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The Somali is one of the most popular newer breeds7. I think that you’ll agree that this is a very handsome cat and one that looks a little familiar. At first sight Siennaman (above) looks a bit like an Abyssinian with a gorgeous tail, which is not quite the case. Siennaman is a long haired Aby or a Somali Cat. I like the look of this cat because I like foxes and there is a distinct look of the fox about the cat breed.

This cat breed appeared naturally in Abyssinian breeding programmes in the 1950s (60 years ago as at 2010). For reference purposes, in the United Kingdom, the Abyssinian cat has been known “for well over 100 years”1. On that basis it is not unreasonable to suggest that long haired Abyssinians have been appearing in litters since the Abyssinian cats were first bred and registered in the 1930s in Britain3. World World II had an impact on all purebred cats and in building up the Abyssinian after the war, the recessive longhair gene may have be been introduced6 although this is likely to have happened much earlier or it is due to a genetic mutation.

Some breeding lines of Abyssinians carry the recessive long haired gene. Within these lines Somali cats will be produced if two cats carrying this gene are mated. The litter will have one Somali and three Abyssinians or in that proportion4.

Somali cat CHASE

Chase (above) is a Ruddy or “Usual” Somali cat. This was one of the first colours to be accepted for showing. The other was sorrel. The base coat is a deep “red-brown shade of apricot”1 and the ticking is black. This foxy face combined with this fox like coat have earned the Somali the nickname of “fox cats”. I can well remember Chase being photographed by Helmi in Oklahoma. He looked an outstanding cat. He caught the eye. He certainly caught my eye. He also behaved confidently in front of the camera as this photograph demonstrates.

For a long time Somali cats were considered a mistake and were unwanted by cat breeders. They were given away until the late 1960s when Evelyn Mague, the president of a private cat shelter at the time liked the unwanted kittens and decided to start a new breed against the wishes of many Abyssinian breeders5. The breed was accepted for championship competition in 19796.

Evelyn’s choice of name is sensible as it is the more modern version of the name Abyssinian; Abyssinia now being called Somalia.

The Somali has the same personality as the Abyssinian. The Somali is then a very intelligent and independent cat that likes exercise and space. It is said that they only accept confinement when introduced to that kind of like when young7. They are also known for their trill greeting1 and affectionate behavior.

Unlike most long haired cats Somalis shed very little excess hair2. They are said to shed hair in one go every 6 or 12 months and in the summer7 appearing almost shorthaired, rather than constantly like a Persian2 (I am not sure about that). Grooming demands are therefore low and the coat does not mat. Once a day combing/brushing will suffice3.

This cat breed arrived accidentally during the Abyssinian breeding programme. After a period of about ten or more years it was decided to turn an accident into a predictable event and deliberate breeding began.


1950Long Haired Abyssinians began to appear naturally within the Abyssinian breeding programme.
1960sBreeders’ attitudes changed towards the long haired Abyssinian and they started to breed them deliberately
1963Canadian breeder Mary Mailing enters a Somali cat in a cat show. Judge Ken McGill asked her for one of her cats to breed from and a Somali of his, May-Ling Titsuta was the first official Somali7. Don Richings used McGills stock and bred Somalis working with Evelyn Mague (mentioned in the introduction). This lead to acceptance of the breed in the late 1970s7.
1965Somali Cat shown in Australia
Accepted for Championship status (full) in major North American associations
1980sSomalis appear in Europe7
1991GCCF grant Championship Status (full) to the Somali and worldwide recognition7 established.

Appearance and Character

Helmi Flick’s photographs say all you need to know.

Here’s the character in bullet form:

  • alert, intelligent and keen
  • even tempered
  • active, athletic and playful requiring space3
  • apparently calmer and less active than the Abyssinian
  • quiet with a soft voice3
  • like to lick the hair of their human companion
  • welcomes companionship3

Photo of Mana ©copyright Helmi Flick

Here’s the appearance in words and bullet form:

  • all Somalis have dark rimmed eyes surrounded by spectacles (light hair). There are tabby markings on the cheeks and forehead7.
  • the Somali cat appears to walk on tiptoes and has an arched back7.
  • the coat as can be seen is “ticked”. This is one of the defining features of the Somali cat. Ticking means that the coat has that broken salt and pepper appearance. This is due to the Agouti gene (A) causing banding on the hair, which also produces the tabby cat in tandem with the Tabby gene (T). The color of the ticking is naturally dependent on the color of the cat. For example, for a ruddy cat the ticking is black (see Siennaman at the top of the page).
  • the Somali ticking has ten to twelve bands while the Abyssinian ticking has two to three bands4.
  • magnificent plumed tail due to the long haired gene
  • “M” on the forehead (a tabby cat trait)
  • 4 colors, ruddy (most popular3), red, blue and fawn are accepted by the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA)8. Ruddy is an orange brown color and ticked with black, the undersides of the torso and legs are an even ruddy colour without ticking3.
  • TICA limits colours to Tabby and Silver/Smoke divisions and “eumelanistic colors and agouti pattern only”9.  Eumelanistic means black-based. Dense black based colours are chocolate and cinamon and dilute black based colours are blue, lilac and fawn10. Agouti pattern means ticked (banded hairs producing ticked effect) and the classic markings of the Somali.
  • Medium build
  • Medium weight at 10-12 lbs for males (see cat breed size/weights)
  • gold or green eyes
  • white under chins and around mouths but a white locket, groin spot or any white on the body other than upper throat, chin or nostrils results in disqualification for a Somali cat in competition6.

Some breeders have mated the Somali cat with a black domestic shorthair cat to produce black Somalis. These cats are the same as the Somali except for the coat color and the ticking is hardly visible, apparently.


Hardy generally – few health issues3 – this breed may suffer from (a) gingivitis (gum disease3), not untypical in cats generally (b) may be prone to a form of anemia called AIHA. The Abyssinian has some reported genetic disease issues which would concern Somali cat keepers. See Genetic Diseases in Purebred Cats (new window). See also Abyssinian Appearance/Character & Health.

It has been reported (Tufts conference Sept. 2007) that this cat breed (and Bengals and PRA, Persians and Abyssinians) can suffer from a disease called Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). It is inherited and due to mutated genes. It causes blindness. It affects other mammals including people. In Abyssinians it is late-onset.

It is also reported that in the 1990s the Somali cat tended to suffer from a congenital condition (problem existing at birth) that caused dental problems resulting in the need for dental surgery2. You might like to read this: My blue Somali kitten has a red abscess on her back teeth.

Nenatatl erthrolysis which can affect Abyssinian cats can also afflict the Somali cat. This disease causes the destruction of red blood cells in newborn kittens and is a major cause of fading kitten syndrome. It occurs when the mother has the rarer blood type B and the kittens have blood type A3.


Top listed (first 3 pages) free standing cattery websites on a Google search produced this (update: both listed no longer trading – sorry)

I am Cats Cattery
Located North Truro, Massachusetts, USA. Bengals, Abys and Somalis.

Windy City Somalis
Located, where else, in Chicago, USA. Occasional Abyssinian and Somali.

Photo Pollux ©copyright Helmi Flick

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…

My blue Somali kitten has a red abscess on her back teeth
I have a blue Somali kitten who is 7 months old. She is an absolute doll and the love of my life!! I love her to pieces. I took her to the vet for a …

Is This Cat A Somali?
Hello, I think that Somali cat’s are one of the most beautiful in the world. Unfortunately, Somali cats in Greece, where I live, it’s very rare… I had …

The Wonderful Loving and Intelligent Somali Cat!
My Somali cat is a wonderful, loving and people orientated cat! He walks on a leash, takes showers with me and always loves to kiss and give head-butts!…

Cert My Somali Cat
Somali’s are sweet and beautiful. Cert died at 19 so they are long lived too. He was very healthy all his life and would walk on a leash. His arthritis …

Somali and Turkish Angora cats have a family resemblance Not rated yet
We are owned by both a red Somali (look up Mittsnpaws Miromax – the internet is full of pictures from his show career) who absolutely ADORES me and …

Sources other than below:1.

3. Medical, Genetic & Behavior Aspects of Purebred Cats — Edited by Ross D Clark DVM

4. The Book of the Cat by Michael Wright and Sally Walters – Summit Books – 1980 page 78.

5. The Somali – Cats Magazine 1987 issue 44 – by Phil Maggitti

6. Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) Breed Profile.

7. The Encyclopedia of the Cat by Dr. Bruce Fogle





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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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