works?

Old pictures are no help - we don't have a good picture of him as a kitten. A couple minutes on google doesn't lead to an answer, but I might not be searching for the right thing.
posted by ish__ to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This article on cat genetics doesn't directly answer your question, but it provides a decent explanation of why cats have colors and patterns, and may help you with search terms.
posted by desjardins at 7:03 PM on December 16, 2009

I suggest doing intensive research via the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee archives. In fact, I will be taking my own suggestion right now.

lookit dah kitty witties! lookit dah stripey wipey kitties yes you are yes you are
posted by Mizu at 7:04 PM on December 16, 2009 [8 favorites]

I have taken my own advice and done an extremely scientific comparison of the pictures available of Willamena, a tabby (with thumbs!!). Going by the distinctive face-stripes, it looks like the stripes get more defined, but not more in number. October 2007 to December 2007.
posted by Mizu at 7:15 PM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can't speak for all tabbies, but when I got mine from the pound 11 years ago as kittens, I was very interested in this question myself. I carefully tracked them (yes, it is true) and in their case, the stripes simply got wider, but not more numerous.

It started because I was so fascinated by how TINY the stripes were on those little bitty kittens!
posted by ErikaB at 7:18 PM on December 16, 2009

Best answer: They don't get new stripes. The pattern is set from birth, like leopards and ladybugs.

It's possible that patterns can darken with age, however. Pointed (e.g. Siamese) cats get noticeably darker fur as they age. This is especially noticeable with lynx points: when they are younger their stripes are confined to their face, legs, and tail, but as they age stripes can develop all over. This cat is an example of a lynx point who has darkened with age and now looks like an all-over tabby. (For another example, if you need more kitten-blog research, check out The Cookies from Love and Hisses, who have definitely gotten stripier over time.)

As far as I know darkening/lightening of the fur all over is possible in other coat colors - my family has an older black cat who has developed a smoke color on his undercoat over the years. An all-over darkening of a tabby cat's fur might bring out stripes that were always there but very faint, or make already-visible stripes look wider.

Other than that, the only thing that might account for your cat's stripes looking bigger might be a change in its weight. (from desjardins' link above) is an excellent source of information on cat genetics and is definitely worth a look.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:39 PM on December 16, 2009

I have a friend who breeds Persians. Some of her solid colored kittens had "ghost stripes". The kittens appeared to have stripes, but the colors never solidified. For their breed standards, the cat must have white on its face in addition to stripes to be considered tabby.

Sometimes colors fade, as with the copper-eyed white Persians. These kittens usually have a color mark, a "dot", on the back of their head when they are born, which fades as the kitten ages. The mark basically displays the color genetics the white cat carries. The mark may be black or red, or there may be no mark in the case of calico color carriers!

The spots on a kitten's belly will fade with time, and the stripes become darker and lighter with the seasons, but I don't know of any tabbies getting MORE stripes as they age. Except perhaps on their bellies...

Tabbies are kewl. The name comes from a neighborhood in Baghdad called Tabriz, I believe.
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 7:41 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Genetically speaking, each hair follicle is programmed at birth for its color. The number of follicles doesn't change as the cat grows older, so the pattern remains the same; it just scales as the skin between the follicles stretches.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:56 PM on December 16, 2009

Since my data point is really Tonkinese ears and tails, I loved that the messybeast link showed the Siamese Burmese cross leading to the cats I bred as a kid with my grandmother.

In point colored cats, the color doesn't spread from the ears to the face or neck as the kitten ages, but the ears sure do get bigger. Which I say supports the 'stripes getting wider, but not multiplying,' crowd.
posted by bilabial at 4:50 AM on December 17, 2009

My cat had the tiniest tuft of white, like an eyeshadow brush, on his tail as a kitten, and I assumed it would go away.

My cat has the tiniest tuft of white, like an eyeshadow brush, on his tail as an old dirty bastard.
posted by xueexueg at 6:33 AM on December 17, 2009

I don't know about all tabbies, but my tabby Orestes (who despite my best efforts has grown wider as well as bigger at an alarming rate) has the same number of stripes as he had when I got him at 1 year old. The stripes are just much bigger and wider, like him.
posted by Kurichina at 7:53 AM on December 17, 2009

Tangential, but I've got an orange tabby with such a striking spotted mackerel pattern that I can't help but imagine a connection to conus seashells and the cellular automata work of Stephen Wolfram. The patterns don't evolve as the cat ages, unlike the seashell, but the dreamer within me would love to see a hereditary evolution.

I've got a sci fi novella bouncing around in my head wherein a computer scientist discovers a mapping between the markings on his cat and her kittens, infers the rule of the automaton, and attempts to extrapolate the solution that his cat's lineage is computing. He takes up animal husbandry and eventually breeds the cat kwisatz haderach which proceeds to eat the universe or something.
posted by rlk at 9:33 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've raised a few tabbies from kittenhood, and the patterns stay the same. Even the tiny delicate dots on faces etc.

(Of course kittens have scraggly sparse coats, so the filled out glossy adult coat might seem to have more marks, I don't know.)
posted by phliar at 3:44 PM on December 17, 2009

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