Affectionately nicknamed Aby, the Abyssinian is one of the oldest known breeds of cat. Its origin is somewhat unknown and there are several stories as to how the breed came about. They have a similar appearance to ancient Egyptian cats.
The first Abyssinian cat was brought to England in 1868. In the book Cats, Their Points and Characteristics (published in 1874), author Gordon Stables mentions the following…”Zula, the property of Mrs Captain Barrett-Lennard. This cat was brought from Abyssinia at the conclusion of the war…” In the Harpers Weekly supplement dated January 27, 1872, there is an illustration of several feline exhibits from the London Crystal Palace show, including an Abyssinian cat. In the following write up the journalist writes
“The third prize was taken by the Abyssinian cat, shown in the lower right-hand corner of the illustration. She was captured in the late Abyssinian war, and was mostly remarkable for her woe-begone appearance, seemingly discontented at her sudden elevation into notoriety, and longing for her barbaric freedom in the good old days of King Theodore.”
Sadly there are no written records tracing the early Abyssinians in Britain. It is believed by some breeders that the Abyssinian cat was actually created by crossing silver and brown Tabbies with English ticked cats known as bunny cats.
The Abyssinian cat was officially recognised as a distinct breed in 1882. The first standard of points was published in Harrison Weir’s book in 1889 and the first Abyssinian registered in the National Cat Club Stud book was in 1896.
Image Ross Funnell, Flickr
The Abyssinian is a long, lithe, muscular, medium-sized cat that is well proportioned. The legs are long and slender, with small oval paws. The tail is thick at the base, long and tapering at the tip. Abyssinians weigh between 4.5 – 6 kg (9.9 – 13.2 oz).
The head is a modified wedge, the muzzle is neither pointed or square, A slight wedge-shaped head with almond-shaped eyes and large which are encircled with a dark line which is surrounded by a slightly lighter colour. The ears are large and slightly pointed at the tip.
The coat is short, silky and close lying coat with distinct ticking and a beautiful sheen.
The Abyssinian comes in four colours, with photos at the end of the article.
Image source Bethany, Flickr
Temperament of the Abyssinian cat
Abyssinians are highly intelligent, extroverted and active cats who thrive on companionship, in fact, they are said to be very dog-like and don’t do well when left on their own for extended periods. They are well known for their high energy levels and love of high places. If you want somebody who is on the go all the time, then the Abyssinian is the perfect cat for you. They love people and like to be included in everyday family life. Abyssinian cats often enjoy a game of fetch with their human companions. Abyssinians love everybody, as long as they are the centre of attention they don’t tend to play favourites with any one member of the family. Abyssinian cats are also known for their love of riding on the shoulder of their human companion. They are sometimes referred to as the ‘clowns of the cat kingdom‘.
If you are out of the house for extended periods of time, then it is recommended that your Abyssinian has a companion to keep him company while you are aware. Abyssinians thrive on company, and it is important that if you are thinking of adopting an Aby, that you be prepared to give him the time and attention he needs. Words often used to describe Abyssinians include loyal, active, intelligent, playful and inquisitive. They are not an overly talkative cat and have a quiet voice.
Image source Alex Brown, Flickr
Buying an Abyssinian cat
Always buy a purebred cat from a registered cat breeder. A backyard breeder may be cheaper, but you don’t know what you are getting and won’t get the guarantees or support a registered breeder will give you. Try to see the kitten in his environment, and if possible meet his mother too. I really believe what you see as a kitten is what you will get.
I personally recommend buying a kitten who has been raised ‘under foot’, which means he’s been raised in the home, with the breeder and their family. This helps to ensure your kitten has been properly socialised not only with his mother and siblings but also with people. Kittens should not leave their home until they are at least 12 weeks old, by then they should have received two of the required three vaccinations. Many breeders also opt to desex (spay or neuter) the kitten before he goes to his new home.
Photo source Chanel Wheeler, Flickr
The short hair of the Abyssinian coat requires little more than a five-minute groom once a week to removed loose hairs. Indoor cats should have their nails trimmed every 4-6 weeks. Both grooming and nail trimming should start in kittenhood.
When you bring your new kitten home, feed him the same food he was fed at his old home, if you would like to change the type of food he eats, gradually introduce the new food while reducing the old type over a few days. This can help prevent tummy upsets.
Due to the Abyssinian’s high energy levels, an outdoor cat enclosure where he can run and climb is recommended. They don’t do as well being cooped up in a small space all day like some of the less active breeds. At the very least, he should be provided with a tall cat tree he can climb and perch on top of as he watches the world go by.
Oral hygene should be maintained from kittenhood as Abyssinians are prone to gingivitis. This can be achieved with regular brushing with a pet toothbrush and toothpaste (never use human toothpaste), or by feeding raw chicken necks or human grade chunks of raw steak two to three times a week.
Your Abyssinian should see a veterinarian once a year for a health check up. He should be provided with plenty of toys to keep him occupied and help him burn off some energy. Wand toys are perfect, they can stalk, chase and catch them.
Photo source Ross Funnell, Flickr
Abyssinian cat health
As with all cats, purebred or domestic, some can be more prone to health problems. Bear in mind that most of these conditions are still rare, even in Abyssinian cats and most breeders work hard to eliminate these diseases by careful breeding as well as genetic testing, where possible.
- Patellar luxation
- Feline renal amyloidosis
- Retinal degeneration
- Gingivitis which can proceed to periodontitis (gum disease)
- Psychogenic alopecia
- Pyruvate kinase deficiency
- Myasthenia gravis
Image Aleksander Markin, Flickr
The average lifespan of an Abyssinian cat is between 12-15 years.