The Somali is a breathtaking cat that resembles a red fox, with its large tufted ears, masked face, large neck ruff and dramatically bushy tail. Also known as the Fox Cat or the Longhaired Abyssinian, the Somali is medium-sized and muscular, with well-balanced proportions and an overall sleek, athletic build. Its legs are long, slender and fine-boned, and when standing it appears to be on its tip-toes. The Somali's head is wedge-shaped and slender when viewed head-on, with soft contours and a gentle curve when viewed in profile. It has a slight but distinct break, or stop, in the nose at the level of its exotic, almond-shaped eyes. Ideally, the Somali's rich copper, amber, gold or green eyes are ringed with a dark outline, which itself is surrounded by a ring of lighter fur, giving it the appearance of wearing eyeliner. The breed's prominent pricked ears are tufted at the tips and spaced widely apart atop the head.
The Somali's semi-long, extremely soft double coat is shorter over the shoulders and quite long on the tail and underbelly. It comes in a rainbow of colors, including Sorrel (or Cinnamon), Sorrel Silver, Ruddy (also called "Usual"), Blue, Cream Silver, Lavender (or Lilac), Blue Silver, Ruddy Silver, Chocolate, Chocolate Silver, Fawn, Fawn Silver, Red, Red-Cream, Blue-Cream and several Tortoiseshell variations. Not all purebred cat registries recognize each of these colors. Whatever its coat color, the Somali's individual hairs each have at least three and sometimes up to twenty bands of alternating multi-colored ticking along their length, which gives the cat an overall shimmering, iridescent appearance. This breed requires little grooming and is not prone to significant shedding, although it does blow its coat (sheds out) once or twice a year. It can take up to 18 months for Somali kittens to develop their fully mature ticking and adult coloration.
The Somali is a stunning, long-haired descendant of the Abyssinian, which is one of the oldest breeds of domesticated cats. The breed is named after the country of Somalia, which borders Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia) in northern Africa, to confirm the connection between the two breeds. Over the decades, there have been the occasional long-haired kittens in purebred Abyssinian litters. However, it wasn't until the mid-1960s that efforts were undertaken to selectively breed for the long-haired variety and create a new breed that would consistently reproduce true to type. Starting in the 1960s, Abyssinian fanciers in the United States realized that there was a naturally-occurring recessive long-haired gene in their Abyssinian population. This initially was thought by some to be the result of some spontaneous genetic mutation. However, most authorities now seem to believe that the long-haired gene was introduced around the turn of the century, when ticked tabby cats of unknown parentage were brought into Abyssinian breeding programs to stabilize the vitality and viability of that breed, whose gene pool was becoming increasingly and dangerously restricted at that time.
The fluffy Abyssinian kittens initially were regarded as sub-standard and unsuitable for the show ring. In the 1960s, an American Aby breeder named Evelyn Mague discovered that a long-haired Abyssinian adopted from a shelter had been sired by her short-haired cat. She bred that male selectively to see if she could consistently create a line of long-haired Abyssinians. She was successful. However, the rise to acceptance among the purebred cat world was long and arduous for the Somali and for those breeders who adore them. Many Abyssinian fanciers shunned these longer-haired versions of their cats. Eventually, through dedication, persistence and perseverance, the Somali breed was established and formally recognized. Two Sorrel Somali kittens were born in a litter with four Sorrel Abyssinians in Great Britain in 1971. They caused quite a stir among British cat fanciers when they were exhibited in the show ring. Today, Somalis bred to Somalis only produce Somali kittens. When a Somali is mated with an Abyssinian, the resulting litter can contain both long-haired Somalis and short-haired Abyssinian littermates.
The Ruddy and Sorrel Somalis were accepted by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in 1979. The Blue was accepted by the CFA in 1986 and the Fawn in 2000. The breed was officially recognized by the British purebred cat registry in 1983, and was awarded championship status from the GCCF in 1991. This breed is rapidly increasing in popularity world-wide. It has an especially wide following in the United States and in Japan.
Somalis have a life expectancy of approximately 15 years, which is about average for most domestic breeds. They are predisposed to developing certain hematological (blood) disorders, including pyruvate kinase deficiency (which can cause severe anemia) and increased osmotic fragility of red blood cells (erythrocytes). They also can develop a neurological condition called myasthenia gravis, which in cats causes drooling, regurgitation, weakness, lameness and abnormal flexion of the neck. Somalis typically have small litters of 3 to 4 kittens, which mature slowly over 18 months.
The Somali is one of the most playful, extroverted and interactive of all domestic breeds. Although they usually are not quite as outgoing as their Abyssinian cousins, potential Somali owners should be prepared to create a very stimulating and ever-changing environment for their new companions. If kept exclusively indoors (which most are), the Somali should have access to lots of interesting toys and a variety of different scratching posts and climbing structures. Toys, posts and climbing structures should be changed or moved around regularly, to prevent boredom. Otherwise, the Somali undoubtedly will find other ways to entertain itself, which its owners may not appreciate. Somalis do not take well to being confined indoors unattended for prolonged periods of time. Along with a playful nature, the Somali thrives on affection and attention from its owner. They are highly interested in everything and everyone around them. These cats form close bonds with their human family, and when they do take a rest from playtime they greatly enjoy cuddling and lots of lap time. Somalis are not particularly well-suited to homes with many other companion animals, because they prefer that all the available attention be directed towards them. All in all, this is a charming, cheeky breed with a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed disposition, making them wonderful companions for cat lovers of all ages.
Somalis are agile, alert and extremely active. They enjoy burning off some of their excess energy throughout the day by running with quick bursts of speed, jumping onto and off of furniture, counters, shelves and windowsills, and performing any number of other frenzied athletic feats. Fortunately, because of their agility, they rarely knock household knick-knacks off of the paths of their frolics. Owners can expect to find their Somali on top of the refrigerator or on top of bookcases, where it can get a good view of - and supervise - the goings-on of the household. They especially are enamored of things that move; outdoor bird feeders hung close to a visible window are a particular favorite of this breed. One of their nicknames is "the alliteration cat", because they are described as being active, awesome, agile, astounding, alert, animated, affectionate, amusing, athletic, astute, amiable and attentive. Some breed authorities believe that these freedom-loving cats should not be confined exclusively indoors. Wherever they live, Somalis will provide hours of entertainment and amusement for those who are lucky enough to share their homes.
The Somali will ask for attention with its expressive eyes and by lightly batting at its owner with soft paws. This breed has a very soft meow and does not vocalize often. When it does speak, it has a charming vocal trill. Somalis have several frenzied bursts of activity daily. They often toss balls or other objects into the air, only to fetch them and begin anew. They will arch up their back and tail and run sideways like a monkey. They are adept at opening cupboards and drawers and are known to tuck themselves away in secret hiding places. Most Somalis love to play with water, and many can even manipulate faucets to obtain a drip to play with. They are prone to kneading their paws and butting their heads into their owners as a sign of affection. According to the breed profile published by The International Cat Association (TICA), the Somali, like its short-haired Abyssinian counterpart, leaves no niche unexplored: "They are above, below, in, under, across, beside, between, into, over, among and through everywhere" and everything, earning them another nickname, "the preposition cat." Somalis just show an intense level of curiosity and interest in everything around them.
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