The Breed History
Somali are a semi-longhaired Abyssinian cat. First records date back to Britain in the 1930s when a spontaneous mutation in Abyssinians occurred, or perhaps the different haircoat was introduced by crossing with longhaired breeds. Outcrossing did occur at some point since the Abyssinian gene pool was seriously depleted in wartime. Historical studies of some lines indicated an autosomal recessive gene for the longhaired coat was present, and periodically, longhaired kittens were born into litters. An American breeder in the 1960s selected Somali for a name because Somalia bordered Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). The CFA granted championship status to the Somali breed in the late вЂ70s, and FIFe followed in 1982. Outcrossing to Abyssinian is still allowed.
Weight: Female 8-10 lb (3.5-4.5 kg), male 10-12 lb (4.5-5.5 kg) Coat: Ruddy cats are the most common color but blue, fawn and sorrel colors are also accepted. Some registries also allow newer colors.
Ruddy is also termed usual. The base color is a rich golden brown sometimes referred to as burnt sienna. Ticking pigment is black. Ticking on the Somali hair consists of 6-12 bands (in comparison to the lesser number in Abyssinians). The root of the hair is the lighter color. Kittens are darker, and their hair base color may be light or gray. Markings include spectacles, mascara eyeliner and a pencil line extending in line towards the ears. Tabby markings on forehead are usually present to some extent. Underside and legs and tail should be unmarked.
Coat is medium in length, a very soft and dense double coat. It is longer on ruff, britches and on the tail. It is a very bushy tail (part of the reason Somali cats have a nickname of "fox cat"). Coat is darker along topline and white is only found around mouth and chin. The coat doesn't finish maturing until about 18 months of age so ticking evaluation is compromised until then.
Eyes: Eyes are hazel, green or amber colored. Almond shaped eyes are large and slanting.
Points of Conformation: Medium-large sized cat, lithe and semi-foreign build, and the back is long. "Fox-like" is a frequent descriptor. Tail is thicker at the base and tapers slightly. Toe tufts are present and feet are compact and oval. The head is a rounded wedge shape, large ears are placed wide set and set well back, with interior furnishings and slightly rounded tips.
Grooming: Low grooming requirements; a gentle brushing every other day should suffice. Shedding occurs spring and fall and daily grooming is best at those times.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Friendly, affectionate, active and playful, these cats like to be close to people. They are soft voiced and don't vocalize often. Curious, with a strong personality, and very alert, some are a bit shy, though most get along well with children, strangers and other pets. Some like to groom their owner's hair. They do fine indoors if given climbers, perches and toys. May shadow their favorite person, and be a lap cat. Compared with the Abyssinian, they are calmer and less active, though a few times a day they may get strong bursts of energy. Some like water and learn to turn on faucets. Others open drawers and cupboards. An indoor-outdoor lifestyle is fine, but Somali cats may not tolerate the cold as well as some other breeds of cats.
Normal Breed Variations
Slow maturing kittens
Litters of about 3-4 kittens on average
B Blood Type: In Somali cats, was reported to be a 22% prevalence. A prevalence of 18% type B has also been reported. In the UK as part of a survey, nine cats were tested and two were Type AB while the rest were type A. Type AB cats are very rare.
Long Hair Genetics: The long hair phenotype in cats is a recessive so how it is distributed in the different longhaired breeds, and coded for is of interest. A recent study determined a mutation (AM412646:c.194C>A) in Somali, Persian, Maine Coon, and Ragdoll Cats was responsible for the long hair genotype.
None reported in the literature
They share many conditions with the Abyssinian-see that chapter. Pyruvate Kinase (PK) Deficiency and Increased Osmotic Fragility of Red Blood Cells (RBCs): Autosomal recessive. The PK enzyme is involved in anaerobic glycolytic pathway of erythrocytes. Reduced activity of the enzyme results in energy depletion and premature red cell destruction. Cats with this condition may experience recurrent severe hemolytic anemia and splenomegaly. In one report of 18 Somali and Abyssinian cats, osmotic fragility occurred in the absence of PK deficiency. Onset of anemia in one report ranged from 6 months to 5 years of age (mean 23 months) and PCV ranged from 15%-25% (some as low as 5%). Hepatic enzymes were elevated in some cats. Macrocytosis that persisted when anemia resolved was noted. It was suggested that this condition may have a heredity basis since affected cats were closely related (affecting both Somali and Abyssinian). In another study of both Abyssinian and Somali cats aged 1-10 years old, chronic intermittent macrocytic regenerative hemolytic anemia and mild splenomegaly was reported. Pyruvate kinase activity ranged from 6%-20% of the normal activity. Osmotic fragility of RBCs was normal to slightly increased. Affected Somali and Abyssinian cats usually have a normal lifespan unlike dogs with this condition (seen in Beagles, Basenji, West Highland White Terrier, Dachshund). Dogs tend to develop liver failure and osteosclerosis while cats do not. Enzyme analysis and molecular genetic tests are available. Anemia may be noted in cats as young as 6 months old, and has been found in senior cats (12 yr) that were clinically normal. A case was described in which the index cat developed a 100% bilirubin cholelith which was thought to be due to chronic hemolysis. (link to reference A on the reference page. A recent study showed high variability in age of onset and severity of clinical signs so testing before breeding was strongly recommended. In Australia, 24 cats were tested for the gene and the mutant allele frequency was 0.29.
Amyloidosis: See Abyssinian chapter for details
Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI): The prevalence of B blood type can lead to increased incidence, and the proportion of matings reported to be at risk for NI is 0.14. All B type cats have circulating anti-A antibodies and even primiparous queens can carry these. Type B queens bred to type A toms can result in fatal red cell lysis in A blood type offspring with undetected NI. Kittens with NI can be distinguished from other fading kittens because of pigmenturia; anemia and icterus will also be present; not all kittens at risk for NI will develop overt clinical symptoms.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (rdAc): Autosomal recessive genetic disease causing blindness. See under Abyssinian. A genetic test is available.
Proressive Retinal Atrophy (Rdy): Autosomal dominant genetic disease causing blindness. See under Abyssinian. A genetic test is available.
Gingivitis: anecdotal over-representation in this breed.
Transfusion Reactions: B blood type similarly results in increased risk of transfusion reactions so donors and recipients should be typed ahead of a transfusion.
Rare and Isolated Cases
Retinal Dysplasia (RD): Abnormal retinal development can affect focal, multifocal or diffuse areas of the retina. Retina degeneration and subsequent scarring interferes with vision. In Sweden, a suspected hereditary form of RD (multifocal) was seen in related Somali cats.
Malignant Histiocytosis: A case report described a multisystem histiocytosis, including neurologic signs, inappetence, and vomiting. Other cases have occurred, but this is a variant of the condition.
Thymoma-associated Neuromuscular Disorder: Can occur as a primary condition (no antibodies-see Siamese) or an acquired form for which Abyssinian and possibly Somali cats are predisposed; Acetylcholine receptor antibodies produced within/by the tumor and in muscle cross react resulting in voice changes, myasthenia gravis, tremor, ventroflexion of the neck and gait abnormalities вЂ“myasthenia gravis signs are as for the idiopathic form.
Myasthenia Gravis (MG, acquired): Highest relative risk for acquired MG compared with a baseline of mixed breed cats was reported for Abyssinians and related Somali cats, with relative risk increasing after 3 years of age. The MG was commonly associated with cranial mediastinal mass (not always).15 See Abyssinian chapter for more information. See above also: Thymoma-associated Neuromuscular Disorder.
Pyruvate kinase deficiency Direct test is available from PennGen. Minimum of 1-2 ml purple top EDTA blood and should be sent immediately (don't freeze). Test within 48 hrs of sampling. The lab can do concurrent blood typing on that sample. They can also use 2 buccal swabs. Direct genetic tests for rdAc PRA and Rdy are available from UC-Davis VGL. Blood typing done before mating and transfusions Miscellaneous
- Breed name synonyms: Longhaired Abyssinian, Longhaired ticked cat, Fox cat.
- Registries: FIFe, TICA, CFA, ACFA, CFF, CCA, NZCF, WCF, GCCF
- Breed resources: The Association for Somali Cats: http://tasc.freeservers.com/
Somali breeders and Fanciers Association Inc: http://www.somalibreeders.com/
Somali Cat Club of America: www.ladybear.com/Somalis
Somali Cat Club of Great Britain (GCCF): http://www.somalicatclub.com/
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