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Choosing an Abyssinian

By: J. Anne Helgren

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The Abyssinian, possibly descended from cats worshiped by the ancient Egyptians, is a colorful feline known for her energy and striking ticked pattern. The Aby is popular with cat lovers who enjoy busy, active, playful cats. Life with the Aby is never boring - fanciers claim that you won't find finer home entertainment than one of these dynamic couch cougars.

History and Origin

While no one knows when or where the Abyssinian first appeared, the tale that's most often told is that today's breed is a direct descendant of the sacred cats worshiped by the ancient Egyptians 4,000 years ago. Abys do look like the cats depicted in some Egyptian murals and sculptures, but no direct evidence exists to prove that these felines are directly related to those revered Egyptian felines.

An Abyssinian named Zula was transported from Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) to England at the end of the Abyssinian War in 1868, according to Dr. Gordon Staples in his 1874 book, Cats, Their Points, Etc., but whether the cat was native to that area is subject to debate. Some believe the Aby was recreated in England from existing British breeds. Others believe that today's Abyssinian descended from a variety of cat found in Southeast Asia.

The first Abyssinians were imported into North America from England in the early 1900s, but the cats that would become the foundation of today's breed didn't arrive until the late 1930s. The Aby slowly gained popularity and today the Abyssinian is the third most popular shorthaired breed, according to the Cat Fancier's Association registration totals.


The Abyssinian is a lithe, graceful and regal breed with a modified wedge-shaped head, large, alert, pointed ears, and large, expressive, almond-shaped eyes. A ring of dark color on the eyelids accentuates the eyes, making the cat appear to be wearing black eyeliner. According to the story, the women of ancient Egypt patterned their eye makeup after this trait. The Aby's body is long, hard and muscular, with slim, fine-boned legs and feet.

Another trait that sets the Abyssinian apart is the ticked or agouti coat pattern, characterized by alternating bands of color on the hair shafts. Each individual hair is decorated with light-colored bands contrasted with dark-colored bands. The lighter or ground color lies closest to the skin, and the hair shaft ends with a dark tip. This gives the coat a distinctive stippled appearance. The coat is medium in length, long enough to accommodate two or three bands of ticking. The tabby "M" decorates the forehead.

Four colors are commonly recognized: ruddy, red, blue and fawn. Ruddy is by far the most common and striking color, characterized by a burnt-sienna brown with shades of darker brown or black ticking contrasted with an orange-brown undercoat.

Silver is also recognized in some cat associations but this color is controversial. While some fanciers believe that the gene responsible for the silver effect will cause no problems, others feel it may ruin the ruddy coloration. In Europe, however, silver and many other colors are accepted.

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