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    Place of origin



    The Abyssinian cat is considered the breed most similar to the first domesticated cats. The cats used to develop the Abyssinian breed are thought to have been brought from the Middle East to England in the mid-1800s. One of the earliest depictions of an Abyssinian cat was in Cats: Their Points and Characteristics by Gordon Stables, published in 1874. A color portrait of Zula stated that she belonged to Mrs. Captain Barrett-Lennard and had been brought from Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) at the conclusion of the war in 1868. Some fanciers insisted the cats originated in Chile, not Africa or the Middle East, whereas others suggest the original cats had arrived in Abyssinia as the pets of British army officers and their wives who had previously been stationed in India or Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Sandy-colored, ticked cats were known as Indian cats in the early days of the cat fancy and have more recently been developed into the Celonese breed. Still others believe that the Abyssinian's arrival in Britain was merely coincidental with the end of the Abyssinian war, hence the breed's name.

    Harrison Weir wrote that many cats bred in England from ordinary tabbies were almost indistinguishable from the imported Abyssinian in color and pattern. The imported cats, however, were of stouter build than the English cats (which were not as cobby as modern British Shorthairs) and were less heavily marked. At the time, the Abyssinian was considered "most useful" in crossing with other breeds to produce a variety of ticked colors.

    In 1889, Harrison Weir's breed standard for the Abyssinian called for a larger cat than we see today. The cats competed in the "Any Other Variety Foreign Cat" class, often against Geoffrey's cats (a species of South American wild cat), Indian cats, and Japanese cats. Abyssinian breeders considered this situation unfair, complaining that they often lost out to wildcats and novelties. In the early days, the Abyssinian was shown under a variety of names including Algerian, Hare Cat, or Bunny Cat; the latter names being derived from its ticked fur.

    Around the 1900s, the name Abyssinian was supplanted by "British Tick," and the cats had heavily barred legs and tail from being extensively crossed with British Shorthairs. Although considered "foreign cats," they were not as refined in conformation as modern Abyssinian cats. In the 1920s, a champion Abyssinian called Red Rust was apparently mated to an "Imported African Wild Cat" and the female offspring, Goldtick, was registered and bred as an Abyssinian. An Abyssinian of the 1940s had a Siamese grandparent. This crossbreeding would add to the colors that turned up in later generations. A strain of blue-eyed, creamy-white "albinistic Abyssinians" were bred for a while in England but died out in 1927, and a fawn Abyssinian with a pink tint appeared in a litter bred in Vienna at around the same time. Several Abyssinians bred in the 1930s were solid colored with no ticking but were still used in breeding.

    By the 1920s, silver Abyssinians had died out in the United Kingdom having consistently lost out to the usual/ruddy Abyssinian on the show bench. They were not reintroduced until the 1960s, when a usual/ruddy Abyssinian was bred to a silver-spotted British Shorthair. The silver gray Abyssinians also didn't catch on in the United States and have been slower to regain favor there.

    Ticked cats occur naturally around the world. The modern Abyssinian may owe more to British ticked tabbies than to cats imported from Africa, but the Abyssinian would not have come into existence without those imported cats to inspire the breed. The term Abyssinian is sometimes used to mean any cat with a ticked pattern, regardless of pedigree. The name Wild Abyssinian was used to indicate some naturally occurring ticked cats from Singapore, but is not related to the Abyssinian breed.

    Physical description

    A happily prancing Abyssinian standing on tip-toe is a delight to behold. The perfect specimen is a study of soft flowing contours. The modified wedge head should have no flat planes or drastic changes in the direction of the profile. The large expressive eyes are neither too round nor too slanted. The large ears are cupped forward to give the impression of attentiveness. Neither too long nor too cobby, the body is in proportion to the elegant legs. The fur of the Abyssinian must be long enough to display multiple bands of ticking, consisting of alternating dark and light colors. The coat is dense and resilient, snapping back into place when brushed toward the head.

    Colors and varieties

    All registries recognize four basic ticked tabby colors: the black-based color is known as ruddy, tawny, or usual; the sorrel or cinnamon color is also known as red (not to be confused with the sex-linked, orange color called "red" in other breeds). Blue and fawn are also recognized. Accepted in some registries as well are the chocolate- and lilac-ticked tabby colors and the above colors in silver-ticked tabby, in which the light band in the ticked pattern is pure white. The blue and fawn colors were developed in England through expansion of the gene pool of the original cats with local domestic cats and imported Siamese and Russian Blue cats. Cats described as "silver" were among those initially brought into the United States to develop the breed, indicating that this color had been present in the breed since its early years.

    The color and ticking of an Abyssinian becomes more vivid with age, with color continuing to improve for as long as two years or more. In kittens, breeders look for color development on the paws, around the nose, and at the back of the ears to provide a hint of the adult color.


    As one of the most active cat breeds, the Abyssinian makes sure that life is never boring. It is difficult to perform any job in a house with one of these personable, affectionate cats without their paws-on involvement. These intelligent cats learn new tasks easily and eagerly, including leash training and feline agility courses. They should be provided with windows giving visibility to the outdoors, where you may experience insight into their hunting instincts as they make "machine gun" sounds at the birds outside. Many like to play with water, and they may learn how to turn on faucets and open doors, to the surprise of their owners.

    Activity level


    Vocal level


    Special needs

    An occasional bath and a gentle grooming with a soft brush or your moistened hand to remove shed hairs is all that is necessary to keep an Abyssinian's coat in condition. Some Abys are prone to dental disease, so regular dental cleaning and monitoring by your veterinarian is recommended.


    Longhaired Abyssinian kittens had occurred as far back as the early 1900s but appeared to have died out. Longhaired Abyssinian cats have been documented as early as 1936. The name Somali was adopted for this variety in the 1960s

    Ruddy Abyssinian

    Red Abyssinian

    Silver Abyssinian

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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