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The Abyssinian is a medium-sized cat of 'foreign' type, with a very short fine coat, each hair having two or three bands of colour in it, giving a very distinctive 'ticked' appearance. It is affectionately known simply as an 'Aby' to the many enthusiastic breeders, owners and judges of this beautiful breed of cat. Many believe it resembles the original Sacred Cat of Egypt, and there is certainly a marked similarity between today's Abyssinian cats and those depicted in the Egyptian wall paintings, sculptures and papyri of several thousand years ago. Although the exact origins of the breed are a little hazy, cats with ticked coats similar to the Abyssinian pattern that we know today can still be found native in North Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The name is thought to have been given to this breed simply because the earliest examples shown in Britain were imported from Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia). Breeding policy is very strict under the rules of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) - Abyssinians must show at least five generations of pure Abyssinian-to-Abyssinian breeding to be registered as a purebred. There is now a semi-longhaired variety of the Abyssinian, called a Somali, which comes in a similar spectrum of wonderful colours to its shorthaired cousin.
The Abyssinian is one of the oldest breeds of pedigree cat and was one of those exhibited at the very first cat show held at the Crystal Palace in 1871. It is generally agreed that this breed originated in Egypt, and certainly the ticked coat pattern would have been the perfect camouflage for wild cats living in the dry, scrubby North African habitat. The most widely held belief is that the first Abyssinian cats, including one called Zula, were brought to this country after the Abyssinian War in 1868 by a Captain Barrett Leonard. Although there is no documentation to prove that all Abyssinians descended from Zula, it is certain that all Abyssinians throughout the world are descended from British lines as the early breeding programmes were well recorded. The other possible explanation for the origins of the Abyssinian cat in Britain goes back much further than the Abyssinian War, and it has been suggested that cats brought to Britain by the Romans (following the Roman conquest of Egypt) were used to guard the granaries full of wheat, and our Abyssinians may descend from these cats. The truth is that the exact origins of the breed in this country cannot be proven until the 1871 cat show, after which time the Abyssinian became a very popular breed here. However, by around 1970 the numbers of Abyssinians in Britain had diminished as a result of several factors - the breeding of pedigree cats had virtually ceased during the World Wars, and the Abyssinian breeders suffered a significant loss to their gene pool due to the Feline Leukaemia Virus in the days before testing and vaccination. The breed wasn't susceptible to the virus more than other breeds, but the two Abyssinian Clubs in Britain recognised there was a problem early on and then worked closely with veterinary scientists to help eradicate it. Fortunately it was possible to import Abyssinian cats from British breeding from the Netherlands and the USA, and later from Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia, and today there is a thriving Abyssinian breeding programme again in this country.
The Abyssinian is a medium-built muscular cat with relatively large ears (which are usually tufted) giving it a very alert expression. The head is broad and moderately wedge shaped. The legs are slender in proportion to the body, with a fine bone structure and small oval paws, and the tail is fairly long, broad at the base and tapering to a point. The darker elements of the coat colour extend well up the back of the hind legs, also showing as a solid tip at the extreme end of the tail, and there is a line of dark colour round the eyes, giving the appearance of theatrical eyeliner. The eyes are almond shaped and can be a deep shade of amber, green or hazel in colour. Most people think of Abyssinians as being the 'usual' colour (a rich golden brown ticked with black), looking a bit like a miniature lynx, although it is now possible to get them in almost any colour. As well as the 'Usual' (known in most other countries as 'Ruddy), Abyssinians are also fully recognised in sorrel (a rich copper colour, unique to this breed), chocolate, lilac, blue, fawn and varieties of silver. Newer colours, including tortie, red and cream, are still working towards full recognition.
The Abyssinian is an extremely active breed of cat, very intelligent, inquisitive and playful. Although this is an independent breed, they do have a very loving nature, often showing their affection for their owners by head butting. They thrive on human company on their own terms, but don't often sit still for very long as there's always something going on that needs to be investigated. They have quite determined personalities, always wanting to get their own way, but can suffer if they do not have adequate contact time with their humans. Ideally an Abyssinian needs other feline company as they love to play together, often chasing round the room and leaping on and off obstacles in their way! Their voices are surprisingly quiet for the size of cat, and they often say 'hello' by means of a chirruping trill, rather than a full-blown meow.
The modern Abyssinian is not known to have any breed-specific health problems and many live to around the age of 15 years. In common with other cats, they need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors - if they are allowed out in the garden, be aware that they are traditionally hunting cats and may bring you back a variety of wildlife!
This breed will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. However, cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available. They have very short glossy coats, which need little grooming, and can normally be kept free of loose hairs simply by stroking.