Discourse on Abyssinians and Somalis 
in Connection with the FIFé Annual Meeting on 28 May 1989

  Written by & copyright Marina Franz, de Sauveterre cattery, Germany

Translated from German by Christine Megens, Bidadari cattery, Canada

Scanned, OCR’d & “tidied up” by George Kennedy, Nile cattery, Australia  

{Click on any of the icons below to get the corresponding full-screen illustration}


To supplement the following discourse, I will start by giving the judges and breeders involved a detailed basis for this discourse, as it is certainly impossible to go into extreme detail on each subject.

 First of all, I would like to explain to you my basic point of view regarding both breeds. I am of the opinion that we are basically dealing with one and the same breed (which history has proved, since Somalis are descended from Abyssinians). Thus I cannot understand why different standards exist for both breeds, as well why these breeds, to a certain extent, are judged differently. We urgently need a decisive change in the standard for both breeds, with a difference regarding coat only.

 During the past few years, both breeds have developed a multitude of colours, often created by hybridisation. The result of this was that type, which was not all too uniform to start with, became even more diversified, and the tendency of both coat types to become increasingly dissimilar cannot be ignored.

 I have the clear impression that breeders as well as judges feel equally uncertain regarding this, and I believe that this is the reason why we see so many rather contrasting opinions regarding the type of this breed.

 My general observation is that the quality of the Aby has improved, whereas the Somali still has faults which are, generally, no longer apparent in the Abyssinian. Certainly, this is due to the serious breeders who, through years of breeding, contributed to the fact that the quality of the Aby is high compared with other breeds.

 Unfortunately, this positive tendency is less often apparent in the Somali, and the few breeders who have been seriously working with this breed, have not been able to alter the overall appearance. Somali breeders are much more often “fly-by-nights”, who want instant success (in whichever shape or form), and quickly give up when they realize that one show winner does not make a successful breeding program, and that breeding is more exerting, laborious and time-consuming than anticipated. Patience, work and the ability to plan ahead seem to be unknown qualities in most.

 Only a handful have been able, after breeding many generations, to create solid breeding stock with its own recognizable “look”. Especially Somali breeders, albeit in small numbers only, have been able to develop a view all their own regarding their breeding goal. Those few are prepared to take detours into the bargain (e.g. by crossing to high quality Abys) to help the breed go another step forward. The goal of most breeders, however, is to appear on stage with their own cats, and they cannot be bothered with a generation of “non-winners”. Not enough distinction is made between valuable breeding cats and show stoppers ready for the big time. Unfortunately, experience shows that the former is needed to produce thee latter. And, also unfortunately, the combination of various show stoppers seldom produces offspring that are equally successful, just as it is almost impossible to clone a superb cat.

 Contrary to the opinion of most Somali breeders, I feel that a successful Somali breeding program is only possible by crossing to good quality Abys, which broadens the gene pool as well. I can disprove the argument that this will harm the length of the Somali coat. Who wants to see Somalis with a lavish coat such as that of a Maine Coon or a Norwegian Forest cat anyway? Health problems attributed to the Aby are carried by Somalis in the same fashion, and could, due to a limited gene pool, develop regardless.

 In the past Abys and Somalis were bred and judged rather superficially. In contrast with most breeds, type (head as well as body type) were the least important. It seems that nowadays, at least as far as the Aby is concerned, type is becoming more important. For example, when Mr Rettenmund held his judge s seminar in 1987 in Zurich, that was the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that the Aby’s type was discussed in depth.

 Unfortunately, this change of attitude has not affected the Somali yet, and one can only advise breeders to keep the subject of type in mind when the next step in the breeding program is taken.

 I would like to discuss body and head type next, and only then to discuss colour and coat, and I wish to stress again that I am discussing these breeds together, since I do not, as already mentioned, accept a different standard for each of these breeds. I urge the judges’ committee to change and unite the two standards.

 Body Type

The current Somali standard demands a medium to large sized cat, where the Aby standard speaks of a medium size. I would prefer the term “medium size”. Large, to me, is a Maine Coon, a British Shorthair or a Norwegian Forest Cat, but riot an Aby or Somali. The body should be firmly muscular and hard. The total picture should be graceful and sleek, perfectly elegant and winsome. How the body should be proportioned has not been described anywhere. I visualise the ideal Aby to resemble roughly an imaginary square, when drawing an imaginary parallel line from the shoulder to the hips, and an equally long line from the shoulder down to the paw pads. The back should be straight, although a slight rise towards the back quarters is quite acceptable. Because of this imaginary square, a cat with a long body and comparatively short legs (rectangular) does not fit this norm.

 Nowadays we see, of course mostly cats with a slight tendency towards the rectangular shape, and that is acceptable, as long as the legs are sufficiently long and elegance is not lost or suffering because of it. The breed can be subdivided into three main body types:

 1.       The quite massive, stocky type, with firms legs and large, often round, feet, broad chested and often too long in the body.

2.       The medium, and actually the most harmonious, type, that combines the required attributes, elegant and sleek.

3.       The extreme, super elegant type on very slim, long legs, and a slim body that tends towards the rectangular shape

 These types are all used for breeding, whereas preference should be given to types 1 and 2. Type 1 is not a show cat but could be selectively used for breeding.

 The tail should be long (too long being impossible), broad at the base and tapering towards the tip.

 Regarding body type, there is, of course, a difference between male, female and kitten. Males are generally more heavily built, with a broader chest and stronger neck, musculature. This lessens the impression of elegance, but its look is imposing. Experience shows that a female has to possess clearly better qualities than a male in order to win at shows. I believe this is due to the above. Females – when they have produced a litter or more – often have problems keeping their slim figures. Such a cat tends to develop a more solid look, the belly is not so teenage-slim any more, not to mention the belly that tends sag somewhat, and other such problems that are not so easy to avoid. The observer, will obviously have to keep all this in mind.

 To judge a kitten for type can be quite difficult. Often, however, the most extreme, elegant kitten with a “too slim” took, often develop the best body type. Kittens that display the cute, chubby look often lack the necessary type later on.

 Faults regarding type include: Coarse, massive type that lacks elegance; legs that are too short; a tail that is too short (the tail, when measured alongside the back, in a totally relaxed pose, should at least reach the shoulder blades); a rectangular shape; a very prominent or hollow chest.

 89a&s1.gif (73709 bytes)

In the sketches showing body type, Illustration (Bild) 1 shows a body that is too long — the legs should be longer. Illustrations 2 and 5 show correct body proportions, elegant with a slight tendency toward the rectangular. Illustration 3 shows the most harmonious type, and illustration 4 a body that, although too long, is still elegant. 

 Head Type

 Different body types, all correct, are possible, and the same goes for head types. Including the ears, it should show a double (equilateral) triangle viewed from the top as well as, from the front. Contours are gently rounded; angular or flat contours are not correct.

 The head sits on a slim, elegant neck; males, however, owing to their heavier neck musculature, may not show this as clearly. Eyes are large, expressive, placed well apart and almond in shape. Eye colour varies from a bright hazel through green-gold to green. Deeper shades are preferred.

 Ears are comparatively large, placed well apart, moderately painted, cupped, broad at the base and slightly pricked forward. Illustration 6 shows the front view of an adult entire male with correct contours, super ear sent and size; the clearly visible stud jowls, however, have to be smoothed down to determine the actual head type.

 Illustration (Bild) 8 shows an approximately 2-year old female with correct contours as well, although the ears could be set a little wider. Illustration 7 shows the front view of a cat with the wrong triangle shape; her contours resemble a isosceles triangle standing on its tip. The ears are narrow at the base, and, owing to the incorrect width of tie head, give the impression of being placed too close together.

 Illustration 9 shows the correct shape of a male's head without stud jowls, and the same goes for Illustration 12. Illustration 10 shows the head a kitten that promises correct contouring and beautiful ear size and set to come. Illustration 11 shows a somewhat oriental head type, lacking in width of head, but with good size ear and set.

 The moderately long profile line of the Aby avid Somali, with a slight break at the point where nose and forehead meet, should be one-third for the length of the nose and two-thirds for length of forehead, from at the eyebrows up to the base of the inside of the ear. The forehead itself is slightly arched and the perfect profile includes a strong chin.

 Faults most often seen regarding profile include a weak chin, flat forehead, a nose that is too long, too much break or no break at all between nose and forehead.

 Illustrations 14, 15, 18 and 20 show varying but correct profiles, and in Illustration 13 the forehead is too flat and the total length of the head is too long.

 Illustration 16 shows a nose that is too long and without sufficient break, a flat forehead and chin. Illustration 17 gives the impression of a correct profile, but on closer examination one is able to determine that the nose is too long and the chin should be stronger. Illustration 19 shows an exceptionally weak chin, and there is not enough break between nose and forehead.

 Illustration 21 shows a wedge that is too long and a flat profile, and the same goes for Illustration 22 with its oriental profile and flattish chin.

 Illustration 23, in closing, shows too strong a break (stop) between nose and forehead; the nose itself is too long and the chin too weak. Experience has shown that the greatest problem in breeding for type is to balance the desired, harmonious head type with the desired, elegant, long-legged and long-tailed body type. Often long legs and tails go hand in hand with a body and head that are too long. Where the cat has a well-proportioned head, short legs and tails are not uncommon.

 To balance the two is not an easy task. Generally, cats that are too oriental with a head that is too long, also have an inclination toward a pinch.

89a&s2.gif (78627 bytes)    89a&s3.gif (56680 bytes)    89a&s4.gif (66365 bytes)    89a&s5.gif (72625 bytes)

In closing, I would like to point out the required facial markings; they should be strong and intense in combination with the correct colour. It seems that strong facial markings and excellent ticking, and the desirable black hocks, go hand in hand. Unfortunately these qualities are also often seen in combination with the undesirable markings on legs and throat.

 Coat — Quality

 The Abyssinian coat consists of the usual undercoat, topcoat and guard hairs. It is very dense with lots of substance and resilience, while soft and silky to the touch.

 The coat is short, but riot super-short like for instance the Siamese coat, and is not as long, dense and woolly as that of the British Shorthair. It would be well, however, to guard against a tendency that is becoming quite common: To prefer a super-short coat that is very close lying and has virtually no undercoat. At first sight such a cat will have a well-groomed look, and as a rule it does not need much grooming. Unfortunately, this type of coat often lacks excellent ticking as well as deep vibrant undercoat colour.

 Our American breeder colleagues are having problems with thin coats nowadays. It used to be that Europeans were of the opinion that US imports usually had too much coat. There, too, breeders were selecting for close lying coats with less undercoat, with the result that in some bloodlines coat is rapidly decreasing in quality. Now the tendency is again to select for thicker coats to improve coat quality, but that requires time. It is much better not to let matters go that far to begin with.

 The Somali is a semi-longhaired cat. Its coat consists of the three basic types as well: Undercoat, topcoat and guard hairs. The coat should not be as woolly as a Persian’s; it also has to be silky, glossy, hanging down rather than standing off. From shoulders to elbow, the coat is shortest, while it is longest on underbelly, pants and tail. The overall elegant impression should be neither emphasized nor hidden by the coat. Judges should not put undue emphasis on overall coat length. Of course there will always be judges and breeders who, in the case of the Somali, will first look at the length of the coat, even though this should be done after type, colour, ticking and coat quality have been judged. The quality of the coat is the deciding factor; it should be soft and silky — the well-groomed Somali is neither stringy nor greasy, and the coat on the back exhibits a certain gloss that decreases towards the underbelly where the coat becomes even softer and a little woollier. Alters show a full coat all year long; males, depending the season, have sometimes more, sometimes less coat, and the female coat depends on heat cycles and raising litters.

 The preferred ruff is not too often apparent, and when it is, it is usually on alters and males that happen to be in full coat.

 In conclusion, it should be added that a cat which is better in the area of type, ticking and colour, should not be placed second to one who, at that time, has more coat.

 Coat —Ticking

 Ticking is the Aby and Somali’s most outstanding feature, and thus is one of the most important. A single hair starts at the base with a coloured zone, which should be as even as possible. Then a darker band of ticking follows; either black, brown, blue or dark cream, followed by another coloured zone, and ending with another band of ticking at the tip. A clear contrast is most desirable. There are more – although not correct – possibilities. Firstly there is reverse ticking, where the hair ends in a lighter band of colour and the last band of ticking is missing. Another possibility is where the hair at the skin starts with the lightest colour, followed by a slightly darker pigmentation which, at the tip, ends with the darkest pigmentation.

 It is generally assumed that the Somali with its longer coat should consequently show more bands of ticking. In my many years of experience not only as a breeder but also as an observer of this breed, I have never found this to be the case. Rather, I have found that in the case of the Somali, each zone only becomes wider, and not an increase in the number of bands of colour [see Illustration (Bild) 24]. It has been noticed, however, that the Somali needs more time to develop full ticking. In comparison with the ruddy and blue, the sorrel and fawn are even slower regarding ticking development. The ticking in the last two colours does not show as much contrast as ruddy and blue. The reason is possibly because two warm colours are side by side (dark brown next to apricot, dark cream next to soft apricot), where on the ruddy and the blue, the contrast is sharper, and the required bands of ticking are of a colder colour (black and blue next to dark apricot and apricot).  

89a&s6.gif (8266 bytes)

 In any case, the slower development of the ticking, regarding these colours and their possible (or impossible) contrasts should be kept in mind while judging. The same goes for the late-blossoming Somali, where even the ruddy and the blue require more time.

 Coat —Colour

The Aby and Somali require – except for those colours with silver – first of all a deep base colour, and ruddies and sorrels must have a glowing shimmer. In the quest to obtain ever richer colour, the ruddy’s black or bluish black ticking changed more and more into a dark brown, which logically gives a warmer impression since black is actually a cold colour. Genuinely black-ticked cats are few and far between nowadays, and as a consequence, black on the back legs and hocks has all but disappeared as well.

 In the past, grey roots were a major problem in the ruddy, and ashy orange on the sorrels. With selective breeding, it has been possible to limit this on certain parts of the body, but are almost always still apparent on the elbows, and can be found more frequently on the Somali, on the hips, neck and tail.

 More often than not, these unpleasant marks suddenly and surprisingly appear around the age of six months, but disappear again as colour and ticking fully develop, up to the age of twenty months. First a coloured area is noticeable under the grey, and then the grey disappears slowly. It should be noticed, however, that after treatment with medication, e.g., antibiotics, reappearance of grey rooting is not uncommon – all over the body – which later will slowly disappear again as described above.

 Nowadays, grey roots, through selective breeding, are hardly a problem any longer. Roots are generally just as colourful as the rest of the coat.

 White spotting is hardly ever a problem, nowadays, and the white on the upper lip, chin and throat have generally been bred into a clear cream. The judge should pay particular attention to the upper lip area. If it is snowy white, then usually this extends to the chin area as well. There are cats, however, (especially females with their heat cycles and pregnancies) that temporarily have more white than usual. But generally, the upper lip will not turn white.

 There are two lines of thought regarding the white around the muzzle. One is that it gives the face a certain pizzazz and that it makes the cat look “wild”. When one sees a cat without any white at all, one will be able to understand this. The second opinion is that the lighter areas should be bred entirely out, to be replaced by the body colour. My own opinion is that these areas should be neither fully coloured in nor totally white. These areas should be distinctly lighter than the overall colour, preferably a cream tone.

 Equally unpleasant are markings on the body, especially on the legs and chest. Some success in eliminating these can be noticed on cats that are lighter in colour. As soon as the emphasis is back on obtaining good colour, however, markings will reappear.

 When two cats equal in type, ticking and colour are compared, then the one with the least markings should be chosen. However, a cat witty superb colour, type and ticking, but same markings, should not lose to one that has no type nor colour, but is without markings. I would allocate points for this breed as follows:

 50    points for type (including head, body, eyes, ears, tail)

45    points for coat, colour and ticking (equal parts)

  5      points for condition and show temperament

 The newer colours like blue and fawn have even more problems with undercoat colour. Most are very light, almost white, at the roots. The standard demands clear beige for a blue and clear cream for a fawn, but this, I feel, is not correct. It should state that the undercoat of a blue should be apricot, and soft apricot for a fawn. This is genetically possible, and there are cats with this colour that could be introduced. To reach this goal, it is imperative that we use the most colourful ruddies and sorrels in a blue/fawn breeding program, and this would give the added bonus of type improvement since blue and fawn cats hardly ever display good type. Breeders and judges are uncertain regarding undercoats, especially of the blue and the fawn.

 If breeders try to convince us that the almost white undercoat is all right on cats of these colours because it is the easiest to get, then in that case judges should react accordingly and be consistent. Let’s face it: Do we see a ruddy or sorrel with grey all over the body or one that is too light in colour receive a nomination, let alone become Best in Show?

 However, that is happening with blues and fawns despite these faults, and I know that breeders feel this is perfectly OK. Now that these colours are bred more than ever, compared with 3-4 years ago, I cannot accept that these cats have not shown an improvement in this respect. If the breeders are not working on this, the judges will be forced clarify matters in their show results.

 I remember well the time when the first blues were shown in Germany. First the judges had a wait-and-see attitude, which was understandable. Then followed the “new colour bonus” phase, with its nominations and Best in Show wins. Now is the time to ends this phase as well, and now results should come from these “advancement wins”. This is, by the way, a natural attitude of judges, to be cautious first, then to praise a colour or breed highly so as to motivate breeders, and finally come to the “proof phase”, where breeders demonstrate an overall improvement in quality. If they have not succeeded, then show results will decline. The number of breeders, consequently, will also decline, instead of the same breeders working patiently, with time, thought and lots of work to reach their goal.

 Basically the same thing happened with silvers. Here, however, other factors played a part, and these have not made breeding easier. The ideal silver is a cat with a pure white undercoat, with corresponding ticking plus tip of tail and ears in black, blue, brown or cream.

 Because of the lacking undercoat colour on blues and fawn, and the often still-visible colour patches on silvers, it is easy to confuse these two colour groups. To avoid this, it is imperative to insist on a colourful undercoat on the blues and fawns.

 Ruddy and sorrel are easier to distinguish. Another problem is the distinction between sorrel-silver and fawn-silver. There is much variety in the colour of the sorrel, while on the silvers this is obviously the case as well. It we look at a sorrel-silver with light-coloured ticking and a fawn-silver with darkish ticking, differentiating becomes a hard task. The only solution (and this is a weak solution at best) would then be to note the colour on tips of tail, ears and paw pads, preferably in good daylight. If these areas have a blue-lilac hue, then we are likely looking at a fawn-silver. To be- absolutely certain, test breeding could be done.

 The undesirable colour patches on the silvers could, with selective breeding to pure silvers, be reduced and the next step would be to improve type with very typey ruddies, sorrels, blues and fawns; this would expand the gene pool as well.  

Because the undercoat on blues and fawns is still so faulty, it is not advisable to cross them with silvers. On the other hand, the blues and fawns with the worst colour undercoats could be helpful in combating patching on silvers. But non-silvers from these breedings should generally not be used, unless they had such superb qualities to offer that it would be justified.

 In conclusion, I would like to stress again that the Aby and Somali should be judged according to one standard for type, colour and ticking only; they differ only with regards to coat types. In this respect I find it extremely important that a judge is consistent in his judging, but he has to have ample opportunity and desire to create his views. I advise breeders to re-evaluate their breeding programs, to set a breeding goal for themselves, and to follow that route to its ultimate goal.

 Show results are not necessarily proof of a good breeding program.

 This page was last updated on 02-Feb-02

Home Page   History    Historical Information  Historical Photos  

George & Julie Kennedy     contact us by e-mail

>> phone +61 2 9498 5452    >> mobile +61 418 673 207