Road Test: The Abyssinian
Fancy one of the jungle’s “big cats” …in miniature?
Then you’re in luck!
The Abyssinian not only resembles a little mountain lion, walks like a panther, and has the proud carriage of a cougar, but encapsulates all those qualities that so appeal to lovers of the very natural looking big cats.
The Abyssinian is often considered to be the cat that the Ancient Egyptians worshipped as it looks like the mummified cats that have been discovered, though this in unconfirmed.
It certainly comes from the right area, as the earliest Abyssinian type cats were imported from Abyssinia (now Ethiopia).
There is no question that the Aby resembles the African wildcat ancestor of the domestic cat.
The history is obscure but it seems that the first specimen was brought back to Britain by the wife of an English Army officer in 1868.
The breed was first recognised in the UK in 1883 and they reached North America in the early 1900’s.
Recent studies by geneticists show that the most convincing origin is the coast of the Indian Ocean and parts of South East Asia and the earliest identifiable Aby is a taxidermal exhibit still residing in the Leiden Zoological Museum in Holland and was purchased around 1834-36 from a merchant from India.
In any event it appears that the cats introduced to Britain from Ethiopa in 1868 were further mated with other types such as British Shorthairs and Siamese to achieve desirable physical characteristics, thus in time producing a new breed of Abyssinian cat.
A medium sized cat they have an elegant and regal appearance with strong lithe bodies and long slender legs.
Their round wedge shaped heads and large pointed ears (with characteristic tuffting) gives them an unforgettable appearance as does their agouti (known as “ticking”) colouring (dark and light contrasting colours on each strand of hair) which comes in a variety of shades (not unlike the classic domestic tabby).
A similar long haired variety known as the Somali also exists but is a separate breed and the semi long haired gene is now rigorously excluded from the Abssyinian gene pool although these breeds share the same origin.
Of medium build the Aby is highly inquisitive, extremely agile and in fact a real acrobat.
They are a bold and busy breed………..real athletes, and they enjoy a very active lifestyle being fleet of foot, fearless and they thrive on mental stimulation so be sure to provide them with toys and room to play.
They are also intelligent and affectionate, appealing often to dog lovers due to their easy adaptation to walking on a lead, retrieving, and performing tricks with their paws.
They generally have small litters but the chance to share your home with a miniature “king of the jungle” more than makes any wait worthwhile. Be prepared to have them for between 9 and 15 years.
WHO SHOULD HAVE ONE:
These cats often win over the hearts of the traditional non-cat types particularly men, and I find that once a person owns an Aby they become hooked on the breed.
They make great family pets though in busy households it may be an idea to have two so they can amuse themselves.
The males are generally fine with other cats though the females can be a bit prickly. They are generally excellent with dogs, probably because they see them as equals.
Their independent and non destructive ways makes them a great childrens’ playmate spending time playing until the whim takes them elsewhere.
These are generally very healthy cats.
They are prone to a few hereditary diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy (premature blindness), a storage disease (cells accumulating toxic substances) causing neurological disorders (seizures), renal disease (amyloidosis), and patella luxation/hip dysplasia (malformations of the hips and hind legs).
Anecdotally we also see psychogenic dermatitis (overwashing due to anxiety) and gingivitis (gum disease).
Abyssinians come highly recommended for those people who would rather have a dog but don’t have the time, as they respond to their owners more in the way we attribute to dogs. Having said this they are beautiful cats in their own right with real grace of movement, a playful spirit and that demonstrate real affection towards their people.