Getting to Know the Somali

By Nancy Bailey
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

With a flash of deep hot color and the signature flourish of a plumy tail, there is no mistaking a Somali. This unique and vivacious creature has combined the notorious feline quality, curiosity, with a burning athleticism and wicked sense of humor. With this combination of striking beauty and inventiveness, one must be prepared for a feline companion that demands to be noticed.

This medium-sized, longhaired version of the Abyssinian is identical in many ways to that breed. The Somali is leggy and elegant, with a glowing presence and ticked fur. It is muscular, and though it is not an overly large cat, it is solid and surprisingly heavy. Its head is moderate in type, neither too long nor too short or round. It has a full muzzle, with dots on the whisker pads. Its eyes, which can be green or gold, are large, expressive, and almond-shaped. Complete with large, flaring ears and etched facial markings, the similarities to the Abyssinian are obvious. The coat makes the difference. The Somali is adorned with a ruff around the throat, fluffy britches, and a big brush tail that is carried with pride, like a flag.

The coat is considered a medium length, with shorter hair on the shoulders and body.

CFA recognizes four colors in the Somali. These are identical to the Abyssinian colors: Ruddy, red, blue and fawn. All colors are rich, bright, and warm. Ruddy is burnt sienna ticked with black, which lends a beautiful contrast between the top and undercoat. The undercoat of a red is similar to that of ruddy, but is ticked with brown. This leads to a glowing, almost brick red appearance overall. Fawn, which is a dilute of red, has a warm rosy beige undercoat with cocoa brown ticking. A good fawn looks almost pink; or has a lovely salmon-colored hue. The most surprising color is blue, the dilute of ruddy. Since it is ticked with slate gray, normally a cold tone, one would expect the overall appearance to be less dramatic than the others. Not so. A good blue has a deep, warm beige undercoat that glows with richness equivalent to the other colors.

The first impression many people express when seeing a Somali is, "That cat looks like a fox." This comment usually alludes to the burning color, large ears and full tail , but the imagery is further promoted when the Somali moves. Light and quick, on tiptoe, the Somali is athletic and swift as a fox, and every bit as intelligent. The beauty of this cat is second only to its personality.

Their Personality


Blessed with a lively sense of humor and brimming with quirky traits, Somalis are active, curious and bold. They can manipulate latches and knobs, opening cupboards and doors. They adapt quickly to many situations. They play vigorously by themselves, but are happiest when they have companionship. They will warm up quickly to other cats, and most will learn to like dogs, too. They love interactive games, like fetch, chase, and hide-and-seek. Provided with plenty of toys and activity, they are perfectly happy to live indoors, and even do well in apartments.

While all this activity may give the impression that Somalis are difficult to live with, they have a meltingly sweet side that adds another facet to a well-balanced temperament. They are not extremely vocal, and when they do talk, their voices are usually soft. They are a wonderful combination of cuddly and quick. Most Somalis are inordinately affectionate. They are masters of "head-butts," feline "hugs," and are emphatic lap cats. They follow their people from room to room, settling in to purr and knead their paws in quiet hours, and then exploding with energy during busy times. This tendency to match moods with their people, along with their affinity for water (a dripping faucet is a Somali magnet), and love for retrieving toys has caused them to be compared to dogs on many occasions.

Another "doglike" quality in Somalis is their appetite. They seem to be practically omnivorous. Many of them love to eat fresh fruits, vegetables and breads, as well as things not quite so digestible like broom straws, plants and rubber bands.

"Cat-proofing" is always a good idea when one lives with a Somali. They are eternally inquisitive, often carry small objects around, and quite often will experimentally ingest things.

Care of a Somali

Despite the tendency to taste-test, the Somali enjoys good overall health. It is a natural breed, moderate in type, so does not tend toward structural abnormalities. Though it is a "minority" breed, there is plenty of genetic diversity available, since the Abyssinian lines are available for outcrossing. Most Somalis, if cared for properly, will live well into their teens. They remain active and kittenish throughout their lives.

Although they have the appearance of a full-coated cat, grooming a Somali does not usually require much effort. Most of them have coats that are relatively tangle-free. For pets, an occasional brushing will do nicely. Most breeders will bathe a Somali before a show, rinsing extensively to remove any residual soap. The cat is then blown dry, with special attention to blowing the ruff, britches and tail hair backward, to accentuate the fullness in these areas. If bathed regularly as kittens, most Somalis are not a problem to groom, and many enjoy the attention. Some Somalis have a tendency to accumulate oil around the base of their tail and along their spine. This can cause the hair to stand up in clumps. Many people use a bit of oil-cutting dish soap in the cat's bath. Other breeders use non-toxic hand cleaners touted by mechanics. After all these endeavors, it is important to rinse the cat thoroughly. If the cat has an oily coat, it is likely that it will have feline acne, which usually manifests itself on the chin. It is black and highly visible, and often seems irritating to the cat. The most effective way to control this is to simply pack cornstarch on the chin each day. Overall the Somali is a very low maintenance creature, grooming-wise. A good diet, plenty of exercise, and a stress-free life are the keys to good health, and the cat's appearance will reflect that. A well-cared-for Somali is easy to keep looking beautiful.

Its irrepressible nature makes the Somali a natural in the show ring. The CFA show standard actually calls for a good temperament, saying that a Somali should be "showing an alert, lively interest in all surroundings, with an even disposition and easy to handle". A quick brush-over to fluff the ruff, tail and britches is usually all that is needed to prepare the Somali for the show ring. If the cat is carried stretched, instead of balled up, it will display the Somali's beautiful length of body and leg. The best thing a judge can do, in order to show a Somali off to its greatest advantage, is to get out a feather or similar toy. This will bring out that spark that most Somalis have naturally, as they stand on their tiptoes, with tail up and back arched, or spin or grab for the toy. Somalis seem to know their job, and most who are experienced hams will not jump off the judging table.

Breed History

The Somali was granted registration status in 1976 and has gained popularity since 1979, the first year that CFA recognized the breed and admitted them to championship competition. This recognition was granted to red and ruddy cats only. This opened the doors for early breeders anxious to show off the beautiful cats they were producing. Somalis had been around for a long time by then, as the long coats were carried in certain Abyssinian lines.

To this day, many people ask what breeds were combined to create the Somali. However, a Somali is genetically identical to the Abyssinian, only with long hair. The longhair gene is recessive, so both parents must carry the trait. When two Abyssinians carrying long hair are bred, they statistically have a 25% chance of producing a Somali.

Originally, Abyssinian breeders had been startled to find these dark, fuzzy kittens appearing in their litters. Most longhaired kittens in those days were sold for pets. Finally, in the late 1960's, a collective effort began to recognize them. Breeders began working with Abyssinians known to produce occasional longhaired kittens. The slow process of pursuing the elusive longhair gene began. The breed was dubbed, "Somali," after Somalia, for that country's proximity to ancient Abyssinia (now Ethiopia).

In 1979, the breed's first year at CFA shows, a ruddy male Somali achieved his Grand Championship, and went on to attain a National Win in the same season. The breed was off and running. It was seven years before the blue Somali graced the CFA show circuit. Then in 1986, the blue was recognized, and finally in 1990 the fawn joined the other three colors in the CFA breed standard.

Today the Somali continues to glean recognition at shows, both from judges and spectators alike. The breed has earned its rightful place in the world of pedigreed cats. This is in part due to the efforts of those who recognized the beauty in this longhaired Aby, and strove to insure that it was acknowledged. It is especially because of the charisma of the cats themselves. After all, who can ignore a Somali?

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