- Average Height: 8 to 10 inches
- Average Weight: 6 to 10 pounds
- Coloring: Red, blue, fawn, ruddy, silver, chocolate, lilac
- Coat Type: Short-to-medium, soft, silky, shimmery
- Average Lifespan: 14 to 17 years
Key Personality Traits:
With its athletic build, luminous coat, and large, golden-colored eyes, it’s easy to see why the Abyssinian cat is sometimes referred to as a miniature Cougar.
It’s not just its beauty that has propelled its popularity. This feline is smart, loyal to a fault, and forms tight bonds with its human family members.
While there’s a lot to love about the Abyssinian, it possesses some factors (like a high energy level) that may not make this cat breed the best fit for every home.
History and Origin
The Abyssinian is one of the oldest domestic cat breeds, which makes tracing its origin a bit tricky. A prevailing belief was that it got its start in Egypt, a conclusion based in part, on ancient Egyptian paintings and artifacts bearing images of Abyssinian-like cats. Recent DNA studies however, indicate that it likely originated from India’s Bay of Bengal region.
The Abyssinian that’s captured the hearts of today’s cat lovers was developed in Great Britain. One common narrative is that a British soldier returned home from Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia) in 1868 with Zula, a cat that would become the breed’s matriarch.
Abyssinian cats began to trickle into the United States during the early 1900s, were first exhibited in cat shows in 1909, and rose in popularity during the 1930s. The Abyssinian has retained that popularity, consistently ranking as one of the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) top ten most popular breeds.
Three major cat registries have officially acknowledged the Abyssinian: the CFA started registering it in 1934; the Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) recognized it in 1949; and The International Cat Association (TICA) accepted it for champ status in 1979.
Abyssinian Physical Characteristics
They’re muscular, long-bodied, long-legged, slender cats who move with speed, agility, and grace. “I think of them as the acrobats—and sometimes the contortionists—of the cat world,” says T.J. Banks, a founding member of Northeast Abyssinian and Somali Rescue (NEAR), based in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states.
They’re considered small-to-medium sized cats. Females weigh between 6 to 8 pounds, and males from 8 to 10. They stand between 8 to 10 inches tall.
One of the Abyssinian’s most prominent features are its huge, expressive, almond-shaped, eyes that come in green, gold, or hazel. Their ears are broad, slightly tufted on the ends, and pointed straight up, giving the appearance of being alert. On the opposite end is a long, thin tail that tapers at the end.
The coat is short (though some say it’s medium), soft, silky, satiny, and shimmery. Abyssinians don’t shed as much as longer-haired breeds do, but they’re not hypo-allergenic—something to keep in mind if you have allergies to cat dander.
Abyssinian cat colors come in red, blue, fawn, ruddy, silver, chocolate, and lilac, and their coats are ticked. “Think of ticking as being like the highlights and lowlights of human hairstyling,” explains Banks. “Lighter and darker bands of shading allowing for subtle modulations in the overall color.”
Ruddy Abyssinian Cat. Deep reddish-brown, ticked with darker shades of black or brown.
Red Abyssinian Cat. Cinnamon, ticked with chocolate-brown. “Reds have a bright-orange tinge,” says Banks.
Blue Abyssinian Cat. Beige, ticked with blue (steel grey).
Fawn Abyssinian Cat. Beige, ticked with soft brown.
Silver Abyssinian Cat. Steel grey Abyssinian cat, ticked with black, blue, chocolate, cinnamon, lilac, or fawn.
Lilac Abyssinian Cat. Light pinkish-grey, ticked with grey.
Chocolate Abyssinian Cat. Copper, ticked with dark chocolate.
While there is no category of black Abyssinian cats, they can have black ticking.
Abyssinian cats technically reach adulthood at about 1 year of age, but maintain kitten-like traits as they mature. “Someone once called the Aby ‘the ultimate kitten-cat,’ adding that it ‘retains a Peter Pan quality to its personality,’” says Banks. “I think that’s true of many Abys, but I wouldn’t say it’s true of all of them.”
Abyssinian Cat Personality Traits
A standout trait of the Abyssinian cat personality is the love and devotion it displays for its humans. They’re “affectionate, engaging, and extremely curious about what their humans are up to. Some of them are so intuitive, so bonded with their owners, it’s uncanny,” says Banks.
Don’t expect the average Abyssinian cat to contently sit on your lap or curl up in a ball on the sofa all day, however. “Abyssinians are very dog-like in that they like to follow their humans around the house,” says Marla Pelz, adoption coordinator at Southern California Abyssinian Rescue (SCAR). “They like to be with their humans and be part of the family,”
They’re just as eager to play with balls, laser toys, and anything that moves. “Some like to perch on shoulders as they love to be up high. They will be found at the top of a six-foot bookcase, on counters, tables, and even the top of the shower curtain rod,” adds Pelz. “They are very intelligent and are not satisfied being thought of as just another cat or a pet. They know everything their human is thinking and very sensitive to their surroundings.”
Abyssinians are loyal creatures, and protective of their family and home. This loyalty can escalate at times, however. “Sometimes when there are strange animals or cats outdoors they will become very agitated, and this can sometimes lead to turning their frustration on the other pet in the home,” says Pelz.
Another thing to be mindful of is that Abyssinian cats tend to be little balls of energy, which may not be a good match for every household. Of course, individual personalities vary and some Abyssinians may be more laid back.
Their ability to play nice with kids and other animals in the home depends on the individual cat. “Some are very sensitive and do not like the high energy and noise that children have. Some prefer to have all the attention and want to be the only cat,” explains Pelz. “Most Abyssinians do not mind dogs as the Abys think that dogs are below them in the hierarchy of the home.”
Abyssinian Care Guide
The Abyssinian’s grooming requirements are minimal, and with a few exceptions, its dietary needs are pretty standard. With a high energy level, you do need to allow your Abyssinian to engage in adequate mental and physical activity.
Diet and Nutrition
Abyssinians usually don’t have specific dietary requirements. “In general, a high-protein, high-quality diet is the top choice but individual cats with certain diseases may have different requirements,” says Dr. Sasha Gibbons, an associate veterinarian at Just Cats Veterinary Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut.
Some Abyssinians—like two of Banks’—have sensitive digestive systems, but it’s not clear if this is a breed-specific issue.
Veterinarians recommend that any diet you choose for your cat be complete and balanced for optimal nutrition, as recommended by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). A food that’s complete and balanced will have an AAFCO nutritional statement on the label.
Any discussion about your Abyssinian cat’s nutrition and caloric needs should always start with your veterinarian.
Exercise and Activity
Abyssinian cats run on high octane. “On top of this, they are very intelligent so they need lots of entertainment and enrichment to keep them out of trouble,” says Gibbons.
Be prepared to stock up on puzzle toys, interactive fish toys, and other enrichment items, recommends Banks. “Many people will enrich their environment with lots of cat trees in front of the window and shelving on the walls,” adds Pelz.
Because Abyssinians don’t shed much, their grooming needs are minimal, says Gibbons. “Brushing once a week should be sufficient.”
You can use a soft-bristled brush or grooming mitt, says Banks. Or you might try using a wet hand to remove loose hairs to avoid pulling, adds Pelz.
Abyssinian Cat Health Issues
The Abyssinian cat is a fairly healthy breed, says Gibbons. However they can be predisposed to some hereditary disorders. Here’s a closer look.
Erythrocyte Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK deficiency). PK deficiency is an inherited disease seen largely in the Abyssinian. Some signs are fatigue, weight loss, weakness, an enlarged tummy, and jaundice. If working with a breeder, veterinarians recommend asking if their kittens are tested for PK deficiency.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy. It’s an umbrella term for a group of disorders that cause deterioration and loss of the retina, the layer of cells located in the rear of the eye. It can lead to reduction in vision quality, and even blindness.
Luxating patellas. This occurs when the patella (knee cap) is dislocated from its normal spot. It’s more commonly seen in Abyssinian cats and is caused by trauma or injury.
Periodontal Disease. One of the most common of these is gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. It’s not uncommon for Abyssinians to lose teeth as they age, says Banks. “The good news is, they adapt fairly quickly to toothlessness or near-toothlessness.” Ask your veterinarian if a teeth cleaning routine is appropriate for your cat.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. HCM is seen in all breeds, although some, like the Norwegian Forest Cat, are at higher risk. It’s an irreversible condition in which the heart walls thicken, leading to heart failure and even death.
The average Abyssinian lifespan is between 14 and 17 years, but can vary based on factors like genetics and care given. Some cats may die at a younger age, while others flourish past the average.
Interesting Abyssinian Cat Facts
The Somali cat is a descendant of the Abyssinian. These cousins look a lot alike, except that the Somali’s coat is longer, and the tail is fluffier.
The Abyssinian was named for Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia), the assumed country of import, not origin.
Late rock star David Bowie was rumored to have an Abyssinian. The cat pictured with Bowie in various vintage photographs very much resembles an Aby.
The role of Jake in the 1978 film, The Cat From Outer Space, was shared by a pair of Abyssinian sibs named Rumple and Amber.
Because of its wild appearance, the Abyssinian is often likened to a Cougar, Mountain Lion, and other wild cat breeds.
Abyssinian Adoption Tips
The number of Abyssinians that arrive at NEAR for medical care and re-homing varies throughout the year, says Banks. “NEAR was started because we found quite a few Abys showing up in shelters in the Northeastern states. Sometimes the owner had died, leaving no one to take the cat; sometimes no one in the family wanted to. Or somebody had developed an allergy.”
It’s rare to find Abyssinians in regular shelters, says Pelz. “We usually have one to five available in our rescue. They will be eight years and older.”
Abyssinian Cat Rescues
Since Abyssinian cats rarely show up in shelters, you may want to consider contacting a breed-specific rescue group. However, there are only a few rescues that focus on the Abyssianian breed. They include:
- Northeast Abyssinian and Somali Rescue (NEAR)
- Southern California Abyssinian Rescue (SCAR)
- Atlanta Abyssinian Rescue
You may also be able to find an Abyssinian cat at a pure breed rescue like Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue.
If you adopt through a breed rescue, expect to pay an adoption fee. “But it’s an extremely reasonable one when you stop to consider the amount of veterinary care that some of these cats require before they’re ready for re-homing,” says Banks.
Abyssinian Cat Breeders
If you cannot find an Abyssinian cat up for adoption or rescue, you may have to consider contacting a breeder. But it’s important to do your due diligence to ensure you buy from a reputable and trusted cat breeder.
Sites like BBB’s Scam Tracker and Petscams.com are great places to start the breeder vetting process. Your research shouldn’t stop there, though. Does the breeder facility have references? Does it test for hereditary conditions like PK deficiency? It is a member of an established cat breeder association like CFA or TICA?
An Abyssinian from a reputable breeder will cost $500 at the minimum, but can run as high as $1,200 or more. Remember to figure in the cost of veterinary care, supplies (like toys and cat trees to satisfy their curiosity and high energy level), and complete and balanced foods. These costs can add up and exceed the initial cost of the kitten.
Be fully prepared for your new Abyssinian cat family member with the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the breed.
Are Abyssinian Cats Hypoallergenic?
Although the Abyssinian cat is a short-haired breed, it’s not hypoallergenic.
How Long Do Abyssinian Cats Live?
Abyssinian cats live between 14 and 17 years, but this can vary. Some Abyssinians have been known to live to 21 years of age.
Are Abyssinian Cats Aggressive?
Abyssinians are loyal and can be protective of their home and family. This can sometimes lead to aggression. However, with the right training and environment, Abyssinians aren’t an aggressive breed.
Pictures of Abyssinian Cats
With their striking, almond-shaped eyes and wild-cat appearance, Abyssinians are a joy to look at. Browse our gallery to see pictures of Abyssinian cats enjoying their habitats.