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The Aby, as he’s nicknamed, is unlike any other cat. Smart, silly, and impressively athletic, he stays in constant motion—jumping, climbing, and exploring. In other words, this is no lap cat. He also has a unique ticked coat, giving him the appearance of a wildcat.
Despite his name, the Aby’s ancestors didn’t hail from Ethiopia, once known as Abyssinia—it’s believed that they lived along the Indian Ocean coastline and sections of Southeast Asia.
The confident and alert Abyssinian is thought to be one of the oldest cat breeds. Although he resembles a small African wildcat, he’s a domestic feline through and through. The six- to 10-pound, moderately vocal cat stands out for his ticked coat, which comes in a bevy of colors, including a reddish ruddy, chocolate, cinnamon, blue, lilac, and fawn—as well as a silver version for all of these colors. Silvered Abyssinians have an icy white coloration closest to the skin, and ticking along the hair shaft.
The intelligent, curious Aby is highly active and athletic. He spends his days climbing up to high places, exploring every nook and cranny of your home, and diligently supervising whatever it is that you’re doing. This is a happy cat who’s sometimes called the Aby-silly-an because of his playful nature. He does best with a person who spends a lot of time at home interacting with him. He also prefers to be the only cat in the house, so he can nab all the attention.
The Abyssinian has many romantic tales about his origins, but he’s not from Ethiopia, formerly known as Abyssinia. His ancestors likely lived along the coast of the Indian Ocean, as well as parts of Southeast Asia. Breeds that probably figured in his background: Burmese, Siamese, and Russian Blues. Abyssinians were first bred in the United States in 1935. Today, the Aby is one of the most popular pedigreed cats—he’s up there in the top five—registered by the Cat Fanciers Association.
If you’re pining for a sweet, gentle lap cat, the Abyssinian likely isn’t a good match for your home. The Aby is a highly intelligent cat who loves to play and interact with people. In fact, his human-watching skills are excellent—and he’s known for quickly training people to do his bidding.
To keep your Aby entertained and out of trouble, provide him with puzzle toys that require added brain power to release treats, use a clicker to teach him tricks, and train him to run an agility course. Abyssinians love to bird-watch, so consider placing a feeder by a window for his viewing pleasure. Or train him to go for a stroll outside on a leash.
This cat does best with a person of any age who spends ample time at home, including an older child who can train and play with him. And the Aby doesn’t mind living in a single-animal house—so he can be the center of your attention.
Abyssinians can develop a hereditary condition called pyruvate kinase deficiency; pyruvate kinase is a key regulatory enzyme required for energy metabolism in red blood cells. Cats deficient in PK typically have intermittent anemia. The deficiency can appear in cats as young as six months, as well as Abyssinians as old as 12 years. The hereditary condition is caused by a recessive gene, which can be easily removed from the gene pool through DNA screening. The test can determine whether a cat is normal, a carrier, and if he’s affected by PK deficiency.
Not every PK-deficient cat develops clinical signs, which can include lethargy, jaundice, pale gums, and an enlarged abdomen. The best treatment for PK deficiency is unknown, but it’s still a good idea to have your cat tested.
The Aby’s short coat is easy to maintain—groom him weekly with a stainless steel comb to remove dead hair and keep his coat shiny. Trim the nails as needed, usually every 10 to 14 days. Abyssinians can develop periodontal disease, so brush his teeth at home with a vet-approved pet toothpaste and schedule regular veterinary cleanings.
You want your Abyssinian to be happy and healthy so you can enjoy your time with him, so do your homework before you bring him home. For reputable breeder recommendations, check out these websites: Abyssinian Breed Council, the Abyssinian Cat Club of America, the Cat Fanciers Association, the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, The International Cat Association and the American Cat Fanciers Association.
A reputable breeder will abide by a code of ethics that prohibits sales to pet stores and wholesalers and outlines the breeder’s responsibilities to their cats and to buyers. Choose a breeder who has performed the health certifications necessary to screen out genetic health problems to the extent that is possible, as well as one who raises kittens in the home. Kittens who are isolated can become fearful and skittish and may be difficult to socialize later in life.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include kittens always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any kitten, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your feline friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and unhealthy catteries can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick kitten, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy kittens.
Put at least as much effort into researching your kitten as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Once you find the right breeder, be patient. It’s not uncommon to have to wait six months or more for a kitten to become available. Many breeders won't release kittens to new homes until they’re between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
Before you decide to buy a kitten, consider whether an adult Aby may better suit your lifestyle. Kittens are loads of fun, but they’re also a lot of work and can be destructive until they reach the more sedate adult years (of course, no real Aby can ever truly be called sedate). If you’re interested in acquiring an older cat, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show or breeding cat who needs a new home.
A breeder isn’t the only source for an adult cat. Although Abyssinian kittens are almost never found in shelters, adult Abys (both pedigreed and mixed) aren’t as fortunate. To start your search, check out the National Abyssinian Cat Rescue, along with other respected Abyssinian rescue groups. It’s also worth contacting local shelters, as well as perusing the listings on Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet.com.
Regardless of how you acquire your Abyssinian, make sure that you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group. In states with “pet lemon laws,” confirm that you and the person you get the cat from both understand your rights and recourses.
Once you’ve found a good Aby match, take your kitten or adult to a veterinarian as soon as possible to detect problems quickly, as well as set up a preventative regimen to prevent future health issues.
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