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The Abyssinian is a breed of shorthaired cat that exhibits the distinctive tabby markings known as a ticked coat. It is named for the country now known as Ethiopia though its exact origins are more likely to have been the Egyptian coast. It is now one of the most popular breeds of cats in the US.
While the name of the breed refers to ancient Ethiopia, the Abyssinian breed was actually developed in the UK, as we know it today. It was always believed that soldiers returning from deployment in North Africa brought the cats back with them in the 19th century. However, recent genetic research indicates that the Abyssinian actually originated in Egypt and other areas of the coast of the Indian Ocean, probably taken there by animal traders and purchased by colonists. The modern breed traces its roots from a single female kitten names Zula who was brought to England from Alexandria in Egypt in 1868.
Physically, the Abyssinian is a slender and fine boned cat, of medium size with a wedge shaped head. Ideally, there is a slight break in the muzzle so that the nose and chin formed a vertical straight line when viewed in profile. They have large ears and expressive, almond-shaped eyes that are coloured by the coat colour but usually green, gold, copper or hazel. They have long legs and small, oval paws with a long, tapering tail.
The coat of the Abyssinian is something that marks it as a little different. When they are born, their coats are dark but quickly lighten over the first few months. They are shorthaired and don't shed their coat excessively, having a soft and silky touch. The hairs of the coat carry the agouti pattern where there are several bands of colour on each hair. They also have the typical M shape on their foreheads found on all tabby patterns.
The standard coat colour for Abyssinians is a warm red-brown with black ticking, known as usual in the UK and ruddy elsewhere. Sorrel is another common colour, a lighter coppery base with chocolate brown ticking while outcrossing with Burmese and other shorthair breeds have added colours such as blue and fawn to the breed. Chocolate and lilac do occur but aren't recognised by registries such as the Cat Fancier's Association (CFA). In the UK, a silver Abyssinian is also recognised where the coat is a silvery white with black, blue, cream or even sorrel ticking.
Those who lives with Abyssinians note that they are unusual intelligent cats and are very playful and extroverted. They can also be wilful and need to be active with their owners or may even become depressed. They are quieter than most of the Oriental breeds and tend to be cautious of strangers, making them not always ideal as show cats.
Generally healthy, the Abyssinian can be prone to gingivitis, which can lead to a more serious condition called periodontitis. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gum tissue that can see swollen gums or gums that are painful to the touch.
Abyssinians were connected with a hereditary condition that led to retinal degradation and blindness due to a certain gene but screening in many countries has seen the occurrence of this drop from an average of 45% to around 4% where the test is available.
When considering an Abyssinian as a member of the family, remember that these are highly intelligent and very active cats that need to spend time with their owners. This means that they may not be suitable for a home where they could be left alone all day. But otherwise, they are an affectionate and loving cat who will take an active part in household affairs.