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You may not recognize it by its name, but you have likely seen a representation of an Abyssinian cat somewhere before. Often called Abys, it is one of the oldest known breeds of cats. While it is speculated that Abyssinians descended from the popular cats of Egypt, their true origin is a bit more mysterious.
The Abyssinian cat is a slender, muscular, and athletic cat breed that has a distinctive appearance, unique personality, and mysterious origin. Abyssinians are one of the most popular short-haired breeds in the world.
Where have these cats come from, and what has made them so popular? In the following article, we’ll explain what makes this extraordinary cat so special.
Are Abyssinian Cats Egyptian?
The history of the Abyssinian cat remains somewhat of a controversy. However, cats resembling Abyssinians can be found in much of the artwork from ancient Egypt, where cats represented important gods and were often worshipped. Mummified bodies of cats similar in size and shape were even found throughout the temples of the Pharaohs.
Where Do Abyssinian Cats Originate From?
Many geneticists place the origins of the Abyssinian to Southeast Asia. The modern breed shares the same unique coat pattern with cats from the coastal regions surrounding the Indian Ocean. A feline that went through the taxidermy process in the Leiden Zoological Museum in Holland bought in the 1830s was labeled as having originated in India.
Where Do Abyssinian Cats Live?
Regardless of its origins, most historians agree that Great Britain popularized the Abyssinian cat breed. It is believed that while fighting in the Abyssinian War (present-day Ethiopia) in the 1860s, a British soldier brought the first cat back to England, which is how the cat earned its name.
The breed quickly became a regular in cat shows across Great Britain, including a show at the famous Crystal Palace venue in London in 1871. Noted for its exotic appearance and heralded as a trophy from the Abyssinian War, the Aby won third place and introduced the unusual breed to a much larger audience.
British breeders became particularly fond of Abyssinian cats, and by the early 1930s, they had begun exporting Abys around the world, particularly to the United States, Canada, and Australia. As interest grew in each of these countries, they quickly developed their own breeding programs, and the popularity of Abyssinian cats soared.
According to The Cat Fanciers’ Association, the Abyssinian was the seventh most popular breed of cat in the world in 2020.
What are Abyssinian Cats Known for?
The Abyssinian cat is known for having one of the more enigmatic backstories of all cat breeds, and their physical features and personalities are just as distinguishing.
Abyssinian Cat Physical Characteristics
With a slender, athletic build, the Abyssinian cat is considered muscular, with a fine-bone structure and long, slender legs relative to the body. It has a long tail, and its narrow frame allows it to create a pronounced arch when it is on high alert.
The head is also unique, with a wedge shape that creates a characteristically pointed nose and chin. Their almond-shaped eyes are usually a jarring gold, green, hazel, or copper, and their tall, pointed ears have earned them the affectionate nickname “bunny cat.”
Abyssinian Cat Coat
Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of the Abyssinian is its “ticked” coat. Alternative shades of hair from lighter to darker create the effect of a solid, somewhat dull color, but a closer inspection reveals a variety of shades overlapping one another. In addition, the fur itself is notably silky to the touch and quite low maintenance.
Abyssinian Cat Coat Colors
While the most common color for an Aby is a reddish-brown, called “ruddy,” they also come in chocolate, blue, lilac, fawn, and Cinnamon. Typically, kittens are born with a darker fur that lightens over time as they grow older.
Can Abyssinian Cats be Tabby?
Yes, Abyssinian cats can have a Tabby coat. The Tabby coat of an Abyssinian cat will often be called “ticked” and look like the cat’s hairs are banded. Also, when cats, such as the Abyssinian, have a tabby coat, they will have a distinctive “M” on their forehead.
Abyssinian Cat Personality Traits
Often referred to as “Clowns of the Cat Kingdom” or “Energizer Bunnies,” Abyssinians are notoriously energetic and playful, with curious attitudes and a strong desire for affection.
Abyssinian Cat Jumping
They are physically gifted jumpers, able to reach heights of six feet or more, and will put this skill on display to leap into the arms of their owners or to find a high perch from which to observe their surroundings.
Are Abyssinian Cats Lap Cats?
Due to their athletic build and curious nature, they are not considered lap cats, instead preferring to play in a more dog-like manner. However, this higher energy level also means they will expect their owners to entertain them and keep them active. Leaving Abyssinian cats without activity or attention for too long can cause them to become depressed.
Abyssinian Cat Climbing
Despite smaller paws, Abyssinian cats are extremely efficient at grabbing and climbing. Therefore, most owners are well-advised to leave a handful of simple toys within reach so that their Aby doesn’t start to climb up walls and curtains.
Are Abyssinian Cats Easy to Train?
The Aby is extremely intelligent and highly trainable, with some owners opting for leashed walks for exercise. Abyssinian cats get along extremely well with people, including children, but often create a stronger bond with one family member. So, don’t be surprised if that favorite family member has the best chance of training the Abyssinian cat.
Do Abyssinian Cats Like Other Cats?
Despite their playful manner, they can be skittish about other pets if not introduced slowly, particularly other felines. Therefore, my advice will be only to have one cat if your cat is an Abyssinian.
Abyssinian Cat Health Issues
Abyssinians have a long lifespan relative to other cats, often living up to 15 years or more. Abyssinians tend to be a generally healthy breed, which is another reason they are such a popular option, but owners should keep watch for certain common health concerns, including:
- Dislocating kneecaps
- Degenerative eye disease
Blindness is a uniquely common problem among Abyssinian cats due to a specific hereditary degeneration gene, although more recent testing and genome sequencing have helped reduce these issues.
Periodontal disease and tooth loss are other common issues for Abyssinian cats who are prone to gingivitis. Therefore, regular brushing of the cat’s teeth, whether done at home or professionally, is usually recommended.
Are Abyssinian Cats Hypoallergenic?
Abyssinian cats are not hypoallergenic, but they are closer to it than most other cats. Despite their distinctive fur, Abyssinian cats are not significant shedders, and grooming them is relatively easy. They typically don’t need more than weekly brushing, although their desire for strong bonds with their owners may inspire more frequent care.
How Popular Are Abyssinian Cats?
Their distinctive appearance, high level of intelligence, and ability to be trained have made Abyssinian cats a feature in many films and TV shows.
Most notable is Disney’s The Cat From Outer Space, a 1978 film about an extraterrestrial space cat trying to fix his spaceship on earth. The leading cat, Jake, was played by Rumple the Aby and his twin sister Amber. Producers selected the breed because they believed it looked the most alien.
Years later, in the science-fiction film Stargate, a scientist played by Kurt Russell travels back in time to ancient Egypt where he meets Ra’s cat, also an Abyssinian.
Abyssinian Cat Genetics
Abyssinian cats are not just recognizable in fiction but have also played a pivotal role in science. For example, a four-year-old Abyssinian named Cinnamon was the first-ever cat to have its genome decoded.
The genome sequencing was part of a study to uncover genes linked to cat traits and diseases, including a mutation in Cinnamon that had caused blindness. The mutation is particularly common in Abyssinian cats, causing an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which is also found in 1 out of every 3,500 Americans.
The research was considered a revolutionary step forward given the remarkable similarity between the genetic code of cats and other placental mammals, such as humans.
While the true origins of the Abyssinian cat may forever remain a mystery, their popularity seems likely only to increase as more people fall in love with these remarkable felines. Abyssinian cats have been adored as pets for generations. They are sure to maintain their places in our homes for years to come.
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