Cat Breeds 101: The Abyssinian

This Abyssinian has the breed's signature almond-shaped eyes, big pointy ears, and "ticked" coat pattern

This Abyssinian has the breed’s signature almond-shaped eyes, big pointy ears, and “ticked” coat pattern

The Abyssinian is a popular medium-sized breed of house cat that has a striking and unique “ticked” coat that gives them such notoriety in the cat breed world. Each hair on the Abyssinian’s fine coat is banded with different colors, giving them a look that is instantly recognizable and aesthetically pleasing. The Abyssinian breed is an old one, originating near the Egyptian coast over one hundred years ago. The name Abyssinian comes from the cat’s origins hailing from the area now known as Ethiopia.

Where do Abyssinians come from?

The Abyssinian breed is one of the oldest cat breeds in history, first dating back to the late 1800s. The breed was developed in Great Britain, back when British soldiers began to bring the exotic kittens back to the E.U. from North Africa in the late 19th century. Genetic research says that the breed officially originated in Egypt and near the Indian Ocean Coast. Today’s Abyssinians derived from Alexandria, a city in Egypt, by a British soldier in 1868. In the late 1930s, Abyssinians were exported from Great Britain to the U.S. to form the American breeding program.

What do Abyssinians look like?

Notice the slender tail and legs of this purebred Abyssinian

Notice the slender tail and legs of this purebred Abyssinian

The Abyssinian is a slim, medium-sized cat. Their heads are wedge-shaped, with the nose and chin forming a straight line when viewed from the side. Their ears are large and pointy, complimented by their large almond-shaped eyes that come in gold, green, hazel, and copper. Their legs are long and skinny, with small paws and a comparatively long tail that becomes skinnier as it goes on. The Abyssinian should weigh between 6-10lbs.

Abyssinians are born with dark coats that lighten over the first few months of their life. Their coats are short and fine, yet dense and full. One of the most notable traits of the Abyssinian is the pattern of their coat; referred to as “ticked” or “agouti” pattern. This can be described as each hair having bands of color, creating a complex fur pattern. The ridge of their spine, tail, the back of the legs, and paw pads are typically darker in color. You’ll find the typical tabby “M” pattern on their foreheads in many cases.

The standard color of an Abyssinian is a warm red/brown with black ticking. They can also be silver, blue, chocolate, and lilac. This special pattern of their ticked coats is due to a dominant mutated gene called Ta. The genome was first published based on an Abyssinian named Cinnamon. There are other colors that have either been observed or are in development, including a “torbie” pattern; this includes the ticked pattern on the hairs, but possesses the tortoiseshell pattern beneath the fur.

What do Abyssinians act like?

Abyssinians are known to be smart, extroverted in the right settings, and very playful. They are so play-oriented that Abyssinians are known to become depressed without the appropriate amount of attention and care. They are quiet and not huge on meowing, which can be a pleasant attribute for quieter homes.

As shown with these kittens, Abyssinians can come in a variety of colors, even in one litter

As shown with these kittens, Abyssinians can come in a variety of colors, even in one litter

The breed is great with strangers and family in the right setting, but tend to become anxious and uncomfortable outside of their homes. This provides a challenge for breeders wishing to show the cats. They may not be lap cats, but they certainly are loyal and loving. The Abyssinian loves to perch up high, and an extra tall cat tree would be a great addition for any Aby-owner. They are intelligent and energetic and tend to sleep less than your average cat, craving attention and action over a cat nap most days.

What is the Abyssinian’s health like?

The Abyssinian has a few health problems that come up regularly within the breed. One concern is gingivitis. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease, which can be very serious and costly to fix. Gingivitis refers to the swelling of the gums, and is usually caused by plaque. Having an Abyssinian as a pet will require a bit more maintenance due to this ailment; you’ll need to regularly brush their teeth and take them to the veterinarian for regular oral health checkups.

THe breed is also prone to familial renal amyloidosis, a kidney disorder. They are also prone to blindness and patellar luxation. Progressive retinal atrophy is a gene mutation that causes blindness which comes up often in the Abyssinian breed. Another health problem that often occurs in Abyssinians is Pyruvate Kinase deficiency, which impairs the red blood cells ability to metabolize and can cause anemia or other blood-related problems. This can be tested for, and a responsible breeder will be open and upfront about the prevalence of the disease in their breed line.

Abyssinians are a smart and brave breed, good for homes with children and other pets. Their lack of fearfulness will keep them from hiding, and their curiosity will allow them to bond with the other members of your household. If you are interested in adding an Abyssinian to your family, be prepared for an energetic and lovable sidekick that requires a bit more maintenance than your average feline. You may have to brush your Aby’s teeth and give them baths occasionally, but the benefits certainly outweigh the negatives! Look for a responsible breeder in your area, or keep an eye out at your local animal shelter. You never know; an Abyssinian may just come your way!