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 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.