A love of heights is a signal trait of the Abyssinian. He likes to be as high up as possible and will appreciate having one or more ceiling-height cat trees.
Showing cats was all the rage in the late Victorian era. One of the unusual breeds exhibited at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in 1871 was an Abyssinian — “captured in the late Abyssinian War” — who took third place. The report on the cat show, published in the January 27, 1872, issue of Harper’s Weekly, was the first known mention in print of the breed. Unfortunately, no records exist regarding the cats’ origins, although myths and speculation abound, including claims that it was the cat of the pharaohs, and that it was created in Britain by crossing silver and brown tabbies with cats that had “ticked” coats.
Today, genetic evidence suggests that the cats came from Indian Ocean coastal regions and parts of Southeast Asia. British and Dutch traders may well have brought the cats from ports such as Calcutta, India, or the islands of Indonesia. A taxidermied specimen of a ruddy ticked cat exhibited in the 1830s at the Leiden Zoological Museum in The Netherlands, where he was labeled “Patrie, domestica India,” gives creedence to that theory. The cats were probably given the name Abyssinian because Zula, the cat exhibited at the Crystal Palace, was said to have been imported from Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). Early pedigrees show crosses to non-Abyssinian cats, which may explain the introduction of new coat colors and the gene for long hair.
The Abyssinian is a slender, fine-boned, medium-sized cat. The head is moderately wedge shaped, with a slight break at the muzzle, and nose and chin ideally forming a straight vertical line when viewed in profile. They have alert, relatively large pointed ears. The notably expressive eyes are almond shaped and are gold, green, hazel or copper depending on coat color. The legs should be long in proportion to a graceful body, with small oval paws; the tail is likewise long and tapering.
Of all the cat breeds, the Abyssinian is perhaps the one who lives life to the fullest. He climbs higher, jumps farther, plays harder. Nothing escapes the notice of this highly intelligent and inquisitive cat, a quality that makes life with him both endlessly entertaining and continuously challenging. Staying a step ahead of an Aby, as the breed is nicknamed, or even just keeping pace with him, requires the fancy footwork of a Fred Astaire, the brainpower of an Einstein and a sense of humor that never stops. You never know what he’ll get into next, although you can assume that if you have something or are doing something, your Aby will want to investigate it closely. Some people refer to the cats as “Aby-grabbys” because of their propensity for taking things that catch their interest.
The Aby loves to play, so plan on making or purchasing a variety of toys to keep him occupied. Ping-Pong balls, bottle caps, wadded-up pieces of paper, puzzle toys and teasers such as big peacock feathers will all amuse this busy and brainy cat. Teach him to retrieve at your peril. Once you start, he won’t let you stop. He learns tricks quickly and many Abys enjoy running a feline agility course.
Abys are adaptable throughout their lives and fit well into any home where they are loved and given plenty of attention. In a home where people are at work or school during the day, the Aby does best with a companion, ideally another Aby, who can match his activity level. If left to his own devices, the Aby may well dismantle the house in his search for something interesting to do.
Beware! The Aby can be addictive. Once you’ve had one, you may find that no other cat will do.