The Somali is considered the longhaired variety of the Abyssinian cat and there were different beliefs to how this has come to be. Some thought that the breed was a result of a recessive or mutated gene in the Abyssinian. There were others who suggested that it was the result of a crossbreed between a longhaired variety and the Abyssinian to preserve and increase the cat’s gene pool that were under threat during the World War II period.
Whichever is more plausible, the Somali breed has been developed to be a unique breed in its own right; and the road to acceptance was helped fight by Abyssinian breeder, Evelyn Mague of Gillette, New Jersey. Mague had her first encounter with the Somali cat through her breeding program with another Abyssinian breeder, Charlotte Lohmeyer. The cat appeared as an unusual fuzzy looking male among a litter of kittens. As an Abyssinian breeder, Lohmeyer thought it to be an undesirable outcome and gave it away at an early age.
The cat (then named George) was later brought to a Cat Placement, an animal welfare group in which Mague was president. Mague found it to be exceptionally beautiful and was surprised to discover that it was the same cat that Lohmeyer had sent away. Prior to the Cat Placement, George had been to five different homes and had not been receiving proper care and social integration. Mague felt indignant at George’s situation and at how he was less valued than its other litter mates, which were in fact only one gene apart.
Thus, Mague was determined to fight for George’s recognition in the cat world. Setbacks were encountered as many Abyssinian breeders ridiculed and resisted the presence of the longhair variety and opposed the choice of calling the breed Longhaired Abyssinian. Mague then decided to call the breed Somali, which was named after a country that borders Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia). The number of breeders as well as the cat-loving public grew simultaneously.
Mague set up the Somali Cat Club of America in 1972 to bring together like-minded breeders in promoting the Somali. Finally, the breed received the championship status with Cat Fanciers Association in 1979. In just a span of another year, the championship status was extended by all other North American cat associations during that that.
It was then brought to the United Kingdom in 1981, and in 1991 was accepted by the Governing Council of Cat Fancy (GCCF) for the championship. Associations in Europe and Australia have also caught the fire. Distinctly attractive breed in its own right, both in its appearance and personality; winning over the hearts and home of many cat fanciers.
Physical appearance and attributes
The Somali breed is a medium to large sized cat that weighs between 10 -12 pounds for males and 8 -10 pounds for females. The body form is a beautiful balance between the extremes of cobby and the svelte. Its medium long torso displays controlled and elegant strength of the well-developed muscles. The rounded rib cage is held by a firm abdomen and its back is slightly arched. The Somali gives a nimble and quick stance when standing on its well-proportioned legs. Extending from the legs are oval, compact paws. Adding to the lithe and graceful compartment is its luxurious tail that tapers to a full, gorgeous plume.
This cat has a head of modified wedge with rounded contours from all angles. A tabby 'M' marking is evident on the forehead. Viewed in profile, a slight rise is evident from the bridge of the nose to the forehead. The muzzle is of a substantial length that is neither fox-like nor blunt. Dots and dark shading may appear on whisker pads. The tip of the broad nose is well-aligned with the tip of the firm chin. Eyes of Somalia are large and almond in shape. They are made pronounced by dark lid-skin that encircles the eye-rim, and further contrasted against the lighter coat color around the eye areas. Eye colors come in rich gold or green. The pair of ears is large, broad and cupped at the base. Ear tufts are lined horizontally along the inner side of the ears, reaching towards the outer side. They are tilting slightly forward to give an alert stance. The cheeks are brushed with a darker color hue. Facial markings from the outer corners of the eyes and across the face may also appear
Somalia has a double layered coat that is soft, fine, dense and of a medium length. Complementing the tail is a generous ruff around the neck. Breeches might also develop to give the cat a full-coated appearance.
The coat is ticked with between four to twenty-four bands of alternating color on each hair shaft. Texture of coat and the contrast between lighter and darker tone of coat color creates a beautiful sparkle and lasting effect with different intensity. The coat comes in four recognizable colors, namely, red, ruddy, blue and fawn. Darker shading of color runs along the spine through to the tip of the tail. Warmth is displayed through the entire composition of the coat.
Personality and temperament
Like its cousin, the Somali breed gives the little extra spark to everything its endeavors. It jumps farther, plays harder and climbs higher. It has a high level of intelligence and inquisition that would rub off excitement and entertainment to those around. It is a challenge to keep up with the Somali breed that is always in motion. This is a persistent breed that would not fail to get the attention that it wanted by involving itself with the work that you are doing.
It loves leaping onto high places, but has the control and grace to limit any breakage of household items. It loves to have fun and certainly knows how to enjoy tricks, interactive play and even an agility course. This adaptive breed also has no issue, blending in with different types of households.
Care and health issues
A healthy Somali can live up to about 15 years or even over 20 years. Health issues that might be of concern include pyruvate kinase disease (PKD), which is a hereditary disease caused by a recessive gene. A lack of pyruvate kinase, a key regulatory enzyme in the metabolism of sugar, may lead to intermittent anemia. This can occur when the cat is as young as 6 months old or later.
Other health issues that may be seen in the Somali breed are renal amyloidosis; myasthenia gravis, which is a neuromuscular condition; and progressive retinal atrophy, which is an eye disease that may lead to blindness.
Most of these diseases can be detected by DNA tests. Thus, it is important to obtain a written health guarantee from qualified breeders. This would help ensure that the breed has been bred away from genetically related diseases, even though care must still be taken for its health thereafter.
Grooming the Somali is fairly easy. The coat requires only a weekly brushing to remove matt and tangles on the undercoat. Brush the teeth frequently to prevent periodontal disease and check the ears for signs of infections. Trimming the nails whenever necessary should also be part of the basic grooming practices.
The ideal home
This action-packed breed is generally not suited for elderly, but would do well in a household with children and other pets of compatible energy level. Apartment living is not the most ideal for the Somali, but it can adapt well provided that a room with ample space is provided for it to run and exercise. The space would also need to be well-equipped with the necessary cat trees, toys and cat gym sets. This breed, with brain, personality and loads of affection is certainly an ideal pet for any family that is ready for a fun-filled and lively home.
Photo By Heikki N