Sunday, February 3, 2013


If you look at a modern map, you will not see any country with the name of Abyssinia.  And that is because the country that used to be called Abyssinia is now called Ethiopia.  I guess we could change the name of Abyssinian cats to Ethiopian cats, but there wouldn't be too much point to that, because Abyssinian cats didn't really come from Abyssinia anyway.

Actually, some people thought that Abyssinian cats came from Egypt, because they looked just like those cats that the Egyptians made carvings and murals of.  Other people believed that British soldiers brought home a cat named Zula at the end of the Abyssinian war in 1868, and that Zula was the Mother Cat who started the Abyssinian breed.  But genetic studies now show that the modern Abyssinian is probably most closely related to cats in the coastal area of the Bay of Bengal in India.

Anyway, even though we don't know where the first Abyssinians came from, we do know that a bunch of them ended up in Great Britain, and that's where the breed was developed.

Abyssinians came to the U.S. in the early 1900s, and were first exhibited here in 1909.  Later on, in the 1930s, more breeders got interested in Abyssinians, and pretty soon these cats became one of the most popular American breeds.

Ticking macro; photo by Martin Bahmann
The coat of an Abyssinian is medium in length, and it is very dense and silky.  There is a similar breed with a longer coat, and it is called the Somali.  Both of these breeds have special, very interesting coats because of a dominant mutant gene called Ta.  Each hair of the cat's coat has what is called "ticking," and this means there is a light color at the root, with 3 or 4 bands of darker color as you go towards the hair tip.  Only Abyssinians, Somalis, and Singapuras have this ticking in their coats.

Somali cat
Here are the colors that Somalis and Abyssinians can have:  Ruddy, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Blue, Lilac, and Fawn.  And each of these colors has a silver version, where the color of the hair closest to the skin is an icy white.  Kittens are born with dark coats that lighten as they get older.  It takes several months for them to get to their final coat color.

Abyssinians are very active, playful, and intelligent cats.  They like to go everyplace and check out every nook and cranny, which is what my sister Latifa also does.  Except that she is black, so I'm pretty sure she's not an Abyssinian!  Abys are not very good lap cats because they are always too busy playing and exploring.  Some of them make good show cats, but others are too shy in public.

At home, they like to check out what everybody is doing.  If they can get a good view of what's going on, like from the top of the refrigerator or by looking out a window, they will be happy.  And sometimes they really do come and snuggle under the covers with you.

So if you want a cat who is outgoing and lots of fun and very active, you might want to get an Abyssinian.  But if you want a cat who will mostly sit in you lap and purr while you watch TV, you should maybe get a different breed.  And if you want a pet who will go for walks with you in the park, then you should get a dog!