Cat Breed Profile: Abyssinian

Abyssinians are one of the oldest domesticated cat breeds, and they still grace many homes with their regal appearance and silly antics.

abyssinian-breed-profile
Abyssinian cats are regal in appearance but can be silly at times. By: Rebecca Siegel

Breed

Abyssinian, a.k.a. Aby

Physical Description

Appearing similar to a small mountain lion, the Aby is a graceful, muscular cat with regal movement. This high energy and inquisitive breed has expressive almond-shaped eyes, a wedge-shaped head, arched neck and large ears. Despite its aristocratic look, Abys can be very goofy and entertaining at times.

The coat is short and ticked with color featuring multicolored strands. The four main colors of the coat include ruddy, red, blue and fawn. The coat is said to be sparkling and iridescent, although this may vary based on the individual cat.

Males weigh between 8 and 10 pounds, and females are slightly smaller weighing in between 6 and 7 pounds. The average life expectancy of an Aby is around 10 to 15 years, but this can vary based on health and genetic issues.

Origin

Although the origin of the Aby varies, the breed is considered to be one of the oldest domesticated cat breeds. One theory lists the Aby as a direct descendent of a cat considered sacred in Ancient Egypt because the breed’s image resembles those portrayed in murals and artifacts dating far back in Egyptian history.

The other theory posits the breed originated in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), and British soldiers returned to England with a cat named Zula from that area after a war in 1868.

Genetic studies offer contradicting evidence; results of the tests trace the breed’s origin to the Bay of Bengal in India. A museum in Holland has a taxidermied Aby dating to 1834 and is also listed with an origin of India, and this discovery offers additional evidence of an Asian heritage. The breed appeared in the United States in the early 20th century. The breed quickly became a favorite after further development in the 1930s when high quality Abys were imported from Britain.

A descendent of the Aby, the Somali, was named for Somalia and its proximity to the country of Abyssinia, as well as the connection in ancestry to the Aby.

Temperament

Abys are extremely curious and will investigate every corner and height within reach.

They are likely to chase anything that moves and are intelligent, with many people saying their Abys teach them to play fetch. They are playful as kittens and well into adulthood. Abys can be regal and sophisticated one minute and silly the next, making them a fun cat breed for an active family. They are good with kids and cat-friendly dogs.

Abys are affectionate and people-oriented cats. They are close to their family members and are often following people around or in their face being inquisitive. Despite the breed not being described as a lap cat, many people report their Abys are loving pets.

Exercise Needs

Toxic items and breakables should be kept well out of reach from Abys. The curious cats will climb and walk nearly everywhere in the home, so assume every surface is at risk.

These active and playful cats love vertical spaces and would appreciate a cat tower or two in addition to toys. They can also be taught to walk on a leash if you want to head outdoors, but the best permanent home for an Aby is indoors.

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They are active in the home and won’t miss not being able to go outdoors, although some people have had Abys who make a run for it every time a door opens. Because this breed is very active and playful, any noticeable reduction in activity should be addressed with your veterinarian.

To provide an example of the breed’s silly side, check out this video of Dexter the blue Abyssinian dragging his blanket around then refusing to give it up. After the video we will take a closer look at grooming.

Grooming Requirements

This low maintenance breed should be brushed once per week or more if possible, and this will be especially helpful during the shedding season.

Bathing can be done as needed and should start when the Aby is a kitten to become acclimated to the process. After bathing a pat down with a towel is sufficient, and the coat can be left to drip-dry on its own.

The teeth need to be brushed daily (or at minimum once per week) because of the breed’s susceptibility to periodontal disease. The corners of the eyes should be cleaned regularly to prevent any buildup, and the large ears should be checked and cleaned often. Scratching posts or toys should be made available in addition to cutting the nails as needed.

Common Health Problems

While there are health issues common for all cats, there are a few issues noted with the Abyssinian breed:

  • Periodontal disease
  • Neurological problems that can lead to excessive grooming
  • Luxating patella (knee problems)
  • Retinal atrophy (eye problems)
  • Kidney failure
  • Pyruvate kinase deficiency (PKD)

PKD is an inherited anemia that can be detected by testing for homozygous genes. Not all Abys and Somalis will be affected by this disorder, but testing should be performed if possible. Anemia can be intermittent or come on strongly and without warning.

Regular vet visits should be maintained to monitor dental health and anemia possibilities (if testing has not ruled it out).

Is the Abyssinian the Right Cat for You?

Abys are playful, active cats who remain playful throughout their adulthood, so this isn’t the ideal breed for those looking for a lazy lap cat.

While some Abys can be loving and curl up on a lap, they are also inquisitive and constantly investigating areas and people. They are people-oriented and enjoy being part of a family. They are good with kids and cat-friendly dogs, so they need not be the only pet in the home.

Grooming the hair is minimal beyond regular brushing and an occasional bath. The teeth do require brushing on a regular basis to prevent periodontal disease, a health issue that is common for this breed.

There is also the potential for inherited anemia, so be prepared to keep annual vet visits, watch for warning signs of anemia and have the teeth checked as needed. If you aren’t bothered by these minimal issues, the Abyssinian could be the perfect playful addition to your family.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

Abyssinians, as well as other purebred cats, can end up in shelters and rescues. Start with our adoptable search (select the “cats” tab) to see if any Abys are available near you. If you do choose to go to breeders, please ensure they do not show any red flags of operating a kitten mill.

Additional Resources

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