Abyssinian


Introduction

Abyssinian cats are sleek, athletic medium size felines that boast wonderful personalities. Abys have a wild look about them resembling a Lynx with their large ears and expressive, alert yet gentle eyes. For decades, the Abyssinian has been among one of the most popular breeds throughout the world thanks to the fact they are not only beautiful looking, but also because they are such intelligent cats that boast an independent side to their natures.


History

Abyssinians boast an interesting, albeit mysterious history with some people thinking they are descendants of the sacred cats of ancient Egypt. There is some evidence of similar looking felines that have been found on tomb paintings and on ancient Egyptian papyri drawings. However, the actual origins of the breed remain lost in the mists of time although it's thought the first Abyssinian was introduced to Britain by an army captain's wife when they returned to the UK from Abyssinia in 1868. With this said, similar looking cats with lovely ticked coats are found in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Today there are wild cats from jungle regions of the world that are also very similar looking to the Abyssinian. What is known is that many returning sailors bought cats with them back in the day. As such, these lovely cats have been around in the UK for at least a hundred years or so and have remained popular right up until today.

In the early days, breeders did not keep very good records and it was not until 1929 that an Abyssinian Cat Club was established. A man called Harrison Weir published had first "Standard of Points" some years earlier in 1889, describing Abyssinians as having "deep brown coats ticked with black that looked very much like that of a wild rabbit - only not quite as grey" which is why the breed was often referred to as "Bunny" or "Hare" cats and sometimes they were simply called "Ticks".

Over time, there have been many well-known and exceptionally conscientious breeders who did their utmost to produce excellent examples of the breed. One of these good examples was called Ch Southampton Red Rust and it was decided to mate the cat to an African Wild Cat. The result of the pairing was a cat called Goldtick and it was this cat that was registered as being an "Aby". Over the following generations, a lot of strangely coloured kittens appeared in many litters with some of them not having any ticking on their coats at all. These kittens were not usually bred from or even registered with the one exception being a cat called Woodroofe Nigra, a female that is thought to be one of the foundation cats of all Abyssinians today. She was registered as being a black Abyssinian.

In short, what is known about the breed is that their distinctive colouring actually disguises a lot of recessive genes. At one time any cat that resembled an Aby could be used to breed from which is one of the reasons why it took a long time to breed out all the unwanted recessive genes. Today, there are very strict rules when it comes to breeding Abyssinians, especially as after the war there was such a small gene pool to draw from.

The breed was first recognised by the GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy) in 1929 and back then only cats with recognised showing colours were acceptable, although other colours also appeared which included long-haired cats too. Breeders then started to develop other colours which included red and sorrel. In 1970, the breed suffered a major setback when FelV hit many of the lines very badly. Thankfully, through the dedicated efforts of breed enthusiasts, Abys were saved from extinction and a little later in time, breeders began routinely testing their cats for FeLV and even with such a small gene pool, their numbers were soon seen to rise without having to introduce other breeds into the mix. Over time, the Abyssinian has not changed that much although breeders have successfully improved the richness of a cat's coat and have managed to produce other superb colours which are now accepted as being allowable under the GCCF breed standard.


Appearance

Abyssinians are very lithe looking cats that boast a wild look about them. They are muscular, athletic and medium in size with well-balanced bodies and beautifully ticked, close-lying coats. Their heads boast being nicely contoured which is especially noticeable from a cat's brow to the top of their heads showing a good width between the ears. Their heads are rather wedged shaped and muzzles are slightly rounded. Males have fuller cheeks than their female counterparts. Abys have a slight nose break, but the nose to the chin is straight.

Ears are large, nicely cupped and set well apart on the head being furry on the inside edges and with distinct tufts on the tips. Their eyes are almond shaped and set well apart with Abys boasting an intelligent, expressive look in them. Their eyes can be a deep shade of green, hazel or amber. They have elegant necks that arch from the top of a cat's head to their shoulders. Abys have muscular, lithe bodies with nice straight backs and nicely rounded ribcages. They have elegant, slender legs that are nicely in proportion with the body which adds to their overall well-balanced appearance. Feet are oval in shape and small in size. Tails are long being thicker at the base before tapering to the tip.

When it comes to their coat, Abyssinians boast having a fine, short, dense close lying coat with distinctive ticking that ends up with cats having a minimum four bands of colour in their coats with the roots being the same colour as the base hair. The last band being the ticking colour. Their all-important markings should always go from the inner edge of a cat's eye to the top of their heads as well as from the outer edge of their eyes to the edge of their ears. The hair found around a cat's eyes should be pale in colour, whereas the outer edge should be that much darker. The back of a cat's ears is darker at the tips, but a brighter colour at the base.

Chins, lips and nostrils match the colour of a cat's base hair or they can be cream, but never white. Abys should have a line of ticking colour running the full length of the back of their heads right along their spines and tails, but which ends up being a solid colour at the tip of the tail. Rhis same colour should go well up a cat's hock. Cats can have a nicely broken "necklet" or a slight amount of barring on their legs which are acceptable under their GCCF breed standard.

Abyssinians now come in a variety of colours which are as follows:

  • Usual
  • Sorrel
  • Blue
  • Chocolate
  • Lilac
  • Fawn
  • Red
  • Cream
  • Usual Silver
  • Sorrel Silver
  • Blue Silver
  • Chocolate Silver
  • Lilac Silver
  • Fawn Silver
  • Red Silver
  • Cream Silver
  • Tortie Abyssinian
  • Usual Tortie
  • Sorrel Tortie
  • Blue Tortie
  • Chocolate Tortie
  • Lilac Tortie
  • Fawn Tortie
  • Tortie Silver
  • Sorrel Tortie Silver
  • Blue Tortie Silver
  • Chocolate Tortie Silver
  • Lilac Tortie Silver
  • Fawn Tortie Silver

Temperament

Abyssinians are known and loved for being interested in everything that goes on around them. They are extremely intelligent, but they boast quite an independent side to their natures. If allowed, an Aby would spend as much time exploring the great outdoors as they can. With this said, they are also very affectionate and love nothing more than being with their owners. One of their favourite pass times is head butting people they love as a way of showing their feelings.

Abys are pretty quiet by nature, but they are renowned for having a rather unique "voice" which is more of a "trill" than a meow. They are quick to learn new things and once they have bonded with someone, they remain loyal and faithful to them loving nothing more than playing interactive games whenever they can which includes things like "fetch". However, these lovely natured cats also have a bit of a stubborn streak and it would be very hard indeed to get an Abyssinian to do something they did not want to do.

Many Abys love to follow an owner from room to room, while others show the more independent side to their natures, preferring to be outside exploring their environment for hours on end. With this in mind, it's important that any Abyssinian that's not allowed to go outside to be given lots of toys and things to do when they are left on their own. This has to include things like scratching posts, high platforms from where they can look down on the world below bearing in mind that Abyssinians really like being able to get up high so they have a good vantage point. They have lots of energy preferring to play games rather than sit on an owner's lap, unless they are tired that is, and then they are usually quite happy to curl up next to their owners.


Intelligence

The Abyssinian is known to be an intelligent cat and one that likes nothing better than to be doing something. They will happily explore the great outdoors whenever they can as long as it is safe for them to do so. However, they can also be a little wilful at times and as previously mentioned, it would be very hard to get an Aby to do something they did not feel like doing.


Children and Other Pets

Abyssinians with their outgoing, affectionate personalities are the perfect choice for families with children and this includes toddlers. Abys are quick on their feet and therefore know when to get out of the reach of smaller children if things start to get too boisterous or loud. However, toddlers and younger kids should always be taught how to behave and handled cats to avoid any mishaps.

They also get on well with dogs they have grown up with in the same household. However, care should be taken when introducing an Aby to dogs they don't already know just in case the dog does not get on with their feline counterparts. Abyssinians are incredibly social by nature and have been known to get on with larger pet birds and even some smaller animals, but it's always wiser to keep a close eye on any cat when they are around smaller pets, just in case.


Abyssinian Health

The average life expectancy of an Abyssinian is between 12 and 16 years when properly cared for and fed a good quality diet to suit their ages. It's also essential for cats to be vaccinated on an annual basis to ensure their continuing good health. Although a healthy breed, the Abyssinian is known to suffer from a few hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these lovely, wild looking cats. The conditions that seem to affect the breed include the following with some health issues being more commonly seen in the breed than others:

  • Gingivitis
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) - this condition has been seen in the breed in the past, but luckily today thanks to responsible breeding, the condition is not so commonly seen in Abyssinians these days
  • Amyloidosis - once a common problem, but now the condition is rarely seen in the breed
  • Pyruvate kinase deficiency (PK) - an inherited disorder that causes anaemia - cats can be tested for the condition and all breeders should have stud cats screened
  • Patellar luxation
  • Sensitive skin (Feline hyperesthesia) 

Caring for a Abyssinian

Abyssinians need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also enjoy playing interactive games like fetch whenever they can which helps keep them fit and healthy. On top of this, they need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.


Grooming

Abyssinians boast having short, close lying coats and as such they are low maintenance on the grooming front. A weekly brush and wipe over with a chamois leather is all it takes to keep their coats in good condition with a nice sheen on it and to remove any loose or dead hair. Like other breeds, they tend to shed the most in the Spring and then again in the Autumn when more frequent brushing is usually necessary to keep on top of things.

It's also important to check a cat's ears on a regular basis and to clean them when necessary. If too much wax is allowed to build up, it can lead to a painful infection which can be hard to clear up. In short, prevention is often easier than cure with ear infections. Cats often suffer from ear mites which can be a real problem which is why it's so important to check their ears on a regular basis.


Energy Levels/Playfulness

Abys are definitely not lap cats, they have a tremendous amount of energy and love nothing more than to be doing something whether they're allowed to go outside or when they are kept as indoor cats. They love playing games and are very quick to learn new things which includes lots of interactive activities like "fetch". With this in mind, cats that are kept as indoor pets need to be given lots of things to do and places to hide when they want to, bearing in mind that the Abyssinian loves to climb up high. They also need to have lots of places where they can snuggle up when the mood takes them because if there is one thing cats are really good at, it's napping throughout the day.


Feeding

If you get an Abyssinian kitten from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same kitten food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a kitten's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again.

Older cats are not known to be fussy eaters, but this does not mean they can be given a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature cat several times a day making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements which is especially important as cats get older. It's also essential to keep an eye on a cat's weight because if they start to put on too much, it can have a serious impact on their overall health and wellbeing.


Average Cost to keep/care for a Abyssinian

If you are looking to buy an Abyssinian, you would need to pay upwards of £300 for a well-bred pedigree kitten. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old Aby in northern England would be £14.55 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £25.17 a month (quote as of December 2017). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK, a cat's age and whether they have been neutered or spayed among other things.

When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry making sure it suits the different stages of a cat’s life. This would set you back between £10 - £15 a month. On top of this, you need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with an Aby and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying a cat when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over £400 a year.

As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for an Abyssinian would be between £25 to £40 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your cat, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a well-bred kitten.


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