July 2, 2013 PetGuide
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  • Height: 8-10 inches
  • Weight: 8-12 lb
  • Lifespan: 9-13 years
  • Physique: Muscular, alert ears
  • Best Suited For: Families with older children. Not apartment cats. Enjoy room.
  • Temperament: Active, intelligent, curious, affectionate, playful
  • Comparable Breeds: Nebelung, Javanese

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The name “Abyssinian” does not mean these elegant cats with their lovely arched necks originated in Ethiopia. The Aby is one of the oldest breeds, and its physical appearance matches that of the cats of Ancient Egypt. The breed’s true origin, however, is unknown. They were first shown in England, when a cat “captured in the late Abyssinian War”  won third prize at a show at the Crystal Palace in 1871. There are no records to trace this importation, however, and many breeders believe the cats, with their distinctive ticked coats, are crosses of silver and brown tabbies with the British “Bunny.” Genetic studies, however, suggest an origin for the Abyssinian along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Top-quality Abys were imported to North America in the 1930s to form the basis of the bloodlines still represented in the U.S. today.

Although Abyssinians are not lap cats, they are affectionate and intelligent, requiring lots of interaction.

abyssinian-1Although Abyssinians are not lap cats, they are affectionate and intelligent, requiring lots of interaction. They enjoy being with a family, and get along well with other cats in the household. These curious extroverts are a little willful, but they’re also fun and playful, always exploring and wanting to share their discoveries. Although Abys like to climb, they aren’t acrobats. They enjoy toys, and can often be induced to play fetch. Talkative and expressive, Abyssinians have a much quieter voice than other feline conversationalists like the Siamese, but they will make themselves heard.

Abyssinians are medium-sized cats with an alert, engaged appearance emphasized by their tall, pointy ears. Almond eyes in varying shades of copper, gold, green, and hazel highlight the broad, wedge-shaped head, and give the Aby its inquisitive expression. The small, oval paws and slender, long legs create a fine-boned look, but the breed is muscular and well-proportioned. The long tail is broad at the base but narrows to a point. Aby’s have medium length fur that is dense, but silky in texture further enhancing the cat’s overall sleekness.

abyssinian-2Each hair of an Aby’s coat progresses from a lighter base color to a black tip across three or four darker bands. This distinctive “ticking” pattern is only found in two other breeds, the Somali and the Singapura. The Aby’s original reddish-brown base color with black ticking is called “Usual” in Great Britain and “Ruddy” in the United States. In this variation, the cat’s feet, including the backside of the hind legs, are black. Other colorations include the yellow-brown or cinnamon “Sorrell,” the light beige “Blue,” and the rare “Fawn,” with a light cream tone base. “Silver” Abys are not recognized by the Cat Fancier’s Association. Their undercoat is pure white. The “Chocolate” (a darker version of the Sorrel) and “Lilac” (a variation of the Blue) are now recognized for champion status in the United Kingdom.

The Abyssinian requires little in the way of grooming thanks to its dense and manageable coat. An occasional bath to remove loose hair, in tandem with a regular regimen of brushing will keep the Abys coat sleek and shiny. The breed is somewhat prone to develop gingivitis, so kittens should be taught to tolerate having their teeth brushed, or they should be provided with dental treats to help reduce tartar buildup.

Photo credit: Roxana Bashyrova/Shutterstock

Comparable Breeds

Go to Nebelung


  • Height: 8-10 inches
  • Weight: 5.5-16 lb
  • Lifespan: 11-16 years
  • Physique: Long, graceful body
  • Best Suited For: Families with older children, the elderly, anyone wanting a lap cat
  • Temperament: Gentle, affectionate, loving, shy
  • Comparable Breeds: Korat, LaPerm
Go to Javanese


  • Height: 18-20 inches
  • Weight: 5-10 lb
  • Lifespan: 9-15 years
  • Physique: Slender and elegant
  • Best Suited For: First time cat owners, families with children, retirees
  • Temperament: Loving and affectionate, requiring daily attention
  • Comparable Breeds: Siamese, Balinese, Oriental Shorthair