THE INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE Abyssinian, with its unique ticked coat pattern, is one of the most popular cat breeds, both in the cat fancy and as a domestic pet. It is a natural breed which owes its distinctive coat pattern to the single dominant mutant gene Ta. This results in two, or preferably three, bands of dark ticking or coloring on each hair. Ideally the darker band is closest to the surface of the coat. The longhaired Somali is the only otherbreed with the Ta gene.
ORIGINS OF THE BREED
THE TRUTH ABOUT the origins of the Abyssinian is hard to establish. It is possible to see some similarities between Abyssinians and some of the cats depicted in Ancient Egyptian art, which gives credence to the theory that the breed is related by descent to the African wild cat, Felis libyca, and/or the jungle cat, Felis chaus through the Ancient Egyptian connection. This is strengthened by the historical ties between Egypt and Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia), which are linked by the Nile and were substantial trading partners and for long periods political allies in ancient times.
Others suspect the hand of the breeder in the creation of the modern Abyssinian which, they say, is descended by selective breeding from British Shorthairs. It is true that the Abyssinian’s is a modified tabby pattern all but concealed in show specimens but sometimes visible in barring on the legs, tail, and body of less perfect examples. The characteristic ‘M’ of the tabby is faintly visible on the forehead.What is known for certain is that in 1868 a soldier returning from the British war with Abyssinia brought with him an Abyssinian-type cat named Zula. As far as is known, this was the Abyssinian s debut in Europe, but there the trail goes cold. There is no definite link between Zula and the breed that was first listed in Britain in 1882 as the Abyssinian. This was one of the many names by which it was first known, including the Russian, the Hare Cat, the Rabbit Cat,the Bunny Cat, the Cunny, and the British Ticked. The last became the official British cat fancy’s name for the breed in 1900, and so it remained for many years; perhaps this was an admission that, so far from being ‘the Cat of the Gods’ as claimed by some imaginative writers, the Abyssinian was really as British as the Tower of London. However, the facts are lost in the mists of the nineteenth century.
BREED IS ESTABLISHED
DESPITE THE SUSPICIONS about earlier out- crossings, the Abyssinian is regarded in the cat fancy as a natural breed, and that being so present day out- crossings are not permitted. The hare and rabbit names reflect the supposed similarity of the natural Abyssinian coloring to those creatures.In 1909 the first Abyssinians reached the US from Britain and were shown at the Boston Cat Show. They were a male called Aluminium II and a female called Salt, which suggests that they were silvers. But American cat lovers were not impressed and it was not until 1934 that serious breeding began with two new imports from Britain called Anthony and Ena.The first American-born Abyssinian, named Addis Ababa, was born in 1935. Early reluctance then gave way to enthusiasm, and Abyssinians quickly became one of the most admired breeds in the American cat fancy. This history may well be accounted for by the fact that Abyssinians present a considerable challenge to breeders. Their coats are slow to mature and their litters are small and infrequent. As they tend to be shy with strangers they are not particularly well suited to the show ring. In Britain, the breed was brought close to extinction by food shortages during the Second World War, and by 1947 there were only four Abyssinians on the books of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy. The breed had only just recovered when there was another blow — the outbreak of feline leukaemia virus in the 1960s and ‘70s which again almost wiped it out. Its recovery since then is a tribute to the determination of breeders and the popularity of the breed.
THE ABYSSINIAN IS a medium sized cat, slender and lithe but solid and muscular, without the ‘extreme’ foreign body type of the Siamese.
The adult cat is regal in appearance and dignified in bearing, females usually being more active than males. The legs are slim and fine-boned, with small, oval paws.The Abyssinian’s
characteristic pose when standing makes it look as if it is on tip-toe. The tail is thick at the base, tapering to the tip. North American and European standards show a slight difference in the requirements for the head. North American judges favor a shorter, more rounded profile than seen in Europe. The ears are large, alert and pointed, broad at the base, and with good tufts at the tips. The almond shaped eyes are set well apart and slanted. The coat is short but long enough for each hair to take two or three bands of ticking. It is fine and soft to the touch, dense and resilient. The ticking on the body should be even.
THE PERMITTED COLOURS for the Abyssinian vary between countries and, in the United States, between cat fancy organizations,but usual (US ruddy), sorrel (US red), blue, and fawn are recognized in both countries and all organizations at Championship status.
The usual (ruddy) coat is a rich orange-brown ticked with bands of black or dark brown and a paler undercoat. There is darker shading along the spine, but no ticking or other marking on the undersides of the body, chest, or the insides of the legs. The paw pads are black or (US) dark brown, the color extending between the toes and up the backs of the hind legs. The ears and tail should be tipped with the darker color.The nose leather is brick red. Eyes may be gold, green or hazel, with as much richness and depth of color as possible.
The sorrel (red) is a rich red ticked with chocolate brown and an apricot undercoat. The paw pads are pink with chocolate brown extending between the toes and up the backs of the hind legs.
The nose leather is rosy-pink.
The blue is a warm, soft blue ticked with deeper blue and with a warm cream on the undersides of the body, chest, and the inside of the legs.The tail is tipped with a deep shade of blue. Paw pads are blue with a deep shade of blue between the toes extending slightly beyond the paws.The nose leather is dark pink.
The North American standard for the fawn has a warm pinkish-buff ticked with deeper shades of pinkish-buff on a pale oatmeal undercoat.The British standard describes the coat color as warm rose-beige ticked with light cocoa brown. Paw pads are pink with light cocoa brown (US deep pinkish-buff) between the toes.The nose leather is pink.
RECOGNITION OF COLOURS
LILAC (LAVENDER) (pale ivory ticked with frosty grey) and cream (pale cream ticked with darker cream) have preliminary recognition in Britain but have Championship status in some United States organizations. Britain has also given Preliminary status to chocolate and to tortoiseshells in all colors, but these are not recognized in North America. All this is an indication that, as a breed, the Abyssinian can be considered still under development, and despite the fact that some purists declare that the only true Abyssinian is the usual (ruddy), further developments in color varieties can be expected.The silver, which has been bred in black, sorrel, blue, chocolate, lilac, and fawn, is an attractive group of varieties of which more will undoubtedly be seen. None is recognized in North America, but they have all begun to climb the ladder towards recognition in Britain.
ABYSSINIANS ARE VERY companionable cats, despite their regal bearing and their wariness of strangers. Unusually for cats, they respond well to training and can easily be taught to retrieve and play games provided they are treated as equals.Their ready acceptance of being walked on a leash makes them a popular choice of pet in those North American cities where loose cats are frowned upon.
THEY HAVE LIGHT, quiet voices and an apparently unlimited supply of energy. However, they do demand a lot of attention and if they are not given it readily they tend to force themselves on their owners’ company. Many seem to prefer human to feline company, with the possible exception of kittens from the same litter, and Abyssinians are not suited to a household which is left empty for long periods. Grooming should be light but fairly frequent, at least once a week.
The queens are relatively quiet in oestrus compared with other breeds. Litters average about four kittens.The kittens tend to be large, with large heads, and deliveries can be difficult. Abyssinians are fiercely defensive mothers, but the litter needs to be watched carefully as the kittens are very quiet and may not cry if they wander away and get lost. They develop quickly and are fearless and playful from an early age, but the full Abyssinian coat does not develop until they are about 18 months old.