ABYSSINIANS

What you need to know

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The singular defining feature of the Abyssinian breed is its richly colored, ticked tabby coat free of markings on its legs, tail, and neck but exhibiting dramatic facial markings. Each hair is “ticked” with four to six bands of color, dark at the tip, lighter at the roots, alternating dark and light. In the ideal Abyssinian the color at the root is bright and matches the color on its undersides and the insides of its legs.

There are four colors in the Abyssinian breed. The original, or wild, color is known as ruddy. In this case the darker bands of color are dark sepia to black and the lighter bands a bright orange, giving the impression of a burnt sienna iridescent cat. The next color to be recognized was red, with chocolate brown in the darker bands of color giving the impression of a red iridescent cat. The blue Abyssinian has slate blue as its darker bands of color with alternating bands of warm beige, giving the impression of a warm dark blue cat with a much subtler look. Rounding out the colors of the Abyssinian is the fawn, which has light cocoa darker bands and warm rose-beige lighter bands of ticking, giving the impression of a warm antique rose-colored cat.

Dark lines extend from the eyes and the brow, and the eyes are accentuated by fine dark lines, encircled by light colored areas consistent with the ticking color. Cheekbone shading and dots and shading on the whisker pads are desirable enhancements.

The head of the Abyssinian should be a modified wedge with almond shaped eyes. The ears should be alert, large, and moderately pointed. They should be broad and cupped at the base and set as though listening. The head, eyes and ears should all fit together in a complimentary fashion favoring neither extreme length nor extreme shortness.

The body type of the cat should strike a medium between the extremes of the cobby and the svelte lengthy type. In other words, it should be medium long, lithe and graceful, but showing well-developed muscular strength without coarseness. Proportion and general balance are more desirable than mere size. The cat should appear to be long on its legs and standing on tiptoes; the typical Abyssinian usually likes to arch its back when it stands alertly. Put together, this striking cat seems to have just walked out of the forest, with a look reminiscent of its wild origins so many years ago, tempered with the knowledge that the Ancient Egyptians showed them such reverence.

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PERSONALITY AND TEMPERAMENT

How do we best describe the Abyssinian personality? In one word – BUSY. These cats are incredibly intelligent, good problem solvers, and full of an insatiable curiosity. Couple this with the natural athleticism which comes with their particular body type and muscularity, and we have a potent combination. Moreover, Abyssinians tend to want to do everything on their own terms. Having these fascinating, gorgeous cats as pets can be a challenge unless you understand their particular persona.

The normal Abyssinian is almost steadily on the move unless it is eating or sleeping. These cats constantly seem to patrol their territory – unless something catches their interest. When their interest is piqued, they tend to pay attention intensely to whatever is happening, at least until the next interesting thing happens or they decide that whatever is happening is really not all that interesting anyway. Looking out at birds or squirrels through a window can be a captivating pasttime until they hear a can opener or decide they want attention or find something else of more interest.

Abyssinians are incredibly playful, even into adulthood. Everything they do seems to be larger than life. When they play they give over 100%, sometimes not seeming to worry about life or limb! They can amuse themselves for many minutes at a time with a given toy over many months, and then decide they do not ever want to play with it again. Mechanical toys, such as wind up toys, can be a problem, since as soon as the toy winds down, you either have to wind it up again or they will just ignore it. Abyssinians can amuse themselves with a paper ball or a plastic bottle cap just as well as with expensive, elaborate cat toys. They are very good at training humans to play fetch.

As a breed Abyssinians seem to be able to defy gravity at times. There seems to be no place in the house where they cannot get. Frequently it appears impossible for them to reach certain perches; then when you watch how they get to those places, it is even more amazing. Abyssinians live in all three dimensions. They like to make full use of vertical space. Clearly, they have no fear of heights. Most of the time they can be pretty careful walking on the upper shelves of a tall bookcase or the top of kitchen cupboards; however, when that mischievous playfulness moves them, they like to see what may happen when they push some trinket over the edge. If the crash is loud enough they sometimes even scare themselves. Our observation has been that, in general, females tend to be more graceful than males, but sometimes the urge to play can have a devastating effect on breakables. The best advice for Aby owners is to keep the breakables somewhere the Abyssinians are not. Given their penchant for high places, pet Abyssinians should be provided with the means to reach the vertical as well as the horizontal dimensions of their living quarters. To this end, tall scratching posts or scratching trees are much appreciated and well used by this breed.

HISTORY AND BACKGROUND

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HISTORY AND BACKGROUND

The origins of the Abyssinian breed are still somewhat of a mystery, and exotic stories abound about where these cats originated. Whatever the genesis of today’s Abyssinian, the breed certainly suggests the noble cat statues of Egyptian origin. They exhibit the same long legs, arched neck, well-cupped ears, graceful svelteness, and alert look of these statues. The major difference is that today’s Abyssinians have an ear flare, which complements their modified wedge head shape.

The early cat books do not shed much light on the history of this breed since record keeping at the end of the 19th century was not the best. The “Abyssinian” may be so called because at the time the first such cat was imported into England, the English army was fighting in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). It is purported that such a cat was brought into England at the conclusion of the war, and the British book by Gordon Stables, Cats, Their Points, Etc., published in 1874, shows a colored lithograph of a cat with a ticked coat and absence of discernible tabby markings on its paws, face, and neck. The description reads: “Zula, the property of Mrs. Captain Barrett-Lennard. This cat was brought from Abyssinia at the conclusion of the war….”

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