Although the Abyssinian is one of the oldest known breeds, there continues to be speculation and
controversy concerning its history. In appearance, Abyssinians resemble the paintings and sculptures of ancient Egyptian
cats which portray an elegant feline with a muscular body, beautiful arched neck, large ears and almond shaped eyes.
Abys today still retain the jungle look of felis lybica, the African wildcat ancestor of all domestic cats.
The source of the name is not because Ethiopia, formerly
Abyssinia, is thought to be the original home of these cats, but
because the first “Abyssinians” exhibited in shows in England
were reported to have been imported from that country. The
first mention is in the Harper’s Weekly (January 27, 1872
issue) where the 3rd prize in the December 1871 Crystal
Palace show was taken by the Abyssinian Cat “captured in
the late Abyssinian War.” This article is accompanied by an
illustration of the Abyssinian Cat. In the British book, by
Gordon Stables, Cats, Their Points, and Characteristics…
published in 1874, there is also mention of an Abyssinian. The
book shows a colored lithograph of a cat with a ticked coat
and absence of tabby markings on the face, paws, and neck.
The description reads: “Zula, the property of Mrs. Captain
Barrett-Lennard. This cat was brought from Abyssinia at
the conclusion of the war…” British troops left Abyssinia in
May 1868, so that may have been the time when cats with
ticked coats first entered England. Unfortunately, there are
no written records tracing the early Abyssinians to those
imported cats, and many British breeders are of the opinion
that the breed was actually created through the crossing of the
various existing silver and brown tabbies with native British
“Bunny” ticked cats.
Recent studies by geneticists show that the most convincing
origin of the Abyssinian breed is the coast of the Indian
Ocean and parts of Southeast Asia. In fact, the earliest
identifiable Aby is a taxidermal exhibit still residing in the
Leiden Zoological Museum in Holland. This ruddy ticked
cat was purchased around 1834-1836 from a supplier of
small wild cat exhibits and labeled by the museum founder as
“Patrie, domestica India.” Although the Abyssinian as a breed
was refined in England, its introduction to that country and
others may have been the result of colonists and merchants
stopping in Calcutta, the major port for the Indian Ocean.
The first Abyssinians to be imported to North America from
England arrived in the early 1900s, but it was not until the late
1930s that several top quality Abys were exported from Britain to
form the foundation of today’s American breeding programs.
As described in the Abyssinian Breeders International Kitten
Buyer’s Guide by Carolyn Osier, “Abyssinians must be one of
the most intelligent animals ever created.” This handbook
for the potential Aby owner describes these cats as “a very
people-oriented cat. Not a lap cat…but a cat that likes to be
with people, a cat that wants to know what you are doing
– that wants to help. There is probably no breed anywhere
more loyal than the Aby. Once you have acquired an Aby as
a companion, you will never be able to complain that no one
understands you. Abys are very good at training people to do
just what they want them to do.”
Pricing on Abyssinians usually depends on type, applicable
markings, and bloodlines distinguished by Grand Champion
(GC), National or Regional winning parentage (NW or
RW), or Distinguished Merit parentage (DM). The DM
title is achieved by the dam (mother) having produced five
CFA Grand Champion/Premier (alter) or DM offspring,
or the sire (father) having produced fifteen CFA Grand
Champion/Premier or DM offspring. Usually breeders make
kittens available between twelve and sixteen weeks of age.
After twelve weeks, kittens have had their basic inoculations
and developed the physical and social stability needed for
a new environment, showing, or being transported by air.
Keeping such a rare treasure indoors, neutering or spaying,
and providing acceptable surfaces (e.g. scratching posts)
for the natural behavior of scratching (CFA disapproves of
declawing or tendonectomy surgery) are essential elements
for maintaining a healthy, long, and joyful life. For more information, please contact the Breed Council Secretary for this breed.