Abyssinian Cat Health Problems

Abyssinian cat - photo copyright Helmi Flick
Abyssinian cat – photo copyright Helmi Flick

This is a list of Abyssinian cat health problems as at 2012. The Abyssinian is not one of the purebred cats that springs to mind as a breed that tends to be unhealthy. But there are some inherited diseases that are worth noting. It is also worth noting that the Somali is a long haired Abyssinian. Do Somali cats have the same health problems? My research indicates that they do not.

Renal Amyloidosis

This disease is well known to the Abyssinian cat as a “familial” problem and therefore inherited genetically. There are a number of research study papers on Google Scholar about it. A 1980 study appeared to have first reported it as a familiar propensity of this breed of cat. The “mode of inheritance” is not clear.

Amyloidosis is a disease in which an amyloid substance accumulates in the cells of the kidney (and other organs incidentally such as the thyroid gland, stomach and spleen).

The disease starts at between 1 and 5 years of age (age of onset). The severity of the disease varies. Some cats die on or around the time of diagnosis while others live for another ten years.

The accumulation of amyloid in cells cause the cell to die due to “pressure atrophy” (wasting away of the cell; the cell becomes smaller).

The symptoms are inline with renal failure such as poor coat, weight loss, lethargy and anorexia. It causes dehydration. There may be gingivitis and mouth ulcers. Palpation (feeling the internal organs from outside) indicates small, irregular and firm kidneys.

Diagnosis is through clinical evidence, while confirmation is by renal biopsy (sampling of cells or tissues for examination).

As the disease causes chronic renal failure the treatment is as for renal failure. Administering dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) is referred to in Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects of Purebred Cats Edited by Ross D Clark DVM but it is of limited value the book says.

Retinal Atrophy

This is another one of the Abyssinian cat health problems. It is a well known genetic illness that is associated with Abyssinian cats. There are two types. A Swedish study isolated the first type (I think the linked webpage is the study that is referred to).

Retinal atrophy is the gradual degeneration of the retina of both eyes (bilateral) until the cat is blind. In the study a cat as young as 16 months of age had detectable opthalmic abnormalities.

The disease is caused by an inherited autosomal (not sex linked) recessive gene.

As the disease progresses slowly the cat has time to adapt and “see” in other ways e.g. by routines, the placements of objects, smell and whiskers. Cat caretakers might be unaware that their Abyssinian cat is going blind.

The second type was discovered in England. This disease starts earlier, as young as 4 weeks of age. This link takes you to the abstract.

This Abyssinian cat health problem is transmitted via a autosomal dominant gene.

The initial sign at 2-3 weeks of age  is an increase in pupil size with slow pupillary reflexes. At 5 weeks kittens with the disease are less keen on playing and careful in movements. The type of retinal atrophy has been described as rod-cone dysplasia.

Lysosomal Storage Disease

The lack of an enzyme called lysosomal enzyme causes the build up of “a material” in lysosomes (cellular organelles) of cells, which makes the cells dysfunctional.

The diseases is inherited via an autosomal recessive gene. The disease is first apparent at 8-12 weeks of age.

The first symptoms are head quivers, then ataxia, lack of coordination and an inability to walk. The disease progresses and kittens die before 12 months of age.

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (or PK Def.)

Arguably the most important Abyssinian cat health problem is Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (or PK Def.). This comes from Maggie, the caretaker/guardian of Chilli a beautiful Abyssinian cat. Thanks Maggie. Maggie says, “Have a look at Chilli’s breeder’s page on it, http://nileabys.com/pk_deficiency.htm.

Cats can be asymptomatic carriers of PK Def. There is a DNA test for this disease. Apparently PK deficiency carriers have been identified in the major cat breeding countries: USA, UK, Europe and Australia. Symptoms: cyclical anaemia shown in depression, lethargy, lack of appetite and pale gums.

Psychogenic Alopecia and Dermatitis

A higher than average number of Abyssinian cats suffer from these diseases.


A higher incidence of gingivitis is reported in Abyssinian cats.

Patella Luxation & Hip Dysplasia

Both these diseases are more commonly seen in the Abyssinian than in some other breeds.

This page on Abyssinian cat health problems is work in progress. I expect to be back to update the page.

Abyssinian cat health problems to home page.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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