Abyssinian cat

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Gustav chocolate.jpg
A male chocolate Abyssinian
Origin Indian Ocean coast of Egypt[1]
Breed standards
CFA standard
FIFe standard
TICA standard
ACF standard
CCA-AFC standard
Domestic cat (Felis catus)

The Abyssinian /æbˈsɪniən/ is a breed of domestic shorthaired cat with a distinctive "ticked" tabby coat, in which individual hairs are banded with different colors.

It is named after Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia) the country from which it was first thought to have originated; more recent research now places its origins somewhere near the Egyptian coast. The Abyssinian has since become one of the most popular breeds of shorthair cat in the USA.[2]


Zula, the so-called "first Abyssinian"

The Abyssinian cat as it is known today was developed in Great Britain. The name 'Abyssinian' refers to Ethiopia, in reference to widely-spread stories of British soldiers deployed to North Africa in the nineteenth century returning home with kittens purchased from local traders.



The Abyssinian is a slender, fine-boned, medium-sized cat. The head is moderately wedge shaped, with a slight break at the muzzle, and nose and chin ideally forming a straight vertical line when viewed in profile. They have alert, relatively large pointed ears. The notably expressive eyes are almond shaped and are gold, green, hazel or copper depending on coat color. The legs should be long in proportion to a graceful body, with small oval paws; the tail is likewise long and tapering.

Coat and colors[edit]

The Abyssinian's fur exhibits a unique "ticked" effect

Abyssinian kittens are born with dark coats that gradually lighten as they mature, usually over several months. The adult coat should not be excessively short and is ideally fine, dense and close-lying, silky to the touch. The ticked or agouti effect that is the trademark of the breed—genetically a variant of the tabby pattern—should be uniform over the body, although the ridge of the spine and tail, back of the hind legs and the pads of the paws are always noticeably darker. Each hair has a light base with three or four bands of additional color growing darker towards the tip. The base colour should be as clear as possible; any extensive intermingling with grey is considered a serious fault. A tendency to white on the chin is common but likewise must be minimal. The typical tabby M-shaped marking is often found on the forehead.

A champion adult male showing the classic ruddy, or "usual", coat pattern
A six-month-old chocolate Abyssinian (left) with his sorrel father

The breed's original color standard is a warm deep reddish-brown base with black ticking, known as "usual" in the United Kingdom and as "ruddy" elsewhere. Sorrel (also called cinnamon or red), a lighter coppery base with chocolate brown ticking, is a unique mutation of this original pattern. Other variants have been introduced by outcrossings to the Burmese and other shorthaired breeds, notably blue (on a warm beige base) and fawn (on a softer cream base). The less common chocolate and lilac are not recognized in the Cat Fancier's Association (CFA) breed standard[3] but have been granted full champion status in The International Cat Association (TICA)[4] and in the UK. The UK also recognizes the Silver Abyssinian, in which the base coat is a pure silvery white with black (called "usual silver"), blue, cream or sorrel ticking. Various other colour combinations are in development, including the "torbie", in which a patched tortoiseshell pattern in any of these colors is visible under the tabby banding.

The breed owes their distinctive coat to a dominant mutant gene known as Ta. The first cat to have its entire genome published was an Abyssinian named Cinnamon.[5]


Abyssinians are a popular breed thanks in large part to their unusual intelligence and generally extroverted, playful, willful personalities. They are said to become depressed without constant activity and attention from their owners.[6]

Abyssinian kittens. Clockwise from left: ruddy, fawn and blue

In marked contrast to this outgoing nature (and to most other Oriental shorthair breeds) they tend to be very quiet cats, with soft voices. Abyssinians can be difficult to show, as some individuals are excessively timid or particularly shy of strangers.[7]


The breed can be prone to gingivitis, which can lead to more serious periodontitis.[8] Familial renal amyloidosis or AA amyloidosis, a kidney disorder due to a mutation in the AA amyloid protein gene, has been seen in Abyssinians.[9] The Abyssinian has had severe problems with blindness caused by a hereditary retinal degeneration due to mutations in the rdAc gene. However, the prevalence has been reduced from 45% to less than 4% in 2008 in the country of Sweden.[10] With the widespread availability of rdAc mutation detection tests and services, such as those provided by the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, it is possible to reduce the disease frequency in all populations of Abyssinian.[11][12]

Genetic diversity[edit]

The 2008 study The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide Random-bred Populations by Lipinski et al. conducted at UC Davis by the team led by leading feline geneticist Dr Leslie Lyons found that the Abyssinian has a low level of genetic diversity, a heterozygosity value of 0.45 within a range of 0.34-0.69 for all breeds studied, and has genetic markers common to both Southeast Asian and Western breeds indicating that cats from both Asia and Europe were used to create the breed.[13]

Abyssinian in popular culture[edit]

  • Jake from The Cat from Outer Space.
  • The possible breed of the mysterious cat Cassandra in the Cats the Musical 1998 film.
  • In the 500th episode of The Simpsons, Abyssinian cats are described as intelligent cats who are able to "change channels" on TV.
  • "Jackpot," an episode of "CSI" (season 4, episode 7) features a blue Abyssinian named Isis as a significant clue. (Script here: http://www.losingintranslation.net/ToolBox/csi-4X07-jackpot.txt]
  • BBC Broadcaster Desmond Carrington has an Abyssinian cat called Sam, and always mentions him in his radio broadcast


  1. ^ "Abyssinian Profile", Catz Inc., accessed 4 Oct 2009
  2. ^ Cat Fanciers' Association. "Breed Profile: Abyssinian". 2011.
  3. ^ http://www.cfainc.org/Portals/0/documents/breeds/standards/abyssinian.pdf
  4. ^ http://www.tica.org/members/publications/standards/ab.pdf
  5. ^ Highfield, Roger (2007-10-31). "Cinnamon the cat could offer hope to the blind". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  6. ^ Pollard, Michael. The Encyclopedia of the Cat. United Kingdom: Parragon Publishing, 1999.
  7. ^ "TICA page of Abyssinian Breed". TICA. Retrieved 2012-05-21. 
  8. ^ "Periodontitis - Cat". Vetbook.org. 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  9. ^ Niewold, T. A.; Van Der Linde-Sipman, J. S.; Murphy, C.; Tooten, P. C.; Gruys, E. (1999). "Familial amyloidosis in cats: Siamese and Abyssinian AA proteins differ in primary sequence and pattern of deposition". Amyloid : the international journal of experimental and clinical investigation : the official journal of the International Society of Amyloidosis 6 (3): 205–209. doi:10.3109/13506129909007328. PMID 10524286. 
  10. ^ http://dobzhanskycenter.bio.spbu.ru/pdf/sjop/MS686%20Narfstrom%20.pdf
  11. ^ "Cat Progressive Retinal Atrophy". Vgl.ucdavis.edu. Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  12. ^ Lyons, L. A. (2012). "Genetic testing in domestic cats". Molecular and Cellular Probes 26 (6): 224–230. doi:10.1016/j.mcp.2012.04.004. PMC 3541004. PMID 22546621. 
  13. ^ Lipinski, M. J.; Froenicke, L.; Baysac, K. C.; Billings, N. C.; Leutenegger, C. M.; Levy, A. M.; Longeri, M.; Niini, T.; Ozpinar, H.; Slater, M. R.; Pedersen, N. C.; Lyons, L. A. (2008). "The ascent of cat breeds: Genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations". Genomics 91 (1): 12–21. doi:10.1016/j.ygeno.2007.10.009. PMC 2267438. PMID 18060738. 

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