Look at these magnificent cats, with their strong bodies, large eyes, luxurious manes, and beautiful bottle brush tails, and you can easily imagine them pulling the golden chariot of Freya, their gleaming coats streaming in the wind.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is a sturdy cat with a distinguishing double coat and easily recognizable body shape. The body is solidly muscled and well-balanced, showing considerable girth without being chubby. It’s moderate in length with a substantial bone structure, a broad chest, and a powerful appearance. The flanks have great depth.
Males are large and imposing; females may be more refined. Males weigh 10 to 16 pounds and sometimes more; females usually weigh 8 to 12 pounds. Slow to mature, this breed attains its full size at approximately 5 years of age. The legs are medium length with the hind legs longer than the front, making the rump higher than the shoulders. The thighs are heavily muscled, and the lower legs are substantial. When viewed from the rear, the back legs are straight. The paws are large, round, and firm with heavy toe tufting. When viewed from the front, the paws appear to toe out. The tail is long and bushy and broader at the base; the desirable tail length is equal to the body from the base of the tail to the base of the neck. Guard hairs are desirable.
The head is an equilateral triangle, where all sides are of equal length as measured from the outside of the base of the ear to the point of the chin. The neck is short and heavily muscled. In profile, the nose is straight from the brow ridge to the tip of the nose without a break in the line. The flat forehead continues into a gently curved skull and neck. The chin is firm, gently rounded in profile, and in line with the front of the nose. The muzzle is part of the straight line extending toward the base of the ears, without pronounced whisker pads and without any whisker pinch.
The ears are medium to large, rounded at the tip, broad at the base, and set as much on the side of the head as on the top. They are alert, with the cup of the ear pointing slightly sideways. The outsides of the ears follow the lines from the side of the head down to the chin. The ears are heavily furnished, with lynx tips desirable but not required. The eyes are large, almond- shaped, well-opened, and expressive, and set at a slight angle with the outer corner higher than the inner corner. Eye colors are shades of green, gold, green-gold, or copper; white cats and cats with white may have blue or odd eyes.
One of the distinguishing features of this breed is the thick double coat, consisting of a dense undercoat covered by long, glossy, and smooth water-resistant guard hairs hanging down the sides. The bib consists of three separate sections: a short collar at the neck, side mutton chops, and a frontal ruff. The hind legs have full britches. The coat is fuller in the winter. A softer coat texture is permitted in shaded, solid, and bicolor cats. The type and quality of the coat is of primary importance; color and pattern are secondary. All colors and patterns are accepted except those showing hybridization resulting in the colors chocolate, sable, lavender, lilac, cinnamon, fawn, the pointed pattern, or these colors with white. No outcrosses are allowed.
The Norwegian Forest Cat, affectionately called the Wegie (pronounced Wee-jee) or, if you’re in Norway, the Norsk Skogkatt, is a beloved breed that is growing in popularity and is recognized in most parts of the world. Developed by Mother Nature rather than selective breeding, the Wegie is a domestic breed—no wild blood flows through this cat’s veins, despite its feral facade and jumbo size.
Wegies—or cats that look a lot like them—can be found in Norse mythology. Created long before written history and passed down in stories and songs, these legends are filled with tales of night gods, frost giants, and thunder gods (not surprising for a region that lies partly north of the Arctic Circle, with long, dark, frigid winters and short, cool summers), trolls, dwarfs, serpents, and cats. Not fierce snow leopards, as one might expect, but longhaired domestic cats that were faithful companions to the gods. Freyja, the Norse goddess of beauty, love, and fertility, was well known for her golden chariot, pulled by two large, white, longhaired Norwegian cats.
Passed down by oral tradition, these myths cannot be accurately dated. Sometime between 800 and 1100 C.E., these narratives were put in writing in the Edda, collections of Norse mythology set down in poetry and prose. Because house cats figured prominently in some of these tales, it’s clear that domestic cats have shared the harsh environment of Norway with humans for hundreds or even thousands of years. Likely the cats were the descendants of shorthaired domestic cats introduced to Northern Europe by the Romans, and subsequently transported to Scandinavia and surrounding regions by settlers and traders. When they weren’t pulling golden chariots, they were developing vigorous constitutions, robust bodies, and long, dense, water-resistant coats. They also acquired quick wits and even quicker reflexes, because well-honed survival instincts were essential in Norway’s frigid forests.
In the 1930s, the first efforts were made to bring the Norwegian Forest Cat into the cat fancy. In 1934, the first Norwegian cat club was formed, and in 1938 the first Norwegian Forest Cat was exhibited at a show in Oslo, Norway. However, World War II interrupted cat breeding and showing, and after the war the breed came close to disappearing—as did many breeds during that time. The Norwegian Forest Cats bred with the shorthaired domestic cats in the area, and the Wegie came very close to extinction as a pure breed. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Norwegian fanciers started a serious breeding program to save the original characteristics and beauty of the Norsk Skogkatt. In 1975, the Norsk Skogkattring (the Norwegian Forest Cat Club), was formed to increase, promote, and protect the purity of the breed. Only cats examined and approved by the breed committee could be registered as Forest Cats and used in the breeding program. In 1977, FIFe accepted the Wegie for championship. The breed’s popularity slowly spread throughout Europe, although it took until 1997 for Great Britain's GCCF to accept the breed for championship. Today, the Norsk Skogkatt is recognized in many countries around the world.
In November 1979, the first breeding pair of Wegies arrived in the United States. In 1980, a small, but devoted group of American fanciers formed the Norwegian Forest Cat Fanciers Association, and the members worked together to increase numbers and bring the Wegie into the North American spotlight. The first Wegie litter was born in March 1981. In 1984, TICA was the first to recognize the breed for championship. In 1993, CFA granted the Wegie championship status. Today, the Wegie is recognized by all North American associations and has steadily gained admirers for its majestic appearance and loving temperament. In 1991, the Wegie was 25th out of the 35 breeds then recognized, according to CFA’s registration totals. In 2012, the Norwegian Forest Cat had risen to the fourth most popular longhair, and 13th most popular breed overall, according to CFA’s 2012 registration totals. The Wegie has gained global acceptance and acclaim for its large size, luxurious coat, and pleasing temperament.