The Siberian is a large, strong, luxuriously furred cat that takes up to five years to attain its full size and splendor. At maturity, these cats are powerfully built, with an overall appearance of strength and size, along with excellent physical condition. However, the facial expression reveals the breed’s true nature: sweet, loving, and thoroughly domesticated.
The overall appearance is one of roundness and circles rather than rectangles and triangles. The body is medium in length and well-muscled, with the back arched slightly higher than the shoulders. A barrel-shaped, firm belly gives a sense of solid weight. The boning and musculature are substantial. On average, males weigh 12 to 16 pounds, and females weigh 8 to 12 pounds, although some breeders report larger sizes (nothing close to 45 pounds, though). Size as well as coat colors and patterns are secondary to body type. No outcrosses are allowed.
The legs are medium in length and have substantial boning. The hind legs are powerful and slightly longer than the front legs. Because of this, Siberians are extremely agile and are exceptional leapers. The feet are big and rounded with toe tufts desirable. The tail is medium in length, somewhat shorter than the length of the body. It’s wide at the base, tapers slightly to a blunt tip without thickening or kinks, and is evenly and thickly furnished.
The head is a medium to large modified wedge with rounded contours, in good proportion to the body, set on a rounded, sturdy, well-muscled neck. The head is broader at the top of the skull and narrows slightly to a full, rounded muzzle. The muzzle is moderately short, full, and rounded. It curves slightly, but the transition between the side of the head and the muzzle is gentle and inconspicuous.
The top of the head is almost flat, with a gentle slope from the forehead to the nose and a slight concave curvature before the tip of the nose when viewed in profile. The cheekbones are neither high-set nor prominent. There’s a slight dome between the ears and an almost flat area on the forehead. The chin is well-rounded but not protruding and is in line with the nose.
The ears are medium-large, rounded, wide at the base, and tilted slightly forward. They are set as much on the sides of the head as on the top. The hair over the backs of the ears is short and thin. From the middle of the ear, the furnishings become longer and cover the base of the ear. The eyes are medium to large and almost round. The outer corners are angled slightly toward the base of the ears. The eyes are set more than one eye width apart and should be open, alert, and expressive. There is no relationship between eye color and coat or color pattern, except for pointed pattern Siberians, which have blue eyes.
As befits a cat who has survived Siberia’s harsh winters, the Siberian has a moderately long to long triple-layered coat. The tight undercoat in mature cats is thicker in cold weather. The hair on the shoulder blades and lower part of the chest is thick and slightly shorter. An abundant, full collar ruff sets off the head in adults. The hair may thicken to curls on the belly and britches, but a wavy coat is not typical of the breed. The texture varies from coarse to soft, depending on the color and pattern.
As of 2011, CFA joined the other associations and accepted almost all colors, patterns, and combinations, including the pointed pattern. The only exceptions are the colors chocolate, lavender/lilac, or these combinations with white. Allowed colors are accepted with or without white. In the bicolor pattern, white is allowed in any amount and in all areas. Pointed pattern Siberians must have definite contrast between the body color and point color; the ears, legs, feet, tail, and mask are darker than the body and show the basic color of the cat. White or off-white is allowed on the chin, breast, and stomach of tabbies. Buttons, spots and lockets are also allowed. Strong colors and clear patterns are desirable. In CCA, pointed pattern Siberians are judged as a separate breed.
The Siberian may be new to North America, but it’s not a new breed. Russian longhairs have been around for hundreds of years in their native land. According to some Siberian fanciers, Russians immigrating (or being exiled) to Siberia brought their cats with them. Due to the merciless climate, these cats developed--or acquired through mating with the local cats--longer hair, weather-resistant coats, and larger, stockier bodies.
The longhaired Russian cats that basked in the limelight at the first modern-day cat show in 1871 at the Crystal Palace in London may or may not have been early examples of the Siberians we know today, because apparently no records of these cats were kept in Russia at that time. Harrison Weir, who organized the show and wrote the standards by which all the breeds were judged, referred to the cats as Russian Longhairs. He wrote in his 1889 book Our Cats and All About Them that the Russian Longhairs differed from Angoras and Persians in many ways; their bodies were larger and legs shorter, and they had long, wooly coats with very long, dense manes. Their tails were thickly covered with fur, and they had large, tufted ears. Their color, he noted, was brown tabby. He noted he was not able to discover from where in Russia such cats originated.
Until the 1980s, the government of the former Soviet Union discouraged its citizens from owning any kind of household pet, pedigreed or otherwise, because of housing and food shortages. However, those who could afford to keep and breed dogs and cats did so; owning handsome companion animals was a status symbol. No registering organizations existed and few records were kept. Other cats lived in Russia during that time as well, but they earned their own keep by working as mouse traps in barns, fields, and factories. It’s likely that Siberians developed in just that way, given their long, insulating fur, hardy constitutions, strong jaws, and large, agile bodies.
In 1987, the government lifted restrictions on house pets, and breeders and fanciers formed cat clubs and began keeping breeding records. In 1988, the first Russian cat show was held in Moscow, and the Siberian was there in fine form. Whether these cats actually originated in Siberia is anyone’s guess; it’s possible the breed was so named to give the breed an air of romance and mystery.
The end of the Cold War opened the doors for Siberians to be imported into the United States. The first Siberians arrived in America as the result of a trade in the early 1990s. Himalayan breeder Elizabeth Terrell, then of Louisiana, read an editorial in a publication of the Atlantic Himalayan Club that said no Himalayans existed in the former Soviet Union. Breeders were asked to donate or trade Himalayans to help establish the breed. Terrell contacted Nelli Sachuk, a member of the newly formed Kotofei Cat Club (pronounced COT-ah-fay) that was affiliated with the international division of ACFA. Kotofei was one of the two Russian cat clubs that provided official pedigrees (the Fauna Club was the other). Terrell arranged to send Sachuk two Himalayans, a male and a pregnant female, and receive several Siberians in return.
After many months of delays, headaches, and expense (communicating with the former Soviet Union wasn’t easy and for a time Sachuk’s letters had to be hand-carried out of Russia by visitors to the United States), in June of 1990 Terrell finally received her long-awaited cat comrades. She received three Siberian kittens: a brown tabby with white male named Kaliostro Vasenjkovich, a brown tabby with white female named Ofelia Romanova, and a brown tabby female named Naina Romanova. Soon after, she received the kittens’ metrukas (certificates of birth), which detailed their names, dates of birth, colors, and patterns.
Just a month after Terrell received her Siberians, fancier David Boehm imported Siberians of his own. Instead of waiting for the cats to be sent, he booked a flight to Russia and bought every Siberian he could find. On July 4, 1990, he returned with his collection of 15 cats. He didn’t find out until he got back that he wasn’t the first to import Siberians. However, his Siberians did produce the first litter in North America, and were invaluable in enlarging the gene pool.
Terrell received copies of the Siberian breed standards (in Russian) with her Siberians. She had them translated and, with the help of the Kotofei Cat Club, adapted them to the American associations’ formats. The Russian breeders also sent her a letter warning her that not every cat from Russia called a Siberian is actually a pedigreed Siberian, and that many people call all longhaired cats Siberians. This was particularly true when the Siberian became popular in America; some people were eager to sell any longhaired cat to Americans looking for Siberians.
Terrell contacted the cat associations to announce her and Boehm’s new arrivals, and to start the process toward acceptance for the Siberian. She kept careful records over the years, which provided documentation. She asked for the help of breeders, judges, and fanciers, and many mobilized to support, promote, and propagate the new breed. Because the ACFA was affiliated with the Kotofei Cat Club, this association was the first to accept the breed for registration. Over the next few years, many other associations followed suit.
In 1992, Siberian breeders started an American breed club called Taiga (pronounced Tie-GAH, a Russian word for forest) and provided award rosettes to any show in which a Siberian was entered. The best Siberian in each ring was presented with a special Taiga rosette. Any Siberian that didn’t take an award at a show was given a Certificate of Appreciation and an Honorable Mention ribbon. The club wanted to encourage Siberian fanciers to get these cats into the show ring, because show numbers were important in advancing the breed. In 1997, breeder Dana Osborn imported the first Siberian colorpoints to North America, a seal lynx point male named Ustin El Magrib, and a seal tortie point female named Roksana Babyan. In 1998 the first colorpoint litter was born.
In 2006, CFA granted championship status, one of the last associations to do so. All North American cat associations accept the breed for championship, and many associations in other countries have accepted the breed as well. The Siberian, known as the Siberian Cat in a number of associations, has purred its way into the hearts of American cat fanciers in record time. While still relatively rare, the breed has a solid fan base. In 2014, the Siberian ranked 17th most popular breed, according to CFA’s registration totals. Breeders usually maintain waiting lists since demand often exceeds supply.