Abyssinian cat breed photo

The origin of the breed

Despite being a long-known and a one of the oldest cat breeds out there, Abyssinian breed has got some white spots on it's origin. Some scientists claim that these cats hail from Ethiopia, long before known as Abyssinia. Other researchers say that the breed originates from England, and they are called like that just because of their oriental look. Well actually, their appearance is close to the ones of ancient egyptian cats, those elegant yet muscular felines with fine neck, large ears and charming almond-ish eyes “highlighted” by a dark line. Even today they bear the look of wild african steppe-cat Felis Lybica - an ancestor to all domesticated cats.

Supporters of the english theory call abyssinians the first non-natural, human-made european breed. Zula the cat is thought to be it's forefather, thought to be brought in england circa 1968, soon after the end of Ethiopian campaign. It was described as a bunny-resembling ticked cat without tabby-markings on legs and head, this is what we can get from a coloured picture in The Domestic Cat by Gordon Stables. The writing under the picture said: “Zula, courtesy of mrs Barrett-Lennard”

However, there is an even earlier mention of this breed: 27.01.1872's Harpers Weekly says that: “An abyssinian cat, captured after the ethiopian operation, has taken a third prize at Crystal Palace Show held in December 1871”. There is also a picture of an abyssinian feline. Irina Shustrova, a renowned russian felinologist does also state that the first abyssinian came to england in 1868, following with their first appearance at a cat show 16 years after, in 1884. These were probably the results of abyssinian and local english felines crossing. Unfortunately, there is no earlier evidence of this breed.

Abyssinians were first given a note in the National Cat Club breed book in 1886. The first standard was created and given to it by Harrison Weyer in 1889, some of its fragments live on in current version. The 1889's description was too vague and had too much uncertainty in colours and body builds, which were refined and corrected later. The breed has received it's official acclaim lately in 1904, with a pair of bluish-silver being exported to America three years later. This was made to preserve the breed, as if they would be almost completely wiped out the Europe during the WW1. It was only the american breeders' boost which has made it possible to restore the population to pre-war levels. In 1929 the Abyssinian Cat Club was founded in England, and it is the oldest abyssinian fanciers association in the world. Nowadays the breed is overwhelmingly popular throughout Europe and USA, but is rarely met in Russia.


Abyssinian cats are shorthair, and therefore have a dense coat. They possess a decent-built body weighing 6-10 lbs. Muscular and agile at the same time they act with a royal grace, all that elegance makes an abyssinian look as if it's breed traits were refined and preserved throughout millennia, which actually is the case. Lean and swift like the little pumas they seem to always move for the kill, their visibly unnatural speed and strength leave no doubt in their primal hunting skills.

Their breed-defining feature is their pearlescent, warm paint without an actual pattern. This is caused by ticked coat, which means their every hair is striped with red and black. While having no defined pattern, they usually have a darker spine (so called spine-belt) and tail tip and feet, while belly, breast and inner leg sides are brighter, this is the unique feature of ticked paint.

This breed is not heavily affected by sexual dimorphism, although males are naturally larger than females.

Head: Medium size modified wedge of sufficient length, with rounded contours, without flat planes. The head is well balanced with the rest of the body and is gently curved from the forehead over the skull flowing into an arched neck. Profile shows a gentle curve from the straight, medium length nose to the forehead. Chin is strong, well developed, having a rounded appearance. Muzzle is well marked, following gentle contours of the rest of the head and is in conformity with the head. Allowance to be made for jowls in adult males. The muzzle shall not be sharply pointed and there shall be no evidence of snippiness, foxy appearance or whisker pinch.

Eyes: Large, brilliant, expressive, almond shaped, set wide and a little slanted. Not round, neither oriental. Color should be clear, deep and rich: from amber t green. In silver varieties green eye color is preferred. Eyes accentuated by darker lid skin, encircled by a light colored area (corresponding the ticking tone). Above each eye appears a short vertical darker pencil stroke amidst the light area. At the sides of each eye appears a curved darker pencil line as if a continuation of the upper eyelid.

Ears: Large, broad at the base, with rounded tips. Alert, arched forward and set as though listening. Hair on ears short and close-lying, preferably tipped in conformity with the color requirements. A “thumb print” marking is desirable on the back of the ear. Ear tufts are desirable.

Neck: Rather long, elegant.

Body: Medium long, lithe and graceful, showing well developed muscular strength without coarseness and is solid to the feel, well balanced and lithe. The rib cage is rounded with no evidence of flat sides. The back is slightly arched giving the appearance of a cat about to spring. The flank shall be reasonably level without tuckup.

Legs: Long, slim, elegant, well-muscled.

Feet: Oval and compact. When standing, giving the impression of being on tip toe.

Tail: Long and tapering.

Coat: Resilient to touch with a lustrous sheen. Short, but long enough to accommodate 3-5 alternating light and dark colored bands on each hair. Silky and fine texture, undercoat should be adequate enough to avoid any evidence of slickness. Coat lies fairly close to the body. Coat is longest at the spine, gradually shortening over the saddle, flank, legs and head.

Colors: Coat pattern is genetically a form of agouti ticking with even, dark-colored ticking contrasted with lighter bands giving a translucent effect. 2-5 ticking bandings should be on each single hair. The ticking shall be extended evenly and without stripes over the entire body. The line along the spine (eel line), the tail tip and the plantar side of the hind paws are coloured intensely in the colour of the ticking. The chest, belly and the inner side of the legs are without ticking and of the corresponding base colour. White or offwhite to be confined only to the upper throat area, lips and around nostrils.

The most known colors are: ruddy, sorrel (genetically cinnamon), blue, fawn and their silver varieties, when a cat has icy-white undercoat unstead of warm grond color. Some rufousing may be present in the areas of ticking, especially along the spine, and the rufous polygenes may have a small effect on the silver undercolor as well, although lack of rufousing is more desirable.

Penalize:Long, narrow or rounded head. Weak body. Stripes on the legs, too light undercoat, too little ticking, «ghost» markings. Small, pointed ears, rounded eyes, unspecified eye color, lack of dark outline of the eye-lids. Too cobby and heavy body, short legs, short tail, protruding sculls.

Disqualification on shows: Siamese type. White lockets and any white color on the body except upper throat, chin and lips area. Unbroken necklace.

Disqualification for all breeds: Amputated claws, cryptorchism, deafness. Any bone deformation in the head, body, limbs.

Character traits and features

Coupled with infinite activeness and a natural hunter's look, these ever-searching felines may deceive you - their temper is actually level and quiet.

Smart and delicate, tender and playful, intellectual and curious, these felines have a truly noble sense of self-esteem and seems to always be in their best state. Abyssinians are also very neat, always maintaining tidiness of themselves and everything around. You may feel safe for your curtains, wallpapers, carpets and anything including yourself, as if they will never sharpen their nails anywhere but their dedicated scratchpad. They also are fine mothers to their children, and are able to handle birth and upbringing on alone. There are 3 kittens per litter usually, and their average lifespan is 20 years. Females are somewhat more active than males.

Maintenance and care

Looking after abyssinian's coat is not a big deal, you should just brush it with a fine iron comb on a weekly basis. It is necessary to clean their ears to prevent infection. Abyssinian cats are fine with water, as such it would be easy to wash them, note that baths with changing water is preferred over the shower. Shorthair cats do also have a special non-conditioning shampoo which is easier on their coat, abyssinians generally need that. The litterbox is better be filled with wooden grains, as they tend to easily accept these.

Nutrition choices

Balanced rations are preferred due to abyssinians natural tendency to overeating, which in turn leads to problems with digestive and bowel systems.

Selection and breeding

Allowed crossings: Somalian.

Breeds, relative or derived from Abyssinian:

Felis Tigrinus - a nowadays dropped breed, that was popular in 60-s in Netherlands

Abyssinian bobtail - either a local abyssinian shorttail, or a cross between abyssinian and japanese bobtail

Abyssinian curl (abyssinian rex) - a result of an accidental cross between abyssininan and german-rex.

Abyssinian-persian - another dropped breed, a result of an experimental attempt to pass the red paint gene to persians

Australian mist - has got it's ticking and patterns from abyssinian.

Asian tabby - was purposely derived from abyssinians

Singapura - thought to be derived from burman and abyssinian breed

Somali - derived from longhair abyssinian litters.

Alternative and obsolete breed names

Algerian, Ethiopian, Rabbit-cat, British ticked, Cunny cat

Unofficial and slang names

Aby, Abyssin.

Breed's catteries