If you are looking for a cat that is not only beautiful to look at but also active, loving, cheeky and intelligent, then you just may have found your match in the stunning Somali.
With its luxurious and silky long coat, curious face and extrovert personality, the Somali cat is an excellent choice for both adults and families. This is a cat that thrives on company and attention, keeping you and your children entertained for hours by their antics. Non-aggressive, the Somali likes nothing better than to explore and play and also works well in a multi-pet household.
Originally bred from the shorthaired Abyssinian cat, the Somali shares many of the personality and sharp intellect traits of this equally popular breed. But it is the lux coat and personality ‘quirks’ of the Somali cat that sets it apart. The Somali’s fur is mid-length and silky, without being rough or woolly. Add into the mix, cute foxlike ears, luxuriant neck ruff and a bushy tail and you can understand why the Somali is also known as the Fox Cat or ‘the little lion’.
Loyal, affectionate, fun and almost dog-like in its outlook on life and playtime, it is no wonder that the Somali cat is fast becoming one of the most popular breeds in the US today.
History of the Somali Cat
Although a relatively new breed – the Somali was first seen in the 1960s – this gorgeous cat with a lux coat actually has its roots in the Abyssinian breed, which dates back to the late 1800s.
The short-haired Abyssinian first came to note around 1870 in the UK, when Lord Robert Napier brought a cat back from the African region of Abyssinia – now known as Ethiopia – following a military expedition. With his camouflage-like tick pattern on his coat, the cat was named Zulu and became the foundation for today’s distinct and popular Abyssinian breed. Zulu was bred with random cats that had similar coat patterns until the ‘Aby’ was created.
Over time, some of those kittens bucked the desired short-coat trend of the Abyssinian, and with luxuriously long coats, were placed away as pets rather than being added to the Aby gene pool.
However, the long-haired look of these ‘rogue’ Abyssinians attracted the attention of other breeders and in the 1960s, a long-haired version was created in its own right and named the Somali. It is widely agreed that the first official Somali cat was born in the US during the early ‘60s, bred by Evelyn Mague and Charlotte Lohymeyer. The long-haired kitten was initially given away but returned to Evelyn by chance as an adult, and so she started a concerted effort to breed more – and the Somali was born. In essence an Abyssinian, the notable difference was the long-haired coat to create the new breed.
Named after Ethiopia’s neighboring country, Somalia, the Somali very quickly caught the eye of the cat fraternity and, with the Somali Cat Club of America formed in 1972, the breed was soon being exported to the UK. The Somali was finally recognized as a breed by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) in 1979. This wonderful breed is now also accepted by the American Cat Fanciers’ Association (ACFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA).
Quick Facts About the Somali Cat
Active, social and, despite the long coat, easy to care for, the Somali cat is considered a fantastic pet for families and children. You can expect to pay upwards of $600 for a Somali kitten but the companionship, love and sheer playfulness you’ll get from your new (long) fur baby is a good return for your investment. We take a look at a few quick facts about the Somali cat, with some that may surprise you.
Size and build: The Somali is a medium-sized breed, with a semi-longhaired coat that is fine and soft to touch. Both males and females are largely the same in size, and adults should weigh between 8-12 pounds. For its medium weight and size, the Somali has a muscular yet graceful body and is athletic and energetic in its movements. With slim legs and compact paws, the Somali cat can often look like it is walking on its tiptoes.
A foxy breed: Two large ears atop a beautiful, triangular-shaped head give the Somali the look of being on constant alert while another distinguishing feature, its bushy, luxurious tail has more than a touch of the fox about it, reinforced by the full fur ruff around the neck. The Somali’s eyes look large against its relatively dainty head and are either green or gold.
That stunning coat: It’s the coat that is the ‘calling card’ of the Somali and it is truly beautiful. A mid-length coat, it is soft and silky without looking woolly, giving a luxurious feel as you caress your cat. Except for the extra length, the coat has the same ticked pattern of the Abyssinian, meaning the hair has alternating bands of light and dark color on the shaft. However, a full tabby pattern is not acceptable or recognized in the breed. The coat of the Somali is darker along the spine line, softening and lightening as it gets to the neck and undersides of the cat. A Somali cat’s adult coat can take up to two years to fully develop.
A colorful character: The Somali cat’s coat can come in a range of 30 plus colors, predominately from red, ruddy, blue, fawn, silver, chocolate and sorrel shades. A typical Somali has an apricot and black coat, while the equally popular sorrels are a vibrant copper color and fawns have more muted tones. What also sets the coat of a Somali apart from the short-haired Abyssinian is the tail bush, fur ‘breeches’ on the legs and the fluffy ruff around the neck.
Grin and grip: There’s no denying the Somali is a stunning looking animal, but she also has some wonderful quirks that make this breed extra special. Not least the slight upturn to the corners of the mouth which give the Somali the appearance of having a knowing, wry smile! And as well as having a muscular body for its size, the paws of a Somali also have a powerful trick up their sleeve, with the ability to hold objects and even open cupboards and cabinet doors. As a cat that loves water, they have also been known to turn on the faucet.
They can think they are a dog: Highly intelligent and extrovert by nature, the sociable Somali is a great choice for families as well as pairing up with cat-friendly pooches – they are certainly not a lap cat! The smart Somali can even exhibit some distinct, dog-like traits, including the ability to learn tricks and play fetch! The energy levels of a Somali will also match an active canine, meaning she will be alert and ready for fun and games when showered with attention and toys. The athletic build of a Somali cat means it can jump and run faster and higher than many other felines. Just like many dogs, a Somali also loves water and with plenty of positive reinforcement, can even be taught to walk on a leash!
A head for heights: Somalis love to climb, and the higher the better! Put her in a room and it is only a matter of time before your cat finds a way up, whether that’s the curtains, cupboards or furniture. Add in some cat-friendly perches and climbing frames to your home and you’ll have a very happy Somali as she finds a high perch to watch the world go by. Find out more about cat window perches here.
Things You Should Know
Taking on a new pet is not to be undertaken lightly, and while easy to care for, the Somali cat is no exception. With their energy, fluffy, fox-like looks and fun personality, the Somali should make a great addition to the family but before you make your final decision, there are key things that you should know about the breed.
Whilst not the longest life span, the average Somali cat will live between 9 and 15 years, so not too bad for what is a pedigree breed. Pretty robust, the Somali is prone to relatively few serious health problems although there are some issues associated with the breed you should take into account. A common issue is early-onset periodontal – or gum – disease, which can be mitigated with a healthy diet as well as regular and consistent teeth and mouth hygiene.
Other potential health concerns for Somali cats include:
- Pyruvate kinase deficiency (PKD) – this is a congenital condition which has been found in both Somalis and Abyssinians. PKD affects an enzyme that is needed for blood cells to metabolize and can lead to anemia in your pet. A DNA test can be carried out to see if your Somali cat is at risk.
- Renal Amyloidosis – an inherited genetic condition which can cause damage and eventually lead to failure of the kidneys.
- Patellar luxation – this is another hereditary condition that causes the dislocation of the kneecap. Ranging from mild to severe, surgery can be a solution.
With an active, high-energy breed such as the Somali, a quality protein and fat diet is essential to keep them in top condition, inside and out. Whether you opt for dry cat food or a wet cat food diet, make sure the protein is a quality meat source and not a meat by-product and check for the nutritional value, as your cat needs to be getting all its essential vitamins, amino acids and minerals from its daily diet. He will also need the right nutrients to keep that gorgeous coat healthy and lush as well as his joints and muscles active and supple.
Either go for a cat food formula that contains all the essential nutrients or discuss you’re your vet the specific supplements your Somali cat may need. While Somali cats are not prone to obesity, keep an eye on their weight, especially if they are kept indoors, by feeding them twice a day and limit treats to the occasional. And don’t forget that to keep their digestion healthy and body hydrated, they will need constant access to fresh clean water. For more options, check out our detailed review of cat water fountains.
Day-to-day, Somalis are easy to care for as long as you are aware of and cater for their core needs. Unfortunately, Somali cats can be attractive to others who may want them for their own and so, as a pedigree breed, it is worth considering keeping them as an indoor cat.
Although energetic and active, Somalis can thrive in an indoor environment, as long as they have enough physical and mental stimulation. Providing plenty of opportunities to move and exercise will keep that weight down and his joints, heart and muscles healthy and happy. Plenty of cat toys and space are the way to go and, as Somalis absolutely love getting up high, have a few high perches and indoor frames they can climb and explore. The Somali is also a social beast that doesn’t like isolation so always build in plenty of cat and human time into your day to ensure he remains unstressed, stimulated and part of the family pack.
And finally, as gum disease can be a problem with Somalis, regular teeth cleaning with a soft brush is a must and choose his food to ensure maximum mouth health and hygiene. Take a look at our reviews of cat toothbrushes and cat toothpaste for more options.
Although his long coat is his crowning glory, the Somali is not too complicated to groom and keep neat as the hair is more silky than frizzy or woolly. There is a tendency to shed however and so a daily grooming maintenance plan is the way to go with this gorgeously hirsute breed. As an affectionate cat that loves interaction with his human, a good solution to his grooming is to include a daily session – especially during the summer and the shedding season – as part of some quality pampering and playtime with your pet.
With a stainless-steel comb or soft rubber brush, gently work through the coat to remove any tangles and dead hair as well as help to distribute the natural oils into his coat and skin. Double up the brushing with a nice massage and tummy rub and you’ll have your affectionate Somali purring for more. The winter months mean you can perhaps drop the grooming down to a couple of times a week. Head over to our review of the best brush for cats for more choices.
The Somali also has tuffs of hair growing between the toes so a weekly check of his paws and nails to see if they need a trim is a good idea. Also check their butt for any bits of poop that may have got caught in all that rear fur, using a baby wipe to whisk the yuck away. And don’t forget to regularly clean their eyes and inside their ears if dirt is building up, using a damp cotton ball to gently wipe it away. For more options, check out our detailed review of cat ear cleaners.
As a water-lover, a Somali cat is also up for an occasional bath, especially in the warmer months, when that luscious winter coat is starting to part ways – a bath will help to remove any excess hair nicely.
The Somali cat is a tour de force – a super-affectionate and bright cat that loves to socialize, explore, jump and play. And, while they want the company of their human family, they can also happily play alone and entertain themselves.
The Somali is highly intelligent and inquisitive, and seems to be able to go for hours, always alert and looking for his next feline adventure. This makes him open to other cats in the house as well as other pets, including dogs, all of whom will be readily viewed as new playmates. Yet despite his high-energy lifestyle, the Somali is not a vocal cat and has a surprisingly soft and quiet voice and likes nothing better than a pamper and tickle. Snuggles and cuddles however, are not really a Somali’s thing, so you won’t find him lazing in your lap for hours while you watch TV. But he does love being with you and will follow you around and watch as you go about your family time or domestic chores. A love of heights is also a particular trait of the Somali and you will often find him in the highest place in any room.
These gorgeous furballs are not really keen on being left alone for too long and so you need to factor this in if you are looking to add a Somali to your family. Left alone and they can get bored or stressed, which sometimes spells trouble! However, with their mischievous yet non-aggressive nature and their desire to explore and learn, a Somali is a great option if you have children, who will love to play and witness this cheeky cat’s antics.
- About the Somali – CFA
- Somali – international cat care