Poised, regal, and refined, the Turkish Angora is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful breeds, with its fine, silky plumage, long, elegant body, pert, pointed ears, and large, lovely eyes. The Angora has a long and slender medium-size body with fine boning and firm musculature. Overall balance, grace, and fineness of bone are more important than actual size. Though muscular and strong, this breed is elegant, refined, and graceful. The shoulders are the same width as the hips, and the rump is slightly higher than the shoulders. The legs are long, with the hind legs longer than the front, ending in small, round, dainty paws. Tufts between the toes are preferred. The tail is long and tapers from a wide base to a narrow end, and possesses a full brush. Adult males weigh 7 to 10 pounds; adult females weigh 5 to 8 pounds. No outcrosses are allowed.
The head is a medium-long smooth wedge shape, small to medium in size and in balance with the length of the body and the extremities. The nose has no break. The muzzle is a continuation of the smooth lines of the wedge with neither pronounced whisker pads nor a pinch.
The ears are large, vertical, wide at the base, erect, pointed and tufted. They are set close together and high on the head. The eyes are large and almond-shaped, slanting slightly upward with an open expression. Eye color has no relationship to coat color, and the color of the eyes can change, especially as the cats mature. Acceptable colors include blue (sky blue to sapphire), green (gooseberry to emerald), green-gold (any gold or amber eye with a greenish cast or ring), amber (gold to rich copper without green cast or ring), and odd-eyed (one blue eye and one green, green-gold, or amber eye). Odd-eyed cats should have similar depth of color in each eye. While no points are specifically allocated to eye color in most associations, deeper, richer tones are preferred.
The fine, silky coat shimmers with every movement. The length of the single-coated fur varies, but the hair on the tail and the ruff is long, full, finely textured, and has a silk-like sheen. The hind legs have full britches. Although solid white is the best known and most popular color, all colors and patterns are accepted with the exception of those showing hybridization, resulting in the colors lavender (lilac), chocolate, the pointed pattern, or these combinations with white.
The Turkish Angora, named for the former Turkish capital of Angora (now Ankara), has been around for thousands of years, although no one is sure when the breed originated or how it got its long, lovely locks. Most cat experts agree that it's likely the recessive gene for long hair came about through spontaneous mutation, rather than hybridization with longhaired wildcats. Some researchers speculate that the gene for long hair arose in three separate areas: Russia, Persia (now Iran), and Turkey. Other researchers believe the mutation developed in Russia and then spread to Turkey, Persia, and surrounding countries. Still others think the trait developed in Turkey and was later transported to other areas. Because Turkey forms a land bridge between Europe and Asia, with the Black Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south, it was always an important trade route for Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East.
When a mutation occurs (or arrives) in an isolated area, the trait is more likely to be passed around the local cat population through inbreeding. Because of the high elevations and cold winter temperatures in some areas of Turkey, cats with long fur had a better chance of survival, and natural selection therefore favored those cats. The long hair was perpetuated and developed in confined, mountainous areas that limited outcrossing. These hardy survivors with flowing, non-matting fur, lithe bodies, and the intelligence to survive in an unforgiving environment passed on these traits to their offspring.
Either they already had the dominant white gene that is one of the distinctive characteristics of the breed, or at some point they evolved or inherited it. By the time the breed was transported to Europe, the Turkish Angora looked much like it does today. White was not the only color, however. Early writings say that Angoras came in slate blue and red, and in tabby, spotted, and bicolor patterns.
In the 1600s, Turkish, Persian, and Russian longhaired cats were imported to Europe and quickly became popular; they were prized because their beautiful coats were so different from the plush, short coats of European cats.
The distinctly different body and coat types of the three longhairs were established by that time. The longhairs of Persia were stocky, short-eared cats with long, double-layered coats. The Russian longhairs were large, powerful cats with thick, woolly, all-weather coats. The Turkish Angora was a lithe, long-bodied cat with a long, single-layered coat, beneficial for the temperature extremes in winter and summer in the areas in which it developed. The 36-volume Histoire Naturelle (Natural History, begun in 1749) by French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, includes an illustration that shows the long body, silky coat, and tail plume of the Angora, which he noted came from the part of Turkey located in Asia. In Harrison Weir's 1889 book Our Cats and All About Them, he writes, "The Angora cat, as its name indicates, comes from Angora, in Western Asia, a province that is also celebrated for its goats with long hair." He notes Angoras have long, silky fur, and come in a variety of colors, but pure white, blue-eyed Angoras are highly prized, and great favorites with the Turks and Armenians.
In the 1800s, Angoras were also imported to North America, where they quickly became popular, along with Persians and other "exotic" cat breeds. Unfortunately for the Angora, in 1887 the British cat fancy decided that all longhaired cats would be grouped into the category "longhairs." Persians, Turkish Angoras, and Russian Longhairs were interbred, and the Angora was extensively used in Persian breeding programs to add length and silkiness to the Persian’s coat. For many years, people used the words "Angora" and "Persian" to describe any longhaired cat, creating confusion.
Gradually, the Persian became the preferred type and Angoras stopped appearing in cat show halls. They virtually ceased to exist except in their native land. In 1917, the Turkish government, seeing that their national treasure was in danger of extinction, began a breeding program at the Ankara zoo. At that time, it was decided that only white blue-eyed or odd-eyed Angoras would be included in the breeding program, as they were considered the only pure examples of the breed—even though other colors and patterns had existed since the breed's earliest days.
After World War II, interest in this statuesque breed was rekindled in North America, and Angoras were imported from Turkey to re-establish the blood line. Because the Turkish people valued these cats so highly, obtaining Angoras from the Ankara zoo was very difficult. Liesa Grant, wife of Army Colonel Walter Grant, who was stationed in Turkey at the time, is credited with importing the first two Angoras into the United States in 1962: Yildizcek, a white amber-eyed female, and Yildiz, a white odd-eyed male. In 1966, the Grants returned to Turkey and were able to bring home another pair to add to their breeding program. After the Grants opened the door, other breeders managed to import Angoras as well, some from Turkey and some from breeders in Europe who had managed to get cats from the Ankara zoo or from the Turkish people. A careful and cooperative breeding program established the Turkish Angora in North America. In 1970, CFA became the first North American registry to accept the Turkish Angora for registration. In 1973, CFA accepted the breed for championship. Other associations soon followed, and today all North American cat associations accept the breed.
At first, the North American cat associations accepted only white Angoras. It took breeders years to convince them that the Angora traditionally came in many additional colors and patterns. The dominant white gene masks other colors and patterns, so it’s impossible to tell what colors and patterns a cat may carry under that pure white fur. White-to-white matings can and do produce colorful kittens. Finally, in 1978 CFA accepted other colors and patterns for championship status. Today, all cat associations recognize the breed in other patterns and colors, and colorful Turkish Angoras are becoming increasingly well-known and popular. The CFA breed standard now says that all colors should be considered of equal value—a very different position than the breed originally enjoyed.
In an effort to preserve the small gene pool, in 1996 the Turkish government banned the export of white Turkish Angoras. However, Angoras of other colors are still being born in Turkey, so the North American Angora gene pool is still being supplemented by Turkish stock of other colors and patterns.