The Somali is a long-haired Abyssinian cat. The breed appeared spontaneously in the 1950s from Abyssinian breeding programs when a number of Abyssinian kittens were born with bottle-brush tails and long fluffy coats. Abyssinians and Somalis share the same personality (active, intelligent, playful, curious) and appearance. The only difference between them is the fur length and therefore the amount of grooming required. Unlike most long-haired cats, Somalis shed very little excess hair. Their coat is generally shed en masse, or "blown", once or twice a year, rather than constantly shedding like a Persian or other long-haired cat.
Somalis have a striking, bushy tail, which, combined with their ruddy coat, has earned them the nickname of "fox cats" in some circles. In addition to the fluffy tail, the Somali breed features a black stripe down its back, large ears, a full ruff and breeches, contributing further to the overall "foxy" look. Their coats are ticked, which is a variation on tabby markings, and some Somalis may show full tabby stripes on portions of their bodies, but this is seen as a flaw, and tabby Somalis are only sold as neutered pets. The only tabby marking on a show Somali is the traditional tabby 'M' on the middle of the forehead. Like Abyssinians, they have a dark rim around their eyes that makes them look like they are wearing kohl, and they have a small amount of white on their muzzles and chins/throats. White elsewhere on their bodies disqualifies them from show-status.
The essence of the Somali cat is ticking - each hair is ticked multiple times in two colours. The Usual or Ruddy Somali is golden brown ticked with black. There are 28 colours of Somali in total (some organisations accept only some of these colours). All organisations accept Somalis in usual/ruddy, sorrel/red, blue, and fawn. Most clubs recognise usual/ruddy silver, sorrel/red silver, blue silver, and fawn silver. Other colours that may be accepted include chocolate, lilac, red, cream, usual-tortie, sorrel-tortie, blue-tortie, fawn-tortie, chocolate-tortie, lilac-tortie, and silver variants of all the above colours.
The Somali breed along with its parent breed the Abyssinian have been found to suffer from Pyruvate kinase deficiency (PKDef), with around 5% of the breed carrying the defective gene. There is now a genetic test to identify this recessive disorder within the breed, and as such all breeding stock should be tested to ensure no more affected kittens need be produced.