Abyssinian Cat

Origin of the Abyssinian Cat appears to be cloaked in mystery. The Abyssinian is one of the oldest known breeds and there continues to be speculation and controversy about the history of this cat.

They resemble the paintings and sculptures of ancient Egyptian cats, portraying an elegant feline with a muscular body, beautiful arched neck, large ears and almond shaped eyes.

Abys of today still retain the jungle look of felis lybica, the African wildcat ancestor of all domestic cats. Early books about these cats tend to be vague about the history of this breed as there were few or no records kept.

As a story goes, the first cat was brought to England by a British soldier in 1868, after the English army had fought in Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia).

The belief is this cat, named "Zula", is the founder of the Abyssinian line. The name 'Abyssinian' refers to Ethiopia, but most of the stories about the origins of Abyssinian cats refer to Egypt.

Another explanation for the origin of the Abyssinian breed has been deduced from genetic studies showing that these cats most probably came from the coast of the Indian Ocean and parts of Southeast Asia.

There is a ruddy ticked feline taxidermy exhibit in the Leiden Zoological Museum in Holland which was purchased in the mid 1830s, and labeled by the museum founder as Patrie, domestica India.

Genetic research suggests the breed may have therefore been introduced into England from India by colonists or merchants who frequently traveled between England and the Indian subcontinent. The breed was further refined in England.

The first Abyssinian registrations occurred in 1896, and the stud book of Great Britains National Cat Club reveals that Sedgemere Bottle, born in 1892, and Sedgemere Peaty, born in 1894, were registered by Mr. Sam Woodiwiss.

Although they appeared regularly in cat shows in the United Kingdom during the late 1800s, the two world wars and a catastrophic outbreak of feline leukemia almost wiped out the breed.

The first Abyssinian cats was imported to North America from England occured in the early 1900s, although it was not until the late 1930s that several top quality Abys were brought from Britain to the States to form the foundation of the present American breeding programs. They are one of the most popular short haired breed of cats in the United States today.

Physical Characteristics of Abyssinian Cats

The Abyssinian cats body is of medium length, lithe and with well-developed muscles. The cat's physique is a balance between the extremely compact body type and the svelte, lengthy type. Their long legs gives the appearance they are standing on the tips of their toes.

A typical Abyssinian Cat likes to arch its back when alert. The legs are slender in proportion to the body, with a fine bone structure. The paws are small and oval. The Abyssinian has a fairly long tail, broader at the base and tapering to a point.

The head is broad and moderately wedge-shaped, with almond-shaped eyes ranging from gold, green, hazel and copper. The nose and chin usually form a straight vertical line when viewed in profile.

The Abyssinian Cats alert, relatively large ears are broad and cupped at the base, moderately pointed at the tips, with tufts of hair commonly seen. Large ear tufts are viewed as a requirement for show breeds.

M-shaped markings may at times be found in the fur on the forehead. The "M" shaped marking, referred to as "frown lines", appear above the Abyssinians eyes. They have markings often referred to as "mascara lines", appearing from the corners of their eyes. The head, eyes and ears all fit together in a complementary fashion.

Coat Types and Genetic Makeup

The coat is medium-length, dense and silky to the touch. Abyssinian Cats and a similar long-hair breed called the Somali, have coats that are unusual enough that they tend to catch attention. These felines owe their special coat to one dominant mutant gene known as Ta. Each hair has a base color with three or four darker-colored bands.

The hair is a lighter color at the root and a darker "ticking" color at the tip. This ticking is found only in the Somali, Abyssinian and Singapura cats.

The original Abyssinian coat colour is known as 'Usual' in the United Kingdom and as 'Ruddy' elsewhere. The coat has a warm reddish-brown base, with black ticking. The feet and the backs of the hind legs are always black.

Over the years, various other colours have been developed from this original form, but the markings on the coat have remained the same. The back of the hind legs and the pads of the paws are always darker than the rest of the coat. A popular colour is Sorrel, which has a cinnamon (yellowish-brown) base, with chocolate brown ticking, paw pads and backs of the legs.

Blue Abyssinian Cats that have become increasingly popular in recent years, have a light beige base colour with blue ticking, paw pads and backs of the legs. The relatively rare Fawn Abyssinians have a light-cream base colour, with darker cream ticking and warm dark cream pads.

Silver Abyssinians are a separate group among the breed. Although this color has been in existence for many years, it is not recognized by the Cat Fanciers' Association, the largest registry of pedigreed cats in the world. In Silvers the undercoat is always a pure silvery white. The markings include black, blue, warm dark cream and cinnamon.

Purely Silver Abyssinian Cats are difficult to breed as they sometimes have undesirable tan patches in the coat. In addition any spots in the coat show up more clearly on a silver coat. A perfect Silver Abyssianian is a very beautiful cat.

Rare colours include the Tortoiseshell, Red, Cream, Chocolate and Lilac, which are all bred on a smaller scale in the Netherlands and Great Britian.

Abyssinian kittens are born with dark coats, gradually lighting as they matureand taking several months for the final coat color to be established.

Temperament and Care

The Abyssinian is a very active, playful, and inquisitive breed. They have been described as great problem solvers with an insatiable curiosity. Abyssinians are not usually considered lap cats.

They are too busy exploring and playing, but they do require a great deal of contact with the family in order to be happy. They are known to get depressed without daily activity and attention.

As most creatures, they do not like to be confined. When they are ready to be loved they will cuddle up and be petted. They generally get along well with other cats and even with the family dog, but in most cases, the male will be more easy-going than the female.

Like many cats, they enjoy heights and should be provided with vertical access, such as a tall scratching post (or outdoor tree limbs). At times their natural athleticism seems to defy gravity. If they are "shooed" down from a place, such as a table, they will make a game out of returning to it again and again.

They are wonderful companions and will even dote on the children in the household, but as is true with all pets, introductions should be made slowly and carefully.They require less care in terms of grooming. A bath during the shedding season and nail clipping starting when young and given before each bath is sufficient.

Extroverted, willful and intelligent. As one breeder said of them, "…they are very good at training people to do just what they want them to do."

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