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Known for their lithe, modelesque figures and distinct, ticked coats, Abyssinians are a favorite among cat exhibitors and families alike. As one of the world’s oldest cat breeds, they bear a striking resemblance to the sacred cats of ancient Egypt, and their likeness can be seen portrayed on many artifacts of the time.1 Despite their regal, prim-and-proper appearance, however, Abyssinian cats are anything but haughty and aloof. Often lovingly referred to as a "puppy cat,” the Abyssinian breed tends to be very active, curious, and social.
Whether you’re considering getting an Abyssinian cat or simply curious about these fascinating felines, there’s a lot more to discover about what makes them such a unique and wonderful breed. In this blog post, we will delve into the history, physical attributes, behavioral characteristics, and common health issues of the Abyssinian cat, as well as some tips on how to care for them. Read on to learn more.
- History & Origin Of Abyssinian Cats
- Physical Attributes Of The Abyssinian Cat
- Behavioral Characteristics Of The Abyssinian Cat
- Common Abyssinian Cat Health Issues
- Caring For Abyssinian Cats
- Final Notes
History & Origin Of Abyssinian Cats
The history of the Abyssinian cat is somewhat confusing and controversial. Unlike Siamese cats and Turkish Angoras, despite being named after the country of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, according to extensive genetic studies, Abyssinian cats actually originated from the coasts of the Indian Ocean and parts of Southeast Asia.2 So, what is the reason for this discrepancy and how did the Abyssinan cat get its name?
It is believed that Abyssinian cats first made their way to Abyssinia on the boats of merchants and colonists passing through Calcutta, a major port of the Indian Ocean. However, it wasn’t until they were imported to England after the 1868 British expedition to Abyssinia that the breed was fully established and named.2
The first documentation of an Abyssinian cat comes from the January 27, 1872 issue of Harper’s Weekly, in which "a cat captured in the late Abyssinian war” is shown to have won 3rd place in the 1971 Crystal Palace cat show. Two years later, in Scottish author Gordon Stable’sCats, Their Points, and Characteristics, a colored lithograph of an Abyssinian cat can be found accompanied with the text "This cat was brought from Abyssinia at the conclusion of the war.”2
In the early 1900s, Abyssinian cats were finally transported from England to North America for breeding. Nowadays, according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), Abyssinian cats are the 7th most popular breed in the United States by registration.3
Physical Attributes Of The Abyssinian Cat
Abyssinian cats are medium in size, featuring a lean but muscular build. With proportionally longer limbs and a slender, tapering tail, these cats are blessed with a striking look. It’s no wonder they are often considered the runway models of the feline world.
As far as height and weight, Abyssinians typically range from 12-16 inches in length and weigh in at 6-10 pounds. While every cat’s life expectancy is unique depending on their health and breed, Abyssinians have an average lifespan of 9-13 years.4
In addition to their svelte physique, the Abyssinian breed is also known for its distinct, ticked coat that comes in four stunning colors: cinnamon, ruddy, blue, and fawn.5 Unlike other breeds that exhibit stripes or spots across the body, each individual hair on the Abyssinian is ticked, displaying two or more bands of coloration. This gives the fur of Abyssinian cats an almost glowing, translucent quality. In terms of coloration, a cinnamon Abyssinian cat has fur that is ticked with orange, red, and brown, while a blue Abyssinian cat appears almost silver with beige and slate blue ticking.5
Focusing in on the face of the Abyssinian cat, you will notice gentle contours, a harmonious and balanced muzzle, and a pair of large, emotive, almond-shaped eyes. On top of the face sits a set of moderately pointed ears that are cupped at the base, always appearing alert. All in all, the beauty of Abyssinian cats is something that can be easily appreciated.
Behavioral Characteristics Of The Abyssinian Cat
The behavioral characteristics of Abyssinian cats may surprise you. Despite their elegant appearance, these felines are actually incredibly social and energetic, so much so that they are often described as having a dog-like personality.
Like their canine counterparts, Abyssinians are people pleasers that thrive on attention and interaction. Not only do they appreciate a good cuddle, especially after a long session of play, but they also love to follow their pet parents around the house, always eager to get involved in whatever task is at hand. In addition to being delightful companions for humans, their amiable and affectionate nature also allows them to get along well with other cats and animals. For those who have children in their household, an Abyssinian cat can make a fun and respectful playmate as well.
Generally speaking, if you are looking for a cat that loves to laze around in the sun as much as possible and keeps to themselves most of the time, an Abyssinian may not be the one for you. Abyssinian cats require plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation in order to be happy and healthy. As athletic cats that relish in honing their natural instincts, Abyssinians can often be seen showing off their acrobatic abilities and zooming from room to room. As a curious and inquisitive breed, cat TV and interactive toys are also important in keeping Abyssinians occupied throughout the day. You can even build an outdoor cat enclosure, so they have a safe way to access the great outdoors.
In the end, while Abyssinians tend to demonstrate these typical behavioral characteristics, it's important to remember that every cat is unique. Understanding your cat's personality and meeting their specific needs and preferences is a key aspect of being a responsible cat owner. By doing so, you can strengthen the bond between you and your cat and experience the many rewards of cat ownership.
Common Abyssinian Cat Health Issues
While the Abyssinian is a relatively healthy breed, it is predisposed to a number of genetic health issues, including:
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA): Abyssinian cats inherit late onset PRA as an autosomal recessive trait. This means that the condition only manifests if the cat has inherited two copies of the mutated gene, one from each parent who carries the gene. The onset of PRA is marked by night blindness, which gradually worsens over several months to years, ultimately leading to complete vision loss.6
- Familial amyloidosis: Although the mode of inheritance for amyloidosis remains unknown, the disease appears to affect Abyssinian cats at a higher rate than other feline breeds. Amyloidosis occurs when amyloid, a substance composed of misfolded proteins, accumulates abnormally in various parts of the body. In Abyssinian cats, amyloidosis primarily targets the kidneys, resulting in impaired kidney function and the possibility of kidney failure.7
- Patellar luxation: Abyssinian cats have a genetic predisposition to patellar luxation, a condition characterized by kneecaps that dislocate from their normal position when the knee is flexed. This condition can cause discomfort and pain and may lead to an abnormal gait or difficulty walking. It can also result in joint damage and arthritis if left untreated.8
- Pyruvate kinase deficiency (PKD): Pyruvate kinase is an essential enzyme involved in the metabolic process of cells, including red blood cells. Abyssinian cats with PKD are at a higher risk of developing anemia, a condition in which there is a shortage of red blood cells, resulting in reduced oxygen delivery to the body's tissues and organs.9
As a pedigreed breed recognized by many organizations across the globe, Abyssinian cats are often selectively bred to highlight physical characteristics representative of the breed. In this process of selective breeding, genetic mutations can also be accounted for in order to not pass them on to future generations. If you are looking to purchase an Abyssinian cat from a breeder, it is important to ensure that the parent cats are in good health.
Caring For Abyssinian Cats
To ensure your Abyssinian cat lives a healthy and fulfilling life, it's important to provide them with adequate care in terms of their diet, grooming, enrichment, and health. By attending to these essential needs, you can help your feline friend thrive and enjoy a long and happy life by your side.
- Diet: As obligate carnivores, cats require a diet that is rich in protein from animal sources to meet their nutritional needs. It's important to choose high-quality commercial cat food approved by the American Association of Feed Control Officials or work with your veterinarian to create homemade cat food that is complete and balanced.
- Grooming: Regular brushing can help prevent your Abyssinian cat from developing hair mats and hairballs. Keep your cat's nails trimmed to avoid ingrown or broken nails. Dental care is also crucial—using cat-safe toothpaste can help prevent plaque buildup and gum disease in cats. And don't forget to clean your cat's ears regularly to minimize the risk of infection.
- Enrichment: Enrichment can help your Abyssinian cat hone their natural instincts. Consider purchasing a tall cat tree that provides opportunities for perching, jumping, and climbing. You can also stimulate your cat's prey drive with toys, such as cat wands and interactive feeders.
- Health: After spaying or neutering, routine veterinary care and parasite control are crucial for the overall health of your Abyssinian cat as well. Keeping their vaccinations up to date can also help prevent common and avoidable illnesses.10 In addition to traditional, in-person veterinary care, it's worth considering the benefits of veterinary telehealth for your pet's well-being. With telehealth, you can get your pet the help they need more readily, even when your local veterinarian is out of office. At Dutch, after your feline companion gets diagnosed, you can even buy cat medicine online and get it delivered straight to your door.
In conclusion, Abyssinian cats have captured the hearts of many cat lovers. Whether you are looking for a loyal companion or a fun and active addition to your family, an Abyssinian cat may be just the pet you are looking for. With their charm and striking appearance, these cats are sure to bring joy and happiness to any household lucky enough to have them.
If you have more questions about Abyssinian cats or any general questions about your pet’s health or behavior, don’t hesitate to speak with a Dutch vet. At Dutch, we strive to provide high-quality, accessible online veterinary care. Try Dutch today.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Abyssinian." Encyclopedia Britannica, March 6, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/animal/Abyssinian.
"Abyssinian Breed Profile." The Cat Fanciers' Association, Jan 5, 2013. https://web.archive.org/web/20130105105811/http://www.cfainc.org/client/breedabyssinian.aspx.
"The Cat Fanciers’ Association Announces Most Popular Breeds for 2022." The Cat Fanciers' Association, March 24, 2023. https://cfa.org/cfa-news-releases/top-breeds-2022/.
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Harari, Joseph. "Patellar Luxation in Dogs and Cats." Merck Veterinary Manual, Nov 2020. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/musculoskeletal-system/arthropathies-and-related-disorders-in-small-animals/patellar-luxation-in-dogs-and-cats.
"Abyssinian." Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals. https://www.ufaw.org.uk/cats/abyssinian---pyruvate-kinase-deficiency-.
Bukowski, John A. and Aiello, Susan. "Routine Health Care of Cats." Merck Veterinary Manual, July 2011. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/routine-care-and-breeding-of-cats/routine-health-care-of-cats.