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Somali Breed FAQ
_Author:_ Barbara French, Tarantara Cattery, USA,
_Comments and Editing:_ Elina Laine, Bitterblues Somalis, Finland,
Copyright (c)1995 Barbara C. French, bcf...@ritvax.isc.rit.edu.
All Rights Reserved.
Table of Contents
Characteristics and Temperament
Is This Breed for Me?
Care and Training
Special Medical Concerns
The Somali is a moderate-sized cat with soft, medium-length fur and a
bushy tail which has sometimes earned the cat the nickname "fox cat".
Somalis are also referred to as "longhaired Abyssinians", since
Abyssinians are the "parent breed" of the Somali breed.
Somalis are sweet-faced, lithe, muscular cats with an overall
impression of alertness, intelligence and keen curiousity. A standing
Somali should almost give the impression that it's standing on its
toes. The best term for a Somali would be "moderate" -- medium hair,
medium size, medium type (neither cobby nor svelte).
Somalis are ticked cats. Each hair on their bodies has bands of darker
color, sometimes as many as 10 or 12 in a Somali. The ticking is
darker than the ground color, giving the impression of a gloss or
shimmer to the cat. Although ticking is a type of tabby, the
show-quality Somali has no stripes on its body. A pet-quality Somali
may show some tabby striping on its legs, tail or throat. The ticking
usually causes a darker shine of color along the cat's back and on the
tip of its brushy tail, and gives the cat an exotic, wild look.
Although the fur might look coarse, it's extremely soft, almost
Somalis have the tabby "M" on their foreheads, and display
pencil-strokes of darker color drawn out from the corners of their
eyes. As the darker color also rims their eyes, Somalis may look as if
they're wearing eye liner. They usually have no white on them, other
than white around their mouths and under their chins. White on other
parts of their bodies is considered a disqualifying fault for the
Somalis are accepted by all cat associations in four colors: ruddy,
red, blue and fawn. The chart below will help decipher these colors.
Somalis also have corresponding nose and paw leather colors, depending
on the color of the cat.
Color Class Color of cat Color of ticking Nose leather
Ruddy Ruddy-red Black Tile red
Red or sorrel Warm red Chocolate brown Rosy pink
Blue Soft blue Slate blue Mauve
Fawn Rose-beige Light cocoa brown Salmon
They are accepted in some European associations in various silver
tones, but as yet silvers are not accepted in the United States. Some
European associations also accept sex-linked orange and tortiseshell.
Somalis have gold or green eyes in all colors, with the more depth and
richness of color the better. Some associations, such as the American
Cat Association, also accept hazel. Females are smaller than males,
weighing about 8-10 pounds on average as adults. Males are an average
of 10-12 pounds as adults, although some may be larger. The Somali
coat color develops slowly, and doesn't show its full, mature ticking
and coloring until age 18 months. Kittens tend to be darker and less
warm-colored than they will be in adulthood.
Somalis generally have longer hair over their chests (the "ruff") and
on their hindquarters (the "breeches"). Their tails are full and
brushy, almost like that of a fox.
Characteristics and Temperament
Somalis are active, playful, interactive cats. Like their parent
breed, the Abyssinians, Somalis seem to wake up every morning with a
"to-do" list. They should be given plenty of room to run, lots of
individual attention and play, and a variety of toys.
Somalis seem happiest if kept with another cat of about their own
activity level. Contrary to what some cat books say, though, Somalis
do very well as indoor-only cats, provided that they are given plenty
of room to run and play.
Somalis are even-tempered and easy to handle. They are ideal cats for
households with children, as they are quite gentle (provided the
children do not abuse them). They also do well as in a "mixed pet"
household, getting along well with other animals.
Somalis are extremely affectionate and people-oriented -- "loves a
party and all the guests", as one of my kitten buyers told me.
They are also extremely inquisitive and clever, which may cause some
trouble for the cat! An open door is as good as an invitation, as are
garbage pails, windows and open drawers. Fortunately, they are also
easy to train to use scratching posts.
Like Abyssinians, Somalis are generally quiet cats, with soft voices
they don't use a great deal. Somalis are adept communicators, but
don't rely on their voices to do so. This can be frustrating for
breeders, as a Somali female may have a "silent heat" (in heat but
doesn't call). Buyers of pet Somali females should also be careful to
have their female spayed as soon as she is old enough for this reason,
so an inadvertant breeding doesn't take place.
They also shed very little, less than many short-haired cats. They
have two seasonal moults in spring and fall, but otherwise shed
minimally throughout the year.
Is This Breed for Me?
If you want a cat which is playful and interactive, almost "dog-like"
in this way, the Somali is a terrific breed. They are loving and
affectionate and make wonderful companions. Many are avowed and
devoted lap cats and are forever following "their" human around.
If you're looking for all the beauty of the long hair without the fuss
or shedding, the Somali is a good choice. (See Care and Training
If you're looking for a breed that's good with children or to
introduce into a multi-pet household, the Somali is a good choice.
If you're looking for a cat which will spend a great deal of time
snoozing peacefully instead of playing, or a placid cat with a great
deal of quiet and refined dignity, the Somali is not the cat for you.
I would not recommend a Somali for an elder who is frail, as any
Somali owner will tell you that Somalis are very good at getting
Care and Training
Somalis are intelligent but somewhat willful. Thus, training is done
far better with rewards than with punishment. They can be trained
easily to use a scratching post by heaping attention and pats on them
whenever they use it. They can be trained to do simple tricks with
relative ease, such as fetching and shaking hands.
Somalis need little care to keep their coats in good condition. Their
soft, silky hair requires little brushing, although most Somalis love
the attention if brushing is viewed as affection time rather than a
chore. They do not mat, although the longer fur around their
hindquarters can sometimes mat if not brushed regularly. As stated
before, they shed very little.
Otherwise, good food, fresh water, regular vet-checkups, regular
vaccinations and lots of love is all they need to thrive.
Where the longhaired gene came into the Abyssinian population is a a
subject of speculation, but before the Somali breed began to be
advanced in the late 1960s, longhaired kittens popped up in Abyssinian
litters. These longhaired kittens, which couldn't be shown or used in
a breeding program, were quietly neutered and given away or sold as
In the late 1960s in the United States, people taken with these
longhaired "mistakes" began breeding these cats purposely and
advancing that the breed become accepted for championship status. This
was not the first advancement of this breed; a Somali was shown in
Australia as early as 1965. By the late 1970s, the Somali was accepted
by all North American cat associations for championship status. It has
had slower acceptance in Europe; the GCCF (Governing Council of the
Cat Fancy), Great Britain's cat association, did not fully recognize
the Somali for championship status until 1991.
Special Medical Concerns
The Somali is a remarkably hardy cat, with few associated health
Like many cats of all breeds and mixed breeds, Somali are prone to
gingivitis. This condition should be monitored at annual veterinary
visits (more often if a problem occurs). Feeding the cat a large
portion of its diet as a high-quality dry food helps this problem.
It has just been discovered that a few lines of Somali may be prone to
a type of anemia called _auto immune hemolytic anemia (AIHA)_. If you
have a Somali with anemia or anemia-like symptoms, , request a PCV
blood test. This test is not usually done on a normal blood workup for
cats, as AIHA is found much more commonly in dogs. The normal
treatment for AIHA is steroid therapy. The problem is that the
symptoms can be close to a fairly common cat disorder, _feline
infectious anemia (FIA)_, which is treated with antibiotics. This is
an inappropriate therapy for AIHA. Somalis are no more or less prone
to FIA than any other cat.
A Somali named Liberty Valence can be seen on "Little Friskies"
commercials in the United States. The first two Spots on _Star Trek:
The Next Generation_ were red Somalis (one was Liberty Valence). A
Somali graces the cover of the _Readers Digest Guide to Cats_ , and
the cover of the box for the software _Morph_ . (Hint: The Somali is
on the bottom).
Since there are not many Somali breeders and there is often a high
demand for these beautiful kittens, many Somali breeders have waiting
A pet-quality Somali kitten in the United States will generally cost
about $400 US, a usual price for pet-quality kittens of many breeds.
There are many Somali breeders who are available through electronic
mail through the Fanciers Breeder Referral List.. (Take me to the list
of Somali breeders now).
Somali breeders are also listed in such magazines as _Cat Fancy, Cats_
and _Cat World._
Somali cats may also be available through Somali and Abyssinian Breed
Rescue and Education (SABRE). Somalis rarely end up in shelters, but
those few that do may find their way to SABRE and may be available. To
date, all such rescues have been adult cats. For more information
about SABRE and information about cats who may be available for
adoption to an excellent home, consult the SABRE homepage, or e-mail
contact Erin Miller.
Barbara C. French, bcf...@ritvax.isc.rit.edu
Last updated: December 15, 1995