The Somali is a long-haired Abyssinian cat. The breed appeared spontaneously in the 1950s from Abyssinian breeding programs when a number of Abyssinian kittens were born with bottle-brush tails and long fluffy coats. Abyssinians and Somalis share the same personality (active, intelligent, playful, curious) and appearance. The only difference between them is the fur length and therefore the amount of grooming required. Unlike most long-haired cats, Somalis shed very little excess hair. Their coat is generally shed en masse, or "blown", once or twice a year, rather than constantly shedding like a Persian or other long-haired cat.
Somalis have a striking, bushy tail, which, combined with their ruddy coat, has earned them the nickname of "fox cats" in some circles. In addition to the fluffy tail, the Somali breed features a black stripe down its back, large ears, a full ruff and breeches, contributing further to the overall "foxy" look. Their coats are ticked, which is a variation on tabby markings, and some Somalis may show full tabby stripes on portions of their bodies, but this is seen as a flaw, and tabby Somalis are only sold as neutered pets. The only tabby marking on a show Somali is the traditional tabby 'M' on the middle of the forehead. Like Abyssinians, they have a dark rim around their eyes that makes them look like they are wearing kohl, and they have a small amount of white on their muzzles and chins/throats. White elsewhere on their bodies disqualifies them from show-status.
They are smart and lively, but also alert and curious. They are freedom-loving and must have plenty of room to roam and explore. They are best kept indoors or in outside runs for their own safety.
Colors and Patterns
There are four main Somali colors officially accepted within the United States: ruddy, red, blue, and fawn. European Somali organizations have a different naming convention: "Usual" for ruddy and "sorrel" for red. European Somali clubs also promote various silver colors.
In the 1990s, many purebred Somalis had significant dental problems due to congenital problems magnified by inbreeding. As a result, many Somali cats had to have all their adult teeth removed. (Dental abscesses, especially below the gumline, can cause cats to stop eating, which often leads to hepatic lipidosis, a condition that's often deadly.) As of 2006, the CFA breed standard makes no mention of this, and breeders say they've made much progress in breeding out this unfortunate trait.
The Abyssinian cat type has certainly been found for many centuries; paintings and sculptures of ancient Egypt depict cats similar to the present day Abyssinian cat – long and muscular body, arched neck, large ears and almond-shaped eyes.
However, the Abyssinian cat does not come from Ethiopia, formerly Abyssinia. Cats with the typical look of the Abysssinian cat were brought back from Abyssinia in 1868 and shown at Crystal Palace in 1872, but there is nothing to suggest that they played any part in the development of the breed we recognise now as the Abyssinian cat. It is thought more likely that the Abyssinian developed through breeding native British cats with silver and brown tabbies. However, genetic studies show that the breed may have originated in South East Asia and have been brought to Britain by traders and colonists where they were bred with native cats to develop the typical Abyssinian.
The Abyssinian cat is unusually interested in their human family, displaying dog-like characteristics of loyalty and curiosity untypical of most cats. Groom an Abyssinian and he will return the favour with a rather rasping tongue!
The original colour of the Abyssinian cat is reddish, known as Ruddy or Usual, but enthusiasts have developed many colours beyond the most popular Usual, Sorrel (a very red chestnut), Fawn and Blue. Tthe basic colours of the Abyssinian cat have been widely expanded by the introduction of Silver and Tortie. One thing they all have in common is the ticking of the coat, which gives the Abyssinian a sparkling effect, each hair having several bands of different colours. The large oval eyes of the Abyssinian cat are green, hazel or gold according to coat colour and are darkly rimmed.
Abyssinian cats are not good with traffic – they appear to lack road sense to an alarming degree – so great care should be taken to ensure that your Abyssinian cannot put himself at risk.
Although Ayssinians have no particular health problems, it makes good sense to insure a cat of this breed type. So many medical procedures are available to vets now that being without insurance can mean making hard choices when an operation can be done but the financial cost can be so high.