Resembling ancient paintings and sculptures of the cats seen in Egypt, the Abyssinian has retained the wild look of the domestic feline ancestor Felis silvestris lybica. A cat of medium to long length, the Abyssinian should display the grace of its well-developed musculature without being coarse. The legs are slim and fine boned, ending in small, compact and oval shaped paws that give the appearance the cat is standing on its toes. The head of the Abyssinian should be a modified wedge, with almond shaped eyes and large, alert ears that are set as though listening. The eyes of the breed should be accented by fine dark lines, spots on the cheeks are a desired variation.
The coat of the Abyssinian is a distinct ticked or agouti coat. This is caused by the agouti gene which creates banding on each individual strand of fur. An Abyssinian hair should contain 4-6 bands, beginning with a light band closest to the skin and ending with a dark tip. The breed comes in four colors: ruddy with bright orange light bands and dark sepia bands; red with red and dark chocolate bands, blue with beige and slate blue bands, and faun with rose beige and a cocoa. The coat, though dense and resilient, should be fine and silky with a lustrous sheen.
Abyssinians are very curious and active felines. Though affectionate, they do not like to be held, preferring instead to be an active partner. They will hop onto your lap for a moment's petting, then be off chasing bugs and critters only they can see. The breed is notorious for taking advantage of all the space available to them; hiding down low, crawling along bookshelves, and perching as high as possible. They have no fear of heights and an insatiable curiosity that will encourage them to push something from the highest shelf just to hear what sort of crash it makes.
Caring for an Abyssinian is fairly easy, though they are prone to tooth decay and gingivitis, which requires owners to be active in tooth care. An Abyssinian can be trained to participate in tooth brushings, and annual cleanings by professionals should be maintained. They are also susceptible to Amyloidosis, a hereditary renal disease, and should receive regular check ups.
The Abyssinian is one of the world's oldest breeds of cat, though they have not originated from the land whose name they hold. The first Abyssinians received the name when they were brought out of Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia) by British military wives and imported into England. Recent genetic studies, however, have traced the genes to cats from southeast Asia. They were likely introduced through colonists and merchants from Calcutta. Breeders in England refined the breed until World War II where it was completely decimated and breeding of the Abyssinian was forced to begin from scratch.
The breed began to gain favor in America in the 1930's and is now second in popularity amongst short-haired cats.