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Do you like Abyssinian cats, but at the same time prefer cats with half-long or long fur? Then you will like the Somali cat, “Somali” for short!

History of the Breed

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The long-hair gene is found in many short-haired breeds, but it is often inherited covertly – and so long-haired cats kept appearing in Abyssinian breeding. These were the first parents of the “Somali” breed, which later emerged. While they were first sorted out as unfit for breeding, they were specifically bred from 1967, especially in the USA. To differentiate the new breed from the Abyssinians, they were called “Somali” – named after Somalia, the neighboring country of Ethiopia (formerly: Abyssinia).

This naming is more than interesting – after all, the Abyssinian does not come from what is now Ethiopia, as its name suggests, called “Abyssinia” in ancient times. The assertion that Abyssinian cats were descendants of the cats that lived in pharaonic Egypt and were worshiped there as divine is also to be attributed to the myths. In fact, the Abyssinians, the Somali sister race, are believed to have come from Southeast Asia. Information on this can be found in the genetics of the Abyssinians: A mutation of the tabby gene that only occurs in this breed of cats, called “Abyssinian tabby”, does not appear in Egypt and East Africa. Instead, it occurs in cats that live on the coast of the Indian Ocean between Singapore and Sri Lanka. Cat pictures from an English cat journal from the 19th-century show cats that look similar to Abyssinians – there they are also referred to as “Asian cats”. It is believed that the “ticked”, wild-colored cats were brought to the Near East, East Africa, and Europe by English traders.

The modern breeding of the Abyssinians and with them the Somali begins in England in the 19th century. A cat “from Abyssinia” shown there attracted a lot of attention with its striking “agouti” coloration. Presumably, the cat came to England with British troops leaving East Africa in 1868. In 1871 an “Abyssinian Cat” was presented at the Crystal Palace in England. In 1882 the breed was officially recognized. Harrison Fair, the then president of the English national cat club, is said to have set the breed standard of the Abyssinians himself. Shortly afterward, the then quite young breed came to the USA. In 1911, Abyssinian breeding was officially established in the USA by the Cat Fanciers ’Association (C. F. A.). In 1933 the first Abyssinian cats were registered in Germany.

The number of Abyssinian cats fell sharply as a result of the two world wars – a fate that befell other cat breeds as well. In the case of the Abyssinians, there is also the small litter size: Statistically, most litters consist of one to four kittens, but in most cases, only two kittens are born. In the 1960s an epidemic of feline leukemia led to the further decimation of the breed. The population of the Abyssinians has been secure since the 1970s but does not resemble that of the better-known cat breeds. Long-haired Abyssinians have been appearing in litter since the 1950s, mainly in England. It is not yet clear how the longhair gene got into the breed’s gene pool. One suspects the crossbreeding of foreign races especially after the bottlenecks of the two world wars or an independent mutation. To clarify the question, the Somali Cat Club of America conducted research into all known Somali cat pedigrees in the 1970s. It was noticeable that all pedigrees led back to a single Abyssinian stud male. This English-born male was sold to the USA and apparently had a predisposition for long fur, which he passed on to his descendants.

The Somali cat emerged from targeted further breeding of the long-haired animals. In the 1960s, breeders began to purposefully breed these. In 1972 the first official Somali litter was born in the USA, in 1979 the breed was officially recognized in the USA through the establishment of the Somali Cat Club of America (SCCA). In 1979 the Somali Cat Society was founded as an umbrella organization for breed clubs of the Somali cat breed. In 1982 the largest European umbrella organization followed. The Somali is purely bred according to the breed standard, the only exception being the Abyssinian cat as a possible cross-breeding partner. The kittens that result from this pairing are called “Abyssinian Variant” – they are Abyssinian cats with the recessive gene for long fur. Since long-haired animals are not wanted in Abyssinian breeding, the Abyssinian variants are mainly used in Somali breeding. The Somali cat is bred according to the breed standard of the respective umbrella organization: The Fédération Internationale Féline is responsible for the European area, in the USA the Cat Fanciers’ Association and The International Cat Association are among the larger umbrella organizations. In the large national and international umbrella organizations, however, the breed standard differs slightly.

Somali Cats Appearance

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The Somali cat is a variant of the Abyssinian cat with half-length fur. Apart from their coat length, there are no differences to the Abyssinian cat, the breed standard of the Somali corresponds to that of the Abyssinians. While the Abyssinian is often referred to as a miniature puma, the Somali appears a little more “plush” than its sister breed. Nevertheless, they share the same breeding standard. Just like the Abyssinians, the Somali is a rather slender, long-legged cat of medium size: queens weigh up to 4 kilograms, male cats can weigh up to 5 kilograms. Like many oriental cat breeds, Somali are long-legged: the legs of the athletic animals end in small oval paws with monochrome pads. The tail has a broad base and is well covered with hair, the neck is described as “graceful”.

The Somali head is noticeable for its large, open eyes and ears, which give the cat an attentive expression. The amber, light brown, or green eyes are large and almond-shaped, and a border is also welcome. The head shape itself is wedge-shaped with a gentle contour. The half-long coat of the Somali has a little undercoat and therefore looks extremely fine. It is still soft, animals with a well-developed ruff are preferred. The coat may be a little shorter in the shoulder area. Like Abyssinians, Somali cats often have a dark stripe of color on their backs. This begins between the shoulders and ends at the tip of the tail. A so-called dark “sole strip” can often be found on the hind legs up to the heel.

The coloring of the Somali cats, the so-called “ticking”, is striking. This means that each individual hair is usually banded two, sometimes three, or even four times, while the tip of the hair always has the darkest color shade. Interestingly, only hairs from certain areas of the body are “ticked”, especially those of the head, back, tail, and outside of the legs. In contrast, the underside of the abdomen, chest, and the inside of the legs are uniformly colored in the respective basic color.

The final coloration of the fur in the Somali and Abyssinians is not ruled out until they are around two years old, but the first signs can be seen as early as the sixth week of life. According to this, the fur of the Somali cat appears to be uniformly patterned and resembles the coloration of a wild rabbit. In technical jargon, one speaks of the so-called “agouti effect”.


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With the Abyssinian and Somali, according to the breeding standard, only colors based on eumelanin are accepted. This color pigment ensures strong light absorption and dark pigmentation – four color types have prevailed in breeding: wild colors, blue, sorrel, and fawn.

  • Wild colors: This original Somali color appears as a warm brown, the basic color is a dark apricot to orange with black ticking. All other colors are the result of the wild coloring. Depending on the language used, this is also referred to as ruddy, usual, tawny, and lièvre.
  • Blue: The color term “blue” does not refer to the color blue, but rather describes different intense shades in the shades of blue-gray. In fact, “blue” is the dilution of the wild color, caused by the mutation of a gene that is responsible for the intensity of the color. Somali cats in blue have a warm blue-gray, the individual hairs show a dark, steel-blue-gray ticking.
  • Sorrel: Somali cats with a warm, cinnamon-red color and chocolate-brown ticking are called “Sorrel” – sometimes also as cinnamon or red. “Sorrel” is not to be confused with the actual red color. Sorrel was created by mutations in the gene for the color black.
  • Fawn: “Fawn” is the diluted form of “Sorrel”. Somali cats in “fawn” have a light cream-colored basic color with a warm, also cream-colored ticking. The nasal mirror is pink.

There are, however, Somali cats in other colors that are not yet recognized by all-breed clubs. These include chocolate and its diluted form lilac.

Somali Cat Temperament

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As Orientals, the Somali is considered a lively and intelligent breed of cats. She is particularly curious, likes to follow “her” person at every turn, and wants to be part of everything. Her innate curiosity also allows her to explore the games on offer, and especially intelligence toys, with pleasure. So that your Somali cat does not tamper with your facility, sufficient scratching furniture, such as a multi-level scratching post, should be offered.

Due to its high urge to move, it is only conditionally suitable for a pure domestic position. This is especially true if there is no cat partner in the household. Somali and Abyssinians are sociable animals and should therefore never be kept alone, but with one or more fellow cats! They willfully join their humans, but only another cat is a fully-fledged companion. When looking for the perfect companion, you should keep in mind that the Somali is a rather dominant cat. Littermates have been used to each other since they were kittens and in most cases, they are a perfect team for a lifetime!

Food and Health

High-quality cat food with lots of healthy protein is the best preventative measure. Your money is well invested here! Cats can only use a small percentage of carbohydrates, as carnivores you get the necessary nutrients and proteins from high-quality meat. In our article on high-quality cat food, you can read about which aspects should be considered when choosing. Furthermore, it makes sense to offer your Somali cat grass or malt paste to support the elimination of hairballs.

The Somali is considered to be an uncomplicated cat breed, it requires almost no breed-specific care. Their half-length fur is not very maintenance-intensive, and because of the very small undercoat, Somali keepers only have to use a comb and brush once a week.

Of course, the annual check-up at the vet is also a must – especially if your playful Somali is also enjoying outdoor activities. Here you can discuss all health problems and get advice on required vaccinations or pest prevention.

In spite of their relatively low distribution and the consequent non-overbreeding, the Somali, like its sister breed, has a preposition for certain diseases. This includes the “Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis”: With a certain combination of the three blood groups A, B, and AB, there is blood group incompatibility between the mother cat and her kitten. The cause is a previous mating of a male of blood group A with a cat of blood group B. After birth, the kittens ingest antibodies against blood group B with their breast milk – this leads to excessive excretion of the blood pigment hemoglobin and acute anemia. An acute FNI is always fatal. FNI is avoidable – if the breeder knows his cat’s blood types and mates them carefully.

Retinal atrophy (“progressive retinal atrophy”) also occurs more frequently in Abyssinians and Somali cats. Night blindness can be the first symptom that the retina of the eye is destroyed by local metabolic disorders in the tissue. In the degenerative form, which is inherited in a recessive manner, visual disturbances appear from the age of two – the onset of the disease is possible up to the age of six. Regular examinations by a suitably trained veterinarian are therefore mandatory for breeding animals! This should take place annually up to the age of six. We are still working on the development of DNA tests.

Somali cats are also considered to be prone to a deficiency of the pyruvate kinase enzyme in red blood cells, which leads to anemia due to a shortened lifespan of the red blood cells. Blood transfusions can save lives, but there is no general therapy for pyruvate kinase deficiency. The disease is inherited in a recessive manner. Carrier animals do not suffer from a pyruvate kinase deficiency themselves – but when two gene carriers are paired, kittens suffer from a deficiency of the vital pyruvate kinase enzyme.

Cat Breed

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Hereditary diseases like the ones described show again and again how important a well-thought-out, responsible breeding is. A breeder who vouches for the health of his animals and their offspring with his name assumes responsibility. He has his cats checked regularly for hereditary diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy, carefully paired to avoid feline neonatal isoerythrolysis, and only leaves his kittens in good hands – often with a protection contract. In the first weeks and months, he is at his side with advice and action for his kitten buyers and also gives them the vaccination certificate and any test results of the young animals. All of this costs time and money: high-quality cat food for mothers and kittens, veterinary costs, vaccinations, possible deworming and membership in the breed club add up. All the hours a breeder is there for his animals are not included here.

And of course, all of this has a price. The Abyssinian is a very rare breed of cats – their semi-long hair variant, the Somali, is even rarer. A pet cat is available from 700 dollars and up, a breeding cat of course costs more. Especially when you want to give a home to more than one cat, friends of Somali cats have to collect quite a large purchase amount before they can give one or two cats a new home.

As an alternative, cats that have been withdrawn from breeding are offered, these are often given into the hands of experienced cat friends for a friendly price. And the animal shelter is also a good place to go! Many cats with short or long hair are looking for a good new home here, including your dream cat.

We hope you enjoy your Somali cat!

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