Abyssinian (cat)

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Gustav chocolate.jpg
OriginIndian Ocean coast of Egypt[1]
Breed standards
Domestic cat (Felis catus)
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Gustav chocolate.jpg
OriginIndian Ocean coast of Egypt[1]
Breed standards
Domestic cat (Felis catus)

The Abyssinian /æbɨˈsɪniən/ is a breed of domesticated cat with a distinctive ticked coat. There are many stories about its origins, often revolving around Ethiopia, but the actual origins are uncertain. The Abyssinian has become one of the most popular breeds of shorthair cat in the USA.[2]


Zula, the so-called "first Abyssinian"

The name 'Abyssinian' refers to Ethiopia, but most of the stories about the origins of Abyssinians refer to Egypt. Genetic research suggests the breed originated near the coast of the Indian Ocean, where colonists may have purchased animals from wild animal traders. The breed was developed in Great Britain.

The breed is sometimes believed to have originated from one Egyptian female kitten named Zula, who was taken from a part in Alexandria by a British soldier and brought to England in 1868. This theory is not established because there is no solid link between Zula and the cat first listed as an Abyssinian in 1882.[3]



The Abyssinian has alert, relatively large pointed ears. The head is broad and moderately wedge shaped. Its eyes are almond shaped and colors include gold, green, hazel or copper. The paws are small and oval. The legs are slender in proportion to the body, with a fine bone structure. The Abyssinian has a fairly long tail, broad at the base and tapering to a point. The Abyssinian's nose and chin usually form a straight vertical line when viewed in profile. A m-shaped marking is often found in the fur on the forehead. The m-shaped marking, also called "frown lines," appears above the Abyssinian's eyes. They can be colored ruddy, (usual), chocolate, sorrel (cinnamon), blue,fawn, lilac or sex-linked; red, cream and tortoiseshell. Abyssinians are medium sized cats. They have strong, light boned bodies with long legs.

Coat and colors[edit]

The Abyssinian's fur exhibits a unique "ticking" coloration

The coat is medium-length, dense, and silky to the touch. The Abyssinian, and a similar long-hair breed called the Somali, have coats that are unusual enough to catch attention. These felines owe their special coat to one dominant mutant gene known as Ta. Each hair has a base color with three or four darker-colored bands; the hair is the lighter colour at the root, and the darker "ticking" color at the tip. This ticking is found only in the Somali, Abyssinian and Singapura.

The first cat to have its entire genome published was an Abyssinian named Cinnamon.[4]

The original Abyssinian coat colour is known as 'Usual' in the United Kingdom and as 'Ruddy' elsewhere. The coat has a warm reddish-brown base, with black ticking. The feet and the backs of the hind legs are always black.

Over the years, various other colours have been developed from this original form, but the markings on the coat have remained the same. The back of the hind legs and the pads of the paws are always darker than the rest of the coat. A popular colour is Sorrel, which has a cinnamon (yellowish-brown) base, with chocolate brown ticking, paw pads and backs of the legs. Blue Abyssinians, which have become increasingly popular in recent years, have a light beige base colour with blue ticking, paw pads and backs of the legs. The relatively rare Fawn Abyssinians have a light-cream base colour, with darker cream ticking and warm dark cream pads and backs of the legs.

A six-month old Chocolate Abyssinian (left) with his Sorrel father

Silver Abyssinians are a separate group among the breed. Although this colour has been in existence for decades, it is not recognised by the Cat Fanciers' Association, the world's largest registry of pedigreed cats. In Silvers, the undercoat is always a pure silvery white. The markings include black, blue, warm dark cream and cinnamon. Purely Silver Abyssinians are difficult to breed because they sometimes have undesirable tan patches in the coat. In addition to this, any spots in the coat show up more clearly on a silver coat.

Rare colours include the Tortoiseshell, Red, Cream, Chocolate and Lilac, which are all bred on a small scale in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. GCCF Standard of points. Chocolate and Lilac abyssinians are now full champion status in the UK. Champion Crystalpaws Genevieve became the first Chocolate Abyssinian champion in GCCF.

Abyssinian kittens are born with dark coats that gradually lighten as they mature. It usually takes several months for the final coat color to be established.


Abyssinian kittens

Abyssinians are extroverted, extremely active, playful, wilful and intelligent. They are usually not "lap cats", because they are usually too preoccupied with exploring and playing.[5] They are popular among breeders and owners, and can be very successful show cats. Not all Abyssinians are shown, however, because the color and type standards are very exacting, and because some are shy towards strangers and timid in public. They have quiet, engaging voices.

"Abys", as they are affectionately referred to by their fans, need a great deal of love and interaction with the family to keep them happy and can get depressed without daily activity and attention.[3] They generally get along well with other cats. Abyssinians are known for their curiosity and enjoy exploring their surroundings, including heights. They are sensible cats that do not take unnecessary risks. As one might expect from such an intelligent and physically capable breed, Abyssinians are known to be formidable hunters. They adore toys and can play for hours with a favorite ball. Some play fetch.


It can be prone to gingivitis, which can lead to more serious periodontitis, so it will need its teeth brushed.[6] Familial renal amyloidosis or AA amyloidosis, a kidney disorder due to a mutation in the AA amyloid protein gene, has been seen in Abyssinians.[7] The Abyssinian has had severe problems with blindness caused by a hereditary retinal degeneration due to mutations in the rdAc gene. However, the prevalence has been reduced from 45% to less than 4% in 2008 in the country of Sweden.[8] With the widespread availability of rdAc mutation detection tests and services, such as those provided by the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, it is possible to reduce the disease frequency in all populations of Abyssinian.[9][10]

Genetic diversity[edit]

The 2008 study The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide Random-bred Populations by Lipinski et al. conducted at UC Davis by the team led by leading feline geneticist Dr Leslie Lyons found that the Abyssinian has a low level of genetic diversity, a heterozygosity value of 0.45 within a range of 0.34-0.69 for all breeds studied, and has genetic markers common to both Southeast Asian and Western breeds indicating that cats from both Asia and Europe were used to create the breed.[11]

Abyssinian in popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ "Abyssinian Profile", Catz Inc., accessed 4 Oct 2009
  2. ^ Cat Fanciers' Association. "Breed Profile: Abyssinian". 2011.
  3. ^ a b Pollard, Michael. The Encyclopedia of the Cat. United Kingdom: Parragon Publishing, 1999.
  4. ^ Highfield, Roger (2007-10-31). "Cinnamon the cat could offer hope to the blind". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  5. ^ "TICA page of Abyssinian Breed". TICA. Retrieved 2012-05-21. 
  6. ^ "Periodontitis - Cat". Vetbook.org. 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  7. ^ Niewold, T. A.; Van Der Linde-Sipman, J. S.; Murphy, C.; Tooten, P. C.; Gruys, E. (1999). "Familial amyloidosis in cats: Siamese and Abyssinian AA proteins differ in primary sequence and pattern of deposition". Amyloid : the international journal of experimental and clinical investigation : the official journal of the International Society of Amyloidosis 6 (3): 205–209. doi:10.3109/13506129909007328. PMID 10524286.  edit
  8. ^ http://dobzhanskycenter.bio.spbu.ru/pdf/sjop/MS686%20Narfstrom%20.pdf
  9. ^ "Cat Progressive Retinal Atrophy". Vgl.ucdavis.edu. Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  10. ^ Lyons, L. A. (2012). "Genetic testing in domestic cats". Molecular and Cellular Probes 26 (6): 224–230. doi:10.1016/j.mcp.2012.04.004. PMC 3541004. PMID 22546621.  edit
  11. ^ Lipinski, M. J.; Froenicke, L.; Baysac, K. C.; Billings, N. C.; Leutenegger, C. M.; Levy, A. M.; Longeri, M.; Niini, T.; Ozpinar, H.; Slater, M. R.; Pedersen, N. C.; Lyons, L. A. (2008). "The ascent of cat breeds: Genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations". Genomics 91 (1): 12–21. doi:10.1016/j.ygeno.2007.10.009. PMC 2267438. PMID 18060738.  edit

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