The Abyssinian cat is a very unique individual – lithely built with a very hard and muscular body, he is known not only for his distinctive ticked coat, but also for his regal bearing and consistent body type. A medium-sized cat, they are firmly built without appearing coarse or cobby, yet do not possess the fragile look of the oriental breeds. For many, he is the perfect mixture of the different body types, resulting in a perfectly proportioned and balanced feline.
The Abyssinian coat possesses a beautiful sheen and is silky and soft in texture. Of medium length, it is long enough to carry the required 2-3 bands of ticking that make up the Abyssinian’s unique color, without delving into the realms of the long-haired cats. The breed is recognized in four stunning shades: the ruddy, the red, the blue, and the fawn. All varieties are expected to possess proper ticking and richness in color, and the Abyssinian may have eyes of either a brilliant emerald green or rich molten gold.
No one is truly sure where it was, exactly, that this mysterious cat first originated. Strongly resembling the cats depicted in the artwork and hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptian people, it is often thought that the Abyssinian is the very same animal or, at the very least, a direct descendant of the ancient Egyptian felines. Even the modern-day Abyssinian still retains the appearance of a feline known as “felis lybica,” which was the wild African ancestor of all modern domestic cats.
Others argue that the Abyssinian cat came into existence when imported cats were crossed into the bloodlines of various brown and silver tabby cats, who were then interbred with the English “Bunny” ticked cats. Reportedly, however, the breed earned its name simply because the first cats of this variety ever shown, were supposedly imported from the country of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). The January 27, 1872 issue of “Harper’s Weekly” reported on the 1871 Crystal Palace cat show in which 3rd place honors were awarded to the Abyssinian cat, who had supposedly been “captured in the late Abyssinian War.”
Even the British book, “Cats, Their Points, and Characteristics,” by Gordon Stables (published in 1874), made mention of the Abyssinian cat, showing a colored lithograph of one of these unique animals and listed it as having been “brought from Abyssinia at the conclusion of the war…” With the ending of the war being May of 1868, it suggests that the Abyssinian cat made his way into England at this time, though there are still further arguments.
Perhaps the most convincing proof of origin would be the results of recent studies performed by geneticists, who suggest that the origin of the Abyssinian cat might be along the coast of the Indian Ocean and into sections of Southeast Asia. Coinciding with these claims is that the earliest identifiable Abyssinian cat, to date, is a taxidermy specimen on display at the Leiden Zoological Museum in Holland.
Purchased between 1834 to 1836, this reddish-colored cat was labeled simply as “Patrie, domestica India.” While the Abyssinian, as we know it today, may have been cultivated and refined in England, some say that it may have been purchased in Calcutta, a major port in the Indian Ocean, and then brought into England along with other trade goods. This was how many breeds of dogs were introduced into Europe, so the idea is not unheard of.
The first Abyssinian cats were imported to America, from England, and made their way to the new world during the early 1900s. It wasn’t until the late 1930s, however, that quality breeding stock would make the trip overseas and help to form the modern-day Abyssinian cat breed foundation. Any Abyssinian lover will be sure to tell you, though, that it was well worth the wait.