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What is an Abyssinian Cat?

Amanda Piontek
Amanda Piontek

The Abyssinian cat is a medium-sized domesticated cat with long, slender legs, large tufted ears and a sleek, muscular look. One of the most distinctive characteristics of this ancient breed is its unusual coat. The fur of the Abyssinian cat is medium length and dense, with a light base color at the root and a dark ticking, or flecks of color, at the tip. This unique ticking pattern gives the Abyssinian the look of its wildcat ancestors.

This unique domesticated cat is extraordinarily loyal. Abyssinians, affectionately known as "Abys" by breed fanciers, are people-oriented, curious and highly intelligent. They prefer a home where people are available for companionship much of the day rather than one of solitude. Playful but cautious, an Abyssinian cat will intermix periods of activity with those of reserved observation.

The Abyssinian empire was in what is now called Ethiopia.
The Abyssinian empire was in what is now called Ethiopia.

The Abyssinian cat has small litters consisting of three to four kittens. These kittens do not bear the striking coat of the adult Abyssinian. Their dark coats gradually lighten and develop the distinctive ticking pattern during the early weeks and months of life.

The history of the Abyssinian cat is unclear and widely debated. The cat very much resembles the cats found in the paintings and sculptures of ancient Egypt, and mummified cats discovered there bear a striking resemblance to the Abyssinian breed. Modern zoologists, however, point to similarities between the Abyssinian and the African wildcat Felis lybica.

The name "Abyssinian" refers to the empire of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. Early reports of the cat in Europe point to the animal being imported from that region in the late 1860s. Genetic studies pinpoint the Abyssinian's likely origin to areas along the coast of the Indian Ocean and in Southeast Asia.

What is certain is that the Abyssinian cat began to appear in Britain in the late 1800s. The breed was shown at the Crystal Palace and mentioned in magazine articles during that time. Abyssinians were first imported to North America in the early 1900s. High-quality specimens arriving in the United States in the 1930s set the foundation for current American breeding programs.

In the 1970s, breeders developed the occasional recessive-gene long-haired Abyssinian into a separate breed known as the Somali. Long hair was once considered undesirable in the breed known for its short ticked coat. A few hobbyists taken by the beauty of the previously unwanted specimens worked to establish a breeding program, and in 1979, Somalis were accepted into the Cat Fanciers' Association.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Abyssinian cat?

An Abyssinian cat is a breed known for its distinctive ticked coat, where individual hairs have alternating light and dark bands. Originating from Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia), they are one of the oldest known cat breeds. They are highly active, intelligent, and social animals that thrive on interaction with their human companions.

What does an Abyssinian cat look like?

Abyssinian cats have a slender, muscular build with a fine bone structure, giving them an elegant appearance. They possess large, almond-shaped eyes and prominent ears, adding to their alert demeanor. Their fur is short but dense, with the unique ticked pattern coming in various colors such as ruddy, red, blue, and fawn.

How do Abyssinian cats behave?

Abyssinian cats are known for their playful and curious nature. They are highly energetic and enjoy climbing and exploring their surroundings. These cats are also very sociable and tend to form strong bonds with their owners, often following them around and participating in their activities, making them excellent companions.

Are Abyssinian cats good for families?

Yes, Abyssinian cats are generally good for families. They are affectionate and enjoy social interaction, which makes them well-suited for homes with children and other pets. However, due to their high energy levels and need for engagement, they do best with families that can provide them with plenty of playtime and attention.

What are the grooming requirements for an Abyssinian cat?

Abyssinian cats have low grooming requirements due to their short coats. A weekly brushing is typically sufficient to remove loose hair and maintain their coat's health. Regular ear checks, nail trims, and dental care are also recommended to keep them in top condition.

How long do Abyssinian cats typically live?

Abyssinian cats have a lifespan of around 9 to 15 years. With proper care, including a healthy diet, regular veterinary check-ups, and an active lifestyle, Abyssinians can enjoy a full and healthy life. It's important to note that they can be prone to certain genetic health issues, such as renal amyloidosis, so proactive health management is crucial.

Discussion Comments


@pleonasm - The Abyssinian is also a really good cat to have if you have a vermin problem. They are wonderful hunters. In fact, they can be a little bit too wonderful, and my neighbor has had to put a little collar with a bell on hers, in order to keep her from killing too many of the local birds. Even with the collar she still seems to occasionally get one.

And she's always getting the collar off somehow (we often find it in our yard). They are a very clever kind of cat.


I actually had to look up a picture of the coat, because I've only ever seen Abyssinian cats from a distance and I thought they were a single color.

But if you look up close, each hair has a lighter part and a darker part and it does look quite unique.

I would think, though that the Somali, which is like a long haired version of the Abyssinian, would really look like it was a solid color, since the variable tones at the root of the hairs would be hidden since they are a long haired cat.

Although, now I think about it, my cat is long haired (although not a Somali) and I think the way her fur sits could allow you to see the different colors in places so maybe that's how it works for Somali cats as well.


Abyssinians are such beautiful cats, but what I really love them for is their personalities.

My friend had an abyssinian cat and she was really friendly.

Not really a good cat for cuddling and she could be wary around strangers, but once I had her convinced I could be trusted she would play with me for hours while I was visiting my friend.

My friend really appreciated that as well, since her cat could be quite annoying sometimes if she didn't get enough attention.

I guess they were bred to want to hang out with people all the time. We would play games with string and toy mice as though she was still a kitten. It was really endearing, although sometimes she could get a little bit too quick with her teeth and claws (she never actually hurt me though!)

I would really recommend having this kind of cat if you have kids who will play with it a lot, as they need a lot of attention.

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    • The Abyssinian empire was in what is now called Ethiopia.
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      The Abyssinian empire was in what is now called Ethiopia.