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Abyssinian cat on a chair

Getting to know the Abyssinian

The slender and intelligent Abyssinian is among the oldest of domestic cat breeds, known for its playfulness and attachment to people. The Abyssinian (or Aby as it’s sometimes called) became popular in the US after domestic breeding first began in the 1930s. Let’s get to know this unusual cat breed a little better.

Origins of the Abyssinian Cat

As the name suggests, the Abyssinian can trace its origins to one of the oldest of human civilizations, in an area now occupied by northern Ethiopia. The first western contact with the breed is believed to have occurred when British soldiers bought examples of the breed from North African traders and returned with their new pets to England some time during the 19th century. In the 1860s, Lord Napier brought an Aby named Zulu back to England. Zulu was bred with other shorthaired cats and is considered today the first western Abyssinian.

Abyssinian’s Physical Characteristics

At first glance, the Aby resembles a North African wild cat, but is a true house cat. An adult Aby weighs between 8 and 12 pounds, with a slender build, wedge-shaped head, and large ears. A striking feature is the Aby’s fur, which features a pattern known as “ticking,” where each hair is banded with different shades of red-tan to blue-gray. This ticking, also evident among wild rabbits from the region, once allowed the Aby to blend into its native desert environment, helping it catch prey and elude predators. The Aby has large, green to gold eyes and long, pointed ears that often give it an inquisitive expression. The average Aby has a life span of between 14 and 15 years.

Abyssinian’s Personality

Like the Burmese, the Aby loves people and quickly bonds to family members, typically choosing one person as a favorite. Abyssinians crave play and stimulation, so if there are no other pets in the house, an Aby will look to you for entertainment. Abyssinians are very intelligent and can even be taught to do tricks. These highly social and adaptable animals have even been leash trained to go on walks with their owners. The Aby is a natural jumper and often will seek out a high perch from which to survey its surroundings. Abyssinians get along well with other pets and with children, but some prefer to be the only pet in the home.

Abyssinian Grooming & Health

The Aby is a relatively low-maintenance breed. Its short coat results in only light shedding, and a weekly grooming with a steel comb should be sufficient to remove any dead fur or dander. The Aby is at risk for a hereditary condition called pyruvate kinase deficiency—involving an enzyme that regulates energy metabolism in red blood cells. Cats with this deficiency typically exhibit anemia, which can arise at any point during the cat’s adult life. Symptoms include lethargy, jaundice, pale gums, and an enlarged or distended abdomen. A simple test can determine whether your animal has the recessive gene responsible for the disorder. 

Is the Abyssinian the Right Cat for You?

If you’re looking for an intelligent and agile cat that bonds well with people, the Aby may be the perfect pet for you. Affectionate and intelligent, the Aby will be your constant companion when you’re around and will always be up for some playtime. You may have trouble finding new ways to keep your Aby amused, so stock up on puzzle toys and brain teasers.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

 

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