The Abyssinian: an elegant cat with a long history

abessijn in een boom

The Abyssinian is one of the oldest cat breeds in the world. Its origins can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when trade began to flourish. The Abyssinian was probably taken by the British from Southeast Asia. The origin of this breed is unfortunately not so clear, but the known stories are very interesting. The Abyssinian is also seen as a mini-Puma and therefore shares many of these characteristics. It is an elegant and muscular cat that can get very attached to its owners. Unfortunately, this breed is known for a nasty hereditary disease. Would you like to know about this? Then read on!


The origin: not related to the pharaonic animals from Egypt

As mentioned, the Abyssinian is one of the oldest breeds in the world. Probably the second oldest breed. The oldest is the British Shorthair cat. Because of the name some people suspect that the breed comes from ancient Abyssinia (nowadays Ethiopia). The Abyssinian also resembles the pharaonic cats that are often depicted in ancient Egypt. In both cases this is not correct.

The origins are not yet clear but can be traced back to South-East Asia. Genetic research has shown that the Abyssinian originated here in the jungle. No humans were involved in creating this breed. The tracing to South-East Asia is due to the Tabby pattern which is genetically determined. This Tabby gene is of Asian origin.

The trip to the Netherlands was a long one and had many ups and downs. Probably the first Abyssinians, or primeval mothers, were taken by British traders. From that moment on, the well-known storylines went in two directions:

  • British traders have also transferred these Asian primeval mothers to Africa and the Middle East. There these animals mated with local cats. This offspring was eventually taken back to England by British troops in 1868, after the war in Abyssinia. That makes the name Abyssinian somehow logical.
  • The British traders took these primeval mothers with them to England. Here they were sold to breeders who eventually created the Abyssinian as we know them. However, this cannot be said with certainty. The registration of breeding records was not an issue at the time. So it remains guessing what the truth is.

Whatever storyline is true, at least the British played the leading role in shipping the Abyssinian to Europe. In 1882 the breed was officially recognised. Around the year 1900 the breed also appeared in America. The Netherlands had to wait a little longer. Around 1930 the first Abyssinians could be found here.

Both world wars had a major impact on the Abyssinian. In the Netherlands this was mainly the Second World War. The Abyssinians who came to the Netherlands around 1930 had virtually disappeared after the Second World War. Around 1960 there was also an epidemic that caused even more dilution. Besides that, it is very difficult to expand this breed quickly in numbers, because a litter of kittens often consists of one to four animals. Most litters consist of two kittens. The current Abyssinians that can be found in the Netherlands are not only of British descent, but also from America and Scandinavia.


Infographic Abyssinian

The character: a smart and curious cat

The Abyssinian is one of the most intelligent cat breeds. That is why they are very interested and like to follow their owner. They are curious about what happens in the house. Besides that, they are affectionate cats. They like to become best friends with their owner and ask a lot of attention for that. This suggests that they are real lap cats, but that is not quite the case. They are always around to keep an eye on everything, but don’t usually do this in a lazy and lying down way. The most typical thing about the Abyssinian is his presence. Wherever you go in and around your home, the Abyssinian is always nearby.

This affection has the disadvantage that the Abyssinian cannot be alone for too long. The close bond they form with their owner needs to be maintained on a regular basis. The Abyssinian is therefore not suitable for owners who are away from home all day. A feline friend could be an answer to this, but the Abyssinian does not feel at ease in large groups of cats.


Appearance: an elegant and curious look

The Abyssinian is often related to the feline statues that are common in Egypt. They have a royal appearance. The construction is elegant, but also muscular. The appearance fits well with the curious characteristics: the cat is active and alert. The cat weighs an average of four to five kilograms but can lie between 2.5 and 7.5 kilograms. Females are often slightly lighter than males.

The wedge-shaped head contains large almond-shaped eyes, which appear in amber grey, green or light brown, with a black outline. Sometimes it looks as if the Abyssinian mascara is wearing mascara around the eyes. Furthermore, they have a round snout and large ears that are far apart and slightly pointed at the tips.

The physique is of medium size. The build is firm and muscular. The Abyssinian is also agile. She has a round chest and a slightly bent back. The legs are relatively long and straight. At the end of the legs there are small feet which are oval shaped. The tail is relatively long and thin.

The coat of the Abyssinian, like all Asian breeds, is characterized by the Tabby effect. We will elaborate on this in the next chapter. The coat is nice and soft and has a fine structure. The coat is short haired, very dense and has a nice shine.


The coat colour and coat patterns of this cat

Among the cat breeds there is a group called the Asian group. This whole group is characterized by a short-haired coat with a Tabby effect. The effect this pattern has is also called ticking or the agouti effect. If you zoom in on an individual hair you will find a basic colour and bands of a darker colour. For most Abyssinians these are about three bands per hair. The tips of the hairs are always the darker colour and the root (or the beginning of the hair) is always the lighter basic colour. The effect of this is often related to rabbits or hares, because they also show this kind of coat effects.

Only not the entire coat shows this effect. The belly, chest and the inside of the legs do not have a Tabby pattern. Here you will only find the basic colour. So, no bands of the darker colour. This makes these parts of the coat look lighter. The Tabby effect is mainly on the head, the back, the tail and the outside of the legs.

When the Abyssinian is born, he does not immediately have this pattern. Approximately after six weeks the pattern comes to the fore. The pattern continues to develop for two years.


The coat colours

The Abyssinian coat contains unique colours. According to the breed associations the coat should be dark. The dark coat is caused by enough grains of pigment called eumalin. These grains provide the black coat colour. Together with the pigment feomalin, these pigment granules provide the colour of the coat. The basic colour is a light variant of the dark ticking found on the hairs. Permitted colours of this breed are:

  • Wild colour: this colour is the most typical of Abyssinian. It is a warm brown colour. It also looks a bit like the colour of apricots.
  • Blue: the blue colour the coat can have is not the blue as we know it. It is a dilution of the black colour of the coat. It can eventually turn blue-grey.
  • Cinnamon: this is a warm brown colour. Slightly darker than the wild colour mentioned above. This colour is also caused by eumalin. Not due to a dilution of this, but a mutation.
  • Cream: the cream colour is the lightest colour found in Abyssinian. The dark ticking gives the coat a warm appearance.


drie abessijn kittens

The upbringing: make sure your kitten is socialised

With kittens it is important that they get used to people. It is important that kittens get used to human touch, so nurturing is possible. Once your kitten has gotten used to human touch it will be possible to cut your kitten’s nails, for example. Not unimportant!

It’s also important that your kitten gets used to other animals and unfamiliar sounds. If your kitten doesn’t get used to this, there may be symptoms of anxiety and stress in the kitten. This can lead to several problems. For example, you could think of problems with the kitten’s skin or problems with the immune system. Behavioural problems can also arise. For example, the kitten may start to behave very aggressively. Absolutely not what you want!

It is therefore important that the cat is properly socialised. This is especially important when the kitten is between two and seven weeks old. In addition to this first socialisation period, there is also talk of a second socialisation period. This stops as soon as the kitten is fourteen weeks old. If you want to get your kitten from a breeder who is a member of a cat club, you will only get your kitten when he is at least thirteen weeks old. The kitten will then have spent almost the entire period of socialisation with the breeder. It is wise to check carefully whether the breeder has paid sufficient attention to this socialisation process.


The care: make sure you pay sufficient attention

If you know how to socialise a kitten at a young age and get her used to human touch, the kitten will get better used to the care. Cutting your nails, brushing your teeth and brushing your coat will make it easier for you.

The Abyssinian has a short coat. The coat always looks nice and well cared for, because the cat maintains his coat well. Nevertheless, all short-haired cats can use some human help from time to time. Therefore, try to comb the Abyssinian on a weekly basis. This will remove all loose hair and dirt. During combing you also have time to take a good look at the coat and check it for vermin. Especially if the cat comes outside a lot, it is possible to catch vermin such as fleas and ticks. When you find these kinds of vermin, try to take immediate action to deal with them.

Abyssinian teeth are known for tartar or gum problems. This is why you should have your vet check your teeth every year. Problems with the teeth can cause the Abyssinian to stop eating properly. Be alert for this!


The food the Abyssinian needs

Nutrition is an important part of cat care. The Abyssinian doesn’t need a special kind of food, but don’t economise on it. Good quality food always benefits the health of the cat. But there is no need to keep a detailed record of the food. The Abyssinian is an active cat breed. Because of this it is not known as a cat that is quickly overweight. They also have a muscular body that relatively speaking requires a lot of energy. Relatively speaking, they are not very large animals. So, the food consumption is average.

It is, however, advisable to buy food with a reasonable amount of protein in it. This supports the muscular body and the active lifestyle of the Abyssinian well. Also make sure that the Abyssinian gets an occasional meal rich in meat. Vegetable proteins can only be digested to a limited extent by this cat.

abessijn kittens liggen

Diseases that are common

The Abyssinian has a predisposition for certain hereditary diseases. These are diseases that are not immediately visible at birth. That is why you have to be very careful when you buy a kitten.



FNI stands for Feline Neonatale Isoerythrolysis, also known in English as Fading Kitten Syndrom. This is a disease that only occurs in kittens. Almost always the disease is fatal for the kitten. In this case the parents of the kitten have different blood groups. The male has bloodgroup A and the female has bloodgroup B. After delivery the kittens drink breast milk and take up antibodies against the male’s bloodgroup. Because of this the kitten will suffer from excessive secretion of haemoglobin and acute anaemia.

The only way to prevent FNI is to look carefully at the blood groups of the male and female. An experienced breeder will not prevent this.



Fortunately, this disease is not fatal for cats, but it is very annoying. PRA stands for Progressive Retina Atrophy. This is a hereditary disease that eventually leads to blindness in the cat. Usually, this disease only becomes visible from the age of two years up to a maximum of six years. In this disease, the mucous membrane is gradually broken down by metabolic disorders. Usually this first occurs in the form of night blindness.



PKE is a disease that reflects a deficiency of pyruvate kinase enzyme. A deficiency of this enzyme causes anaemia, as a result of which the red blood cells have less time to live. There is no cure for this, and it can only be treated temporarily by blood transfusion.



PL stands for patellaluxation. This is a disease related to the cat’s kneecaps. The kneecaps are loose, which causes the cat to have difficulty walking.

Besides these diseases it is also dangerous to breed too much with the Abyssinian. An average Abyssinian litter consists of two kittens. So, this isn’t very much. There have been cases with four kittens in a litter, but these are rare. Besides this and the chance for FNI most breeding programmes with Abyssinian produce fewer kittens than other breeds.


How old can the Abyssinian get?

On average, Abyssinian gets between 12 and 15 years old. This is a fairly average life expectancy compared to other breeds. The hereditary diseases that Abyssinian can get, of course, cause a considerable reduction in the age the cat can reach. Good care is also very important. A good care, where there are no cuts in food and veterinary excursions, ensures a higher life expectancy.


What you need to know before you take this cat home

Besides the annoying hereditary diseases, the Abyssinian can get, it is also an easy cat to take care of. It is really a hunting animal. So, make sure the cat gets all the recommended vaccinations. Also keep a close eye on the coat for ticks and fleas. Also, the affection is something to take into account. The Abyssinian does not like to stay alone for a long time and needs a lot of attention. When you have a busy lifestyle, the Abyssinian may not fit in very well with your life pattern.

If you want to make a litter with the Abyssinian, make sure that the Abyssinian has been tested for all possible hereditary diseases. The most common disease, PRA, can develop until the sixth year of life. Also keep in mind that litters are always disappointing when it comes to size.

Hereditary diseases are the biggest risk when buying an Abyssinian. Make sure that the breeder has had the cat’s father and mother tested for all known diseases. This way you are almost certain that you are buying a healthy kitten. It is also important not to buy a kitten when the mother cat is not present. For the development of a kitten, it is very important that it is raised in a domestic environment in the presence of the mother cat. It is also important that the cat has been vaccinated, dewormed and possibly chipped.

One of the big clubs is Felikat. Felikat is one of the two associations that exists in the Netherlands at the time of writing. Felikat is a member of FIFe, the Fédération Internationale Féline. Mundikat is the other association. The Fédération Internationale Féline is an umbrella body involving forty countries.

After thirteen weeks Dutch breeders give the kitten to its new owner. Moreover, the cat associations all make extra demands. For example, the breeding animals have to be tested for certain hereditary diseases and blindness.

abessijn in een grasveld

What price do you have to think of?

The Abyssinian costs about $1100. The Abyssinian is one of the more expensive varieties. This has to do with the small litters and the many hereditary diseases. The Abyssinian therefore costs between $850 and $1100. At a well-known breeder this amount quickly goes to the $1100. Adults, which can no longer be used for breeding, are often much cheaper.

But only with the purchase costs you are not there yet. There also needs to be a litter box with cat grit, cat food and trays for food and water. Furthermore, active Abyssinian toys are definitely a must.

In addition, veterinarian outings with the Abyssinian are often more expensive. The veterinarian has to spend more time to check the teeth and possibly keep an eye on whether the PRA disease is also developing. So always take into account certain unexpected costs.


Do you also choose the Abyssinian?

Do you already have an Abyssinian or are you planning to have one? Then let us hear from you! We are curious to know why you have chosen this cat breed and what you think makes this cat so special. You can let us know by leaving a comment on this article!

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We are a team of cat lovers, doing our best to create and spread information about cats. On you will read all about different cat breeds, and what makes them so special. You will also find information about grooming and training your cat. Be sure to leave us a reply if you like our article.

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