Abyssinian Cats  Chocolate brothers by Martin Bahmann

Photo Credit: Martin Bahmann

Abyssinian cats have a beautiful and wild look that emulates that of their ancestor, the felis lybica (African wildcat). Their bodies are lean, muscular, and athletic. They have distinct facial features including large, pointed, wide-set ears and almond shaped eyes that are either a stunning gold or green in color. Abyssinians have short agouti (or ticked) tabby fur meaning that each strand of fur has bands of color on it. Their coats come in one of 4 shades: Red, Ruddy, Fawn, and Blue (TICA also adds Cinnamon, Chocolate, and Lilac).

Making History

Abyssinian Cats Mariomassone Tomb of Nebamun British Museum

A portion of Mariomassone from the Ancient Egyptian Tomb of Nebamun
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Abyssinian is one of the oldest domestic cat breeds. It appears that the Ancient Egyptians may have been one of the first to fall in love the them. The Ancient Egyptians depicted Abyssinian cats in the artwork – drawings, paintings, and sculptures.

At the first cat show in England during the Victorian Era, Dr. Staples wrote a book called Cats, Their Points, Etc.,  including an description of an Abyssinian cat named Zula. He claimed that Zula came to her owner by way of a soldier returning from the Abyssinian War (British troops left the area in 1868).  Other than Dr. Staples’ book there is no documentation of Zula coming from Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia). Cat breeders in Great Britain continued breeding Abyssinians until World War II nearly wiped them out. At that point breeders had to start from scratch.

Modern research has shown that Abyssinians most likely did not come from Ethiopia. The tracing of genetic traits shows that they more likely came from the west coast of India. Speculation is that the cats were found by European colonists and merchants who stopped off around the area of Calcutta.  While Abyssinians made their way back to Great Britian by the mid 1800’s, they did not make it to North America until the early 1900’s.

Potential Medical Problems

Abyssinian cats Zula Dr. Staples' Cats; Their Points, Etc

Zula as depicted in Dr. Staples’ book Cats; Their Points, Etc.,
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

While Abyssinian cats are mostly healthy (with an average lifespan fo 12 -15 years) there are 3  medical problems common to the breed:

  • Luxating patella. This means that the knee cap slips in and out of place causing the knee to dislocate.
  • Gingivitis and tooth decay.
  • Amyloidosis. A disorder caused by a protein build up in the cat’s kidneys that results in the kidneys being unable to function properly. Richard Goldstein, DVM, of Cornell University recommends that Abyssinian cats have blood work done 1 per year (2 times per year when the cat is older) to catch Amyloidosis early.

The “Aby-silly-an” Personality

Abyssinian cats kitten with feathers cfa

Image courtesy of www.cfa.org

Abyssinian cats have an energetic, playful nature. Don’t expect this kitty to sleep all day! Known as one of the most intelligent breeds of domestic cat, these cats are full of curiosity and ready to explore every nook and cranny of your home. With clownish, mischievous antics, they have sometimes been called “Aby-silly-ans.”They love being around people, but they are not big fans of being picked up or held. Let them come to you and you will receive plenty of love and affection.


Abyssinian cats adult cat Martin Bahmann

Photo credit: Martin Bahmann