The Somali is a stunning breed with an equally captivating personality. Active, playful, and alert, Somalis make loyal friends and affectionate family pets.
Somalis are longhaired Abyssinians. No one knows exactly how the recessive longhair gene found its way into the Abyssinian line. But experts do have an idea of when it happened.
By the end of World War II, the Abyssinian population had dwindled. Many litters born at that time had unknown parentage. So, it's probably when the recessive gene first appeared.
Most Abyssinian breeders considered the longhair trait undesirable. But a few fell in love with it and set out to produce more longhaired litters. U.S. breeder Evelyn Mague was one such person, and she worked tirelessly to have this new breed recognized. For her efforts, she had the honor of selecting its name. She chose Somali—a reference to Somalia, the neighboring country of ancient Abyssinia.
The Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) accepted the Somali in 1979. That same year, a cat named "Rio" became the first Somali CFA Grand Champion.
Somali are medium-sized cats with muscular, well-balanced bodies. They have strikingly colorful coats and a wild, fox-like appearance.
Coat and Coloring
The Somali's medium-length coat has a very soft texture. The hair is longer around the ruff, britches, and tummy, giving the breed a full-coated appearance. Each hair is "ticked" with up to six bands of color that alternate between dark and light. The color at the tip is dark, whereas the root is lighter—matching the breed's underside.
The Cat Fanciers Association accepts four coat colors: ruddy, red, blue, and fawn. Ruddy cats have a burnt-sienna ground color ticked with shades of darker brown or black. Red cats have warm, red coats ticked with chocolate brown. Blue cats have beige coats ticked with slate blue. And fawn cats have rose-beige coats ticked with light brown.
The International Cat Association accepts ruddy, chocolate, cinnamon, blue, lilac, and fawn coat colors, as well as silver versions of these colors. All coat colors have darker shading along the spine that continues through the tip of the tail.
Distinctive Physical Traits
Somalis have wedge-shaped heads and large, somewhat pointed ears. Dark lines surrounded by a light color accentuate their almond-shaped eyes. Their bodies are lithe and graceful, and their legs long and slim. Full brush covers their tails, which are thick at the base and taper slightly.
Social cats that love attention, Somalis thrive on companionship and typically follow their humans around the house—never wanting to miss out on the action. And when visitors come to the door, these kitties are often the first to greet them.
Somalis are both athletic and curious. So, it's not uncommon for them to scale bookcases or jump atop refrigerators to see what's going on outside. Their other favorite hobbies include opening and closing cabinets, turning on faucets (they love water!), and racing through the house at high speeds. These cats are known for their bursts of energy and playful attitudes.
Though not necessarily lap cats, Somalis are very loving toward their people. Kneading and head butting are just a few of the ways they show their affection.
Somalis require a high-quality diet. Because nutritional needs vary for kittens, adults, and senior cats, opt for a formula that's age-appropriate for your pet.
Somalis have hearty appetites and, given a chance, will happily overeat. That puts them at risk for obesity, which can lead to other serious health conditions. To keep calories in check, measure out meals and reduce portions if necessary. And don't forget to account for treats. As a guideline, they should make up no more than 10% of a cat's calories.
Lastly, all cats need access to fresh, clean water around the clock.
Somalis shed very little, and their coats aren't prone to mats or tangles. So, they don't require frequent brushing (though they often enjoy it). Their nails, on the other hand, need trimming every couple of weeks.
Long nails are more likely to snag on something and become torn or damaged. They can even grow into your cat's paw pads, leading to pain or infection. In addition to clipping, providing a scratching post will allow your cat to do some nail maintenance themselves (thanks to their instinct to scratch).
Good dental hygiene is essential to a Somali's overall health. An ideal dental routine includes daily at-home teeth brushing combined with visits to the veterinarian for professional dental cleanings and exams.
Some breeds are more susceptible to certain health conditions. Somalis may be prone to patella luxation, a condition that causes the kneecap to slip out of position. They may also have a higher risk for renal amyloidosis, a disease caused by a build-up of an abnormal protein in the kidney. Your veterinarian is the best source of information about these and other feline health conditions.
Somali Genetic Health Conditions
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency
Pyruvate Kinase (PK) Deficiency is a disorder that causes anemia due to the breakdown of red blood cells.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (Discovered in the Abyssinian)
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (Discovered in the Abyssinian) is a disorder that causes degeneration of the light sensing retina at the back of the eye, resulting in vision loss.
Knowing if your Somali is a carrier or at-risk for these conditions can help you and your veterinarian plan for your pup’s lifelong care. With Wisdom Panel™ Premium, you can get results for over 200 genetic health tests.
Reviewed February 23, 2021 by Laura Inman, DVM