Considering the Somali’s origin story, it can be easy to write off these beautiful cats as “just” a long haired Abyssinian. But as any Somali cat owner will tell you, there’s so much more to the story.
Somalis are brilliant, gregarious, tirelessly active cats who delight in learning tricks, bonding with humans and other animals alike, and exploring every inch of their environments. Delightfully curious and playful, the Somali cat will be a lifelong friend and companion who will do its best to ensure you never have a dull moment.
The Somali comes in four recognized colors: red, ruddy, fawn, and blue. Internationally, there are some breeders who trade in Somalis with tortoiseshell ticked or tabby ticked coats, but those are rare and not generally recognized colors by most breeders or breed associations.
In most other regards, the Somali’s coat mimics that of the Abyssinian cat, just in long hair rather than short. They both have the same ticking, with individual hairs having between six and 24 bands of alternating color from root to tip. Most Somalis are found in the ruddy or orange/red color range which, along with their bushy tails, has caused people to nickname them “fox cats.”
Somalis are medium large cats—the average weight of a Somali cat is usually 6–10 pounds—with large almond eyes, large pointed ears, and bold facial markings that are another hallmark of the breed.
Prepare to have your life monopolized. The Somali is not for the faint of heart, or for anyone looking for a quiet, docile lap cat. These guys are always on the move and always looking to be the center of attention. Teach the Somali to fetch at your own peril, because once they understand the game, they are never going to want to stop.
Because they are so rambunctious and so smart, making sure that a Somali’s exercise needs are met is going to be an important part of keeping them happy and motivated. Structured playtime is also an excellent bonding experience.
“The most important thing for the cats is to keep them active,” says Carol Margolis, DVM, DACT, of the Gold Coast Center for Veterinary Care on Long Island, NY. “People think they can just wave a wand around, but the real bonding part of owning a cat is doing the running around and being the prey toy. If you’re not panting a little bit, you’re not playing with them enough.”
The Somali can (and probably will) make a toy out of anything light enough to bat around. Ping-pong balls, pieces of paper, twist ties—it’s all fair game. They are also excellent climbers, explorers, and snoopers. They are dexterous enough to figure out how to open cabinets and doors, and some have even been known to learn to turn on water faucets for a nice splash.
The Somali is a very intelligent cat who learns tricks well, and loves to perform and be the center of attention. They’re smart enough to avoid toddlers and smaller children, but school-age kiddos are a great match for the Somali’s big energy level and playfulness.
These are also cats who get along with just about anything else you have in the house. Strangers are always welcome, as are other cats (especially Abyssinians or other Somalis), cat-friendly dogs, and even larger rodents like ferrets and rats.
The Somali is a very vertical cat. So if you aren’t providing some ceiling-height cat condos for him to climb, he’s going to find his way up to the highest point in the room, be it a bookshelf, door top, or refrigerator.
Due to their incredibly social nature, they are not cats that you want to leave on their own for too long. Left home alone with no playmates, the Somali is likely to rip the place apart looking for things to keep its mind occupied.
Brush, brush, brush. That’s going to be the large and small of it when it comes to keeping your Somali happy. Their long, fine hair is a regular shedding problem, and that only gets heavier in the summer months as they lose some of that winter coat bulk. Giving them a brush two or three times a week in the cooler months, and probably daily as the shedding season hits, is going to be your life now. Additionally, thanks to that bushy, bushy tail, every trip to the litter box has the potential to turn your life into a Star Trek episode, as you go exploring for cling-ons.
They’re a pretty sturdy breed, coming from that healthy Abyssinian stock. Periodontal diseases can be issues, so keeping their teeth cleaned—including by a veterinarian every couple of months—can go a long way towards keeping them happy and healthy.
That aside, the gamut of typical cat health issues like arthritis, heart and kidney issues, and patellar luxation are all going to be things you and your vet will want to keep on eye on as your Somali ages.
As a recessive gene in the Abyssinian breed, long-haired Abys have been showing up for decades, if not longer. For a long time, the long-haired kittens were disavowed by Aby breeders, quickly shuttled off to be pets and never spoken of again.
How the long-haired gene was first introduced into the Abyssinian bloodline is a matter of much debate and speculation. Similarly, who first started breeding long-haired Abys is a matter largely lost to time. But what is not up for debate is that it was an American named Evelyn Mague who gave the Somali breed its name, and made the first strides at getting the cat recognized as a separate breed by cat fancier clubs; something that was achieved in 1979, when the Cat Fanciers Association recognized the breed for champion status.