If you want to know what the sacred cats of Egypt looked like, take a look at today’s Abyssinian. This breed is very much like cats depicted in the tombs of ancient Egypt and in paintings and sculptures of that time.
The Abyssinian has a long history, dating back 4,000 years to the cats of Egypt. The Abys are believed to have been introduced to the western world by a British soldier returning from the war against Abyssinia, or Ethiopia today. These cats were likely mated to other cats popular in Britain at the time, creating a new breed called the Abyssinian. The breed was exhibited at the very first cat shows of the 1800s in Britain and first recognised as a breed in its own right in 1882. The breed was almost lost during World War II, but brought back by dedicated breeders.
Appearance and character
The Abyssinian is a medium cat with a lithe and graceful, yet muscular body on long, proportionally slim legs. The Aby’s eyes are almond-shaped with a keen expression and may be hazel, orange, green or yellow. Her ears are large, set wide apart and pricked.
The Aby’s coat is short and close-lying. The coat has a ticked or agouti pattern, with at least four bands of colour on the hair shaft. The lighter bands usually occur closest to the skin, with the shades increasing and ending in a dark tip.
The Aby is an intelligent cat with an inquisitive, high spirited nature. They are known as the extroverts of the cat world. The Aby enjoys the freedom to move about and is a hunting cat. She is intelligent and able to learn obedience commands and tricks. Although affectionate in nature, they are demanding and need to be kept busy to prevent destructive behaviour. Abys are known to get on very well with dogs.
The Abyssinian requires occasional grooming to remove loose hair in the coat. They are generally healthy cats and live to the age of 10 to 12 years. They require plenty of toys, scratching posts and climbing gyms to keep them stimulated. Regular dental check-ups, along with annual vet checks are recommended.
About the Somali
A recognised breed in its own right, the Somali is the longhaired version of the Abyssinian. The breed was named after the country of Somalia, close to Ethiopia. The Somali Cat Club of America was formed in 1972 and helped to unite Somali enthusiasts. In 1978, the breed earned championship status with CFA.
Temperament and care
The Somali is a beautiful, lithe, athletic, medium-sized cat with a firm body and long legs. Males tend to weigh in at four to five kilograms, while females are slightly smaller. She has a double coat with at least three bands of ticking on the hairs and sports a bushy tail and tufts of fur between her toes.
Although not as lively as her Abyssinian cousin, the Somali is very alert. She loves the outdoors but should always be supervised when outside as she may wander off, with devastating results. Somalis don’t enjoy being on their own for hours, so if you work outside the home, consider a feline companion for your cat. This company, together with toys, a cat gym and your attention when you are home, will keep your Somali happy. They are affectionate cats who love their people and will even shower visitors with love. They like to be where you are – often perched on your shoulder and ready to help!
Somalis are intelligent cats who can be trained to walk on a lead and even play fetch. They make excellent companions for children and families in general.
Additional information courtesy of Dr Jackie Hoare, Chair of the South African Abyssinian and Somali Association (SAASA).
Abysinnian and Somali colours and patterns
Ruddy – gold-brown, ticked with black; ground colour: apricot/deep orange
Sorrel – warm red, ticked with deeper shade red; ground colour: apricot
Chocolate – coppery brown, ticked with dark brown; ground colour: rich apricot
Blue – blue-grey, ticked with steel blue; ground colour: cream/oatmeal
Lilac – fawn, ticked with lilac; ground colour: warm fawn
Fawn – warm fawn, ticked with a darker shade; ground colour: warm fawn
Silver varieties – undercoat white, with ticking in colour according to the variety
Did you know?
The gene for short hair is dominant, unless both parents carry the longhair gene, only shorthair kittens will be produced. The recessive longhair gene, even if present in both parents, does not always produce a longhair cat. Two shorthair cats can produce a longhair kitten, if both carry the longhair gene, but two longhairs can never produce a shorthair kitten.
Source: Dr J Hoare
Text: Gina Hartoog
Photography: Linn Currie, Tracy Robertson, Krystle Callaghan and Krissi Lundgren