The Abyssinian is one of the most distinctive and ancient of cat breeds. A modern Abyssinian or “Aby” closely resembles cats seen in the artwork of ancient Egypt. Although best known for appearing in cat shows, pet Abys make wonderful companions. They are easy to groom, intelligent, friendly and elegant. Some Abys are available in animal shelters and organizations devoted to rescuing Abys.
The Abys’ willingness to please people makes them trainable. Some animal trainers claim that the Aby is the most intelligent breed of cat. Many have appeared in advertisements movies, such as The Cat from Outer Space (1978) and in television shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Despite the name, it is unknown where the Abyssinian first originated. The first cats imported to England in the late 1800s which were later classified as Abyssinians were assumed to have been bred in Ethiopia (the modern name for Abyssinia). The mythical matriarch of the breed is called Zula, who was imported to England from Egypt in 1868. However, it is unknown if Zula ever had kittens.
Once the new breed became popular in England, they were exported to America in the early 1900s. By the time anyone realized that the cats probably originated elsewhere, the name had stuck. The Aby is now the second most popular shorthaired breed in America. A longhaired version, the Somali, is now considered a separate breed.
Modern geneticists have traced modern Abys back to Southeast Asia and coastlines along the Indian Ocean. Since Abys are long and lean like Siamese and other breeds in Southeast Asia, this finding should not be so surprising.
Abyssinians are long, athletic cats with large ears in proportion to their wedge-shaped heads. Males are usually larger and heavier than females. They have a slightly arched back, even when sitting. Females can weigh about six and a half pounds, while males can tip the scales at ten pounds. Abys seem a lot larger than they are because of their energy, attentiveness and love of human attention.
Abys eye colors include shades of yellow and gold. Green eyes are rare but sometimes appear. Coat colors are usually agouti patterns (light hairs with a dark base) with a white chin and neck. Tips of the ears, spine and tip of the tail are often darker in color than the rest of the body. Abys often have a prominent dark M-shape on their heads. Kittens tend to be born with dark coats which lighten up as they mature.
Back in the 1930s, there were only two sandy colors allowed in the breed called ruddy and sorrel. Now, there are a wide variety of colors in the breed, but the rarer colors are harder to find. These rare colors include tortoiseshell, chocolate, fawn and silver. Silver is a color recognized in Europe but not in the United States. Other colors include a pretty light gray called lilac and a richer gray called blue. Keep in mind that a good cat is never a bad color.