The name is familiar, but the origin is not. The name comes from the Abyssinian feline, which shares its physical features with the slender, stocky and smiling face of the Somalian. The short, stocky face is marked by large dark eyes that often appear to burn. This breed is said to have originated from a recessive trait that gave birth to a ‘wild cat’ with increased vitality and resistance.
From the Abyssinian cats shared some physical characteristics with the Somalian cats, especially their short, stocky and alert faces. In later years, the Somalian gene was transferred to other breeds such as the Burmese, Chinese pug and the Maltese. Later still, the short, stocky face of the Abyssinian cats was adopted by the designer cat variety and these resulted in the numerous different types of Abyssinian cats that exist today. The modern day strain is a result of many interbreeding between different breeds. The result was the creation of a cat that has several nationalities, each with its own unique appearance.
There are several physical differences between the modern day Abyssinians and their progeny, the short, stocky and alert Abyssinians, and the robust, fine-boned Burmese. All three share certain symptoms, including anemia, kidney problems and a high incidence of renal amyloidosis. Since the anemia is a common occurrence in Somali cats, veterinarians usually recommend that such a cat is under the care of a transplant specialist. Since the transplant specialist is not likely to have knowledge about all aspects of feline physiology, it is recommended that a sample of the litter be tested for anemia before the first attempt at breeding is made.
There are also genetic characteristics that distinguish the modern day Somalis from their forebears. The modern day cats have longer legs and arms than the short-haired ancestors of the Somalis. This enables them to be somewhat haughty and arrogant (this trait shared by the Burmese), but it also helps to make them much more resilient (a quality shared by only two other breeds of cat). In addition, the long and muscular legs and short, sturdy bodies of the somalis-barred cats have been found to aid the animal in climbing and running. As mentioned previously, this feature is shared by only two other breeds.
Ruddy, solid colored cats with red or brownish fur are often called “Red Jungle Cats” because of their distinctive, coarse and rosy red coat. The coloration is generally a combination of black, tan and brown with sometimes varying amounts of white, blue or green. Although the hair is dense, it is often profuse and luxuriant and can even be shiny. In the wild, these somalis spend much of their time scrubbing themselves clean of parasites and dirt, so it’s no surprise they look the part. Interestingly enough, these animals also spend time on the lookout for other creatures who may cross their path, so their sense of smell is very acute.
Interestingly enough, the majority of Somalis prefer not to interbreed with any of their neighbors’ cats (including the Burmese, Pakistani and Chinese), as this would result in dilution of the overall genetic pool. For example, if all Somalis were to mate with each other, there would only be a limited amount of genetic variation between them – nowhere near as many differences as between the remaining domestic cats. However, when two Somalis of different breeds are bred together, these animals’ traits can often be mixed to produce an offspring that possesses one or both of its parent’s unique traits. This process, called intra-line breeding, was once limited to intra-family breeding (focusing on a particular breed) – today it can occur in either order. Whether a pair of domestic cats (or even one of several breeds) are successfully bred together, the result will be a cat that possesses subtle differences that have been subtle throughout their development through natural variation – something we all share in common.