The Abyssinian is thought by some to be one of the very oldest of all breeds of domestic cats. Abyssinians resemble the sculptural and painted representations of ancient Egyptian cats – they are medium in size, muscular yet elegant, with long, well-arched necks, large alert ears, long legs and exotic, almond-shaped eyes. They come in a variety of color variations, including lavender, blue, chocolate, black silver, fawn, sorrel, ruddy and sorrel silver. A unique characteristic of the Abyssinian is the banding, or “ticking,” on individual hairs. There typically are three or four bands of color on each hair. The Abyssinian’s coat is soft, silky and lustrous, with a full undercoat. The tail is broad at the base, tapering to a point which is the color of the darkest ticking of the coat.
While it is certain that the Abyssinian was refined as a breed in England, the exact origin of the breed is not known. Some authorities suggest that the first Abyssinians were brought to Great Britain by solders returning home from the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) war in and around 1868. However, many British breeders believe that the Abyssinian descends from crossings of existing silver and brown tabbies with native British “Bunny” ticked cats. More recent genetic evidence suggests that this breed actually originated along the coast of the Indian Ocean and in other parts of Southeastern Asia, beginning in the mid-1830’s. Followers of this theory believe that the Abyssinian was brought to England from Calcutta – the major Indian Ocean port – with colonists and traveling merchants.
The first Abys were exported from Britain to America in the early 1900’s. However, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that top-quality specimens arrived in the United States, becoming the foundation for today’s American purebred Abyssinian cats.
Abyssinians are reported to have a predisposition to developing one or more of the following medical conditions: dilated cardiomyopathy, psychogenic alopecia (stress-related hair loss), congenital hypothyroidism, renal amyloidosis (breed-predisposition to a kidney disorder), hyperaesthesia syndrome, progressive retinal atrophy and nasopharyngeal polyps.
Abyssinians are quite active, social and vocal. They bond closely with their owners and want to be involved in everything that their people do. They are very adaptable to new situations and environments. Abys are intelligent and easy to train; they also are quite good at training their owners to wait on them hand and foot. Abyssinians are not simply ornamental lap cats, although they enjoy a good snuggle and are highly affectionate to their family members. This is a sturdy, smart, witty, fun and funny breed that can be demanding of attention and respect.
Abyssinians are energetic, athletic and playful with their owners. They also have been described as being quiet, shy, gentle, reserved and somewhat aloof with strangers. Abys thrive in an indoor living environment and typically provide hours of daily amusement to their owners. They are highly social and sociable, and they require a definite role in the family unit. This is not a breed to be left alone for long periods of time, as they can become bored and destructive. Even as adults, they remain playful and rotate between periods of frenzied activity and total relaxation. They are known to be proficient hunters.
Abyssinians normally get along quite well with other cats, and even with dogs. They are not prolific breeders, rarely having more than three or four kittens in a litter. Most breed fanciers recommend that Abys be kept indoors, to promote a healthy, long and safe life. Abyssinians have very short hair and are susceptible to becoming chilled in cold weather. Also, house cats have a greatly reduced risk of being hit by cars, contracting infectious diseases and becoming infested with external or internal parasites than do cats allowed to roam freely outdoors. Abyssinians make wonderful companions and are among the most personable of all exotic domestic cat breeds.