PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 16, 2008

Physical Characteristics

The Abyssinian belongs to the ticked or agouti breed, both terms used for the cat's type of fur. Its distinctive feature is its silky, multicolored coat, which is a combination of several colors on each hair shaft. Each strand of hair has dark colored bands, contrasting with the light colored bands, and ending with a dark tip. This gives the cat its ticking appearance, and makes it stunning to look at.

The Abyssinian is medium in size, with well developed muscles and a graceful walk. It also has strikingly, almond-shaped eyes, which are gold or green in color.

Personality and Temperament

Though a born beauty, this cat is not for show. Courage, a natural curiosity, and high spirits mark out the Abyssinian. It is not a cat that enjoys being handled extensively. It has an independent mind but will insist on participating in every aspect of its owner’s life. When you are having meals it may also attach itself to your legs and be fed on crumbs.

Active and playful, it is also known as the class clown, making you laugh at all its shenanigans. It loves to perch on your shoulder, crawl under covers, and gravitates to your lap when you least expect it. It may then caper off to swat at imaginary objects, or leap for the tallest bookcase.

Life is certainly never dull when you have an Abyssinian in your home. It can even amuse itself for hours.

Health and Care

The Abyssinian is a bundle of energy that chaffs at restrictions, getting its much-needed exercise by playing often. This cat frequently seeks interaction with humans, bonding through grooming and cuddling with its owner.

Although Abyssinians are usually healthy, they are susceptible to gingivitis and tooth decay. Therefore, proper dental care is essential for their well being. Abyssinians can also suffer from amyloidosis, an organ (renal) disease that is thought to be hereditary.

History and Background

The origin of the Abyssinian remains shrouded in mystery. However, there is some evidence that ancient Egyptians worshiped cats: murals and sculptures, some as old as 4,000 years, bear a remarkable resemblance to today’s Abyssinian.

Recent genetic research also reveals that the present day Abyssinian may have originated from a breed found in Southeast Asia and on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Others indicate the Abyssinian looks similar to the African wildcat, which is regarded as the ancestor of all domestic cats. Many breeders believe that the original Abyssinian line has perished, and give credit to British breeders for recreating the breed.

The first documented Abyssinian is Zula, which was described and physically detailed by the Scottish born Dr. William Gordon Stables, in his 1876 book, Cats: Their Points and Characteristics, With Curiosities of Cat Life, and a Chapter on Feline Ailments (London: Dean & Smith). As the British-led Abyssinian war of 1868 drew to a close, Zula (named for the Abyssinian town the expedition party built port at) joined the voyage from Abyssinia to England with the expedition leader Lt. Gen. Sir Robert Napier and his crew.

While the British undoubtedly played a large role in cultivating the modern Abyssinian, their efforts were wiped out by the devastations of World War II and they had to begin again. One would conclude that much of the Abyssinian's original traits have changed in the process, yet even now they command the same veneration and regard the breed had in ancient Egypt.

It was not until the 20th Century that the Abyssinian was recognized in the United States. First exhibited in Boston, Mass. in 1909, the breed did not begin to show success until the 1930s. Even then the success was limited because many of the offspring died young. In 1938, however, a red colored Abyssinian named Ras Seyum was imported to the U.S. from Britain. The cat caught the attention of cat enthusiasts and its popularity led to more British imports of the breed, followed by the success the Abyssinian has today.

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