Abyssinians are intelligent, curious cats that love to stay busy. This spirited, athletic breed can make a game (or a perch) out of anything. And their loyal personalities make them devoted family pets.
Experts agree that the Abyssinian is one of the oldest cat breeds. The details of their earliest days, however, are up for debate.
The breed's resemblance to cats depicted in Egyptian artifacts has some people believing that the Abyssinian descends from the sacred cat of Ancient Egypt. Others think the breed's story started when a British soldier brought a cat from Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) to England in 1868—at the end of the Abyssinian war. But there's no hard evidence tying modern Abyssinians to that particular cat.
Recent genetic research suggests Abyssinians most likely originated from the Bay of Bengal in India. Based on this finding, it's likely that merchants traveling between India and England brought the cats to Britain, where the breed's development took place.
The first Abyssinians arrived in the United States in the early 1900s, and American breeders worked quickly to develop breeding programs. In 1906, Abyssinians became one of the six inaugural breeds of the Cat Fancier's Association. From there, their popularity soared. And the Abyssinian is still one of the world's most beloved cat breeds.
Abyssinians are medium-sized cats that bear a resemblance to their wildcat ancestors. They have ticked, tabby coats and dramatic facial markings.
Coat and Coloring
Abyssinians' defining feature is their coat. Their short hair has a silky texture that bounces back into place when touched. Each hair is "ticked" with 4-6 bands of color that alternate between dark and light. The color at the root is lighter and matches their undersides, while the tip is dark.
The Cat Fanciers Association accepts four coat colors for the breed: ruddy, red, blue, and fawn. Ruddy coats have bands of color that alternate between dark sepia and bright orange, creating an overall burnt sienna look. Red cats have warm, red coats ticked with chocolate brown. Blue cats have beige coats ticked with slate blue. And fawn cats have rose-beige coats ticked with light brown.
The International Cat Association accepts ruddy, chocolate, cinnamon, blue, lilac, and fawn coat colors—as well as silver versions of these colors.
Distinctive Physical Traits
Noted traits of the Abyssinian include a wedge-shaped head and large, somewhat pointed ears. Dark lines surrounded by a light color accentuate their almond-shaped eyes. Their bodies are muscular and well-balanced, and their legs are long and slim. They have relatively long tails that are thick at the base and taper.
Abyssinians are curious, active cats that are always on the go. They often follow their humans around the house and patrol the area looking for ways to "help." Need a fragile family heirloom moved from the top shelf to the floor? No problem, the athletic Aby can take care of that with a vertical leap and a swipe of the paw.
Because of their gravity-defying physical abilities (they can easily jump six feet in the air!), tall cat trees are essential for this breed. Without one, Abys are still likely to find their way to high places in the home, where they can perch and survey the outside world.
Abyssinians are playful cats that keep their kitten-like attitudes into adulthood. Once they pick out a favorite toy, they will play with it for months. Until they won't. And once they've moved on, don't try to convince them to rekindle their enthusiasm. Feel free to buy them expensive toys, but know that a plastic bottle cap will keep them just as happy.
Even though they are social and people-oriented, Abys aren't likely to be lap cats. There's no time for relaxing when there are so many things to do and explore.
Abyssinians require a high-quality diet. Because nutritional needs vary for kittens, adults, and senior cats, be sure to choose a formula that's age-appropriate for your pet.
Even though Abys are active cats, they're still at risk for obesity if they overeat. To keep calories in check, portion out meals using a standard measuring cup, and reduce amounts if your cat gains weight. Also, as a reminder, treats should make up no more than 10% of their daily calories.
In addition to providing meals, make sure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water.
Abyssinians have low-maintenance coats that don't shed very much. So, they need only occasional brushing to remove loose hair.
You should also trim your cat's nails every couple of weeks to prevent them from getting too long. Long nails are more likely to snag on something and become torn or damaged. And overgrown nails can grow into your cat's paw pads, leading to pain or infection.
Finally, dental care is essential for every cat. Starting from kittenhood, brush your cat's teeth at home and schedule regular dental exams and cleanings with your veterinarian.
Some breeds are more susceptible to certain health conditions. Abyssinians may be prone to patella luxation, a condition that causes the kneecap to slip out of position. They may also have a higher risk for renal amyloidosis—a disease caused by a build-up of an abnormal protein in the kidney. Your veterinarian is your best resource for discussing these and other health concerns for your cat.
Abyssinian Genetic Health Conditions
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency
Pyruvate Kinase (PK) Deficiency is a disorder that causes anemia due to the breakdown of red blood cells.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (Discovered in the Abyssinian)
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (Discovered in the Abyssinian) is a disorder that causes degeneration of the light sensing retina at the back of the eye, resulting in vision loss.
With more than 45 health tests, Wisdom Panel™ Complete for Cats screens for these and other important genetic conditions—allowing you to better plan for your cat's lifelong care.
Reviewed February 23, 2021 by Laura Inman, DVM