Guide to Cat Breeds (See Full List)

Norwegian Forest Cat

Norwegian Forest Cat

Ancestry: Longhaired cats of Norway, Sweden and likely Finland
Place of Origin: Norway
Date of Origin: Unknown
Accepted by: All North American cat associations (championship)

 
Description

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 five 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. Gaurd 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 gentle 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, 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. In 2013, the CFA breed standard included a newly added AOV color—non-agouti amber, a recessive yellow color that presents as dark honey-chestnut. This color is accepted in solid, dilute, smoke, tabby, tortie, and various other amber-related colors and patterns, with or without white. No outcrosses are allowed.

History

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 who 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 who 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. Since 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, since 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 2013, the Norwegian Forest Cat had risen to the fourth most popular longhair, and 11th most popular breed overall, according to CFA’s 2013 registration totals. The Wegie has gained global acceptance and acclaim for its large size, luxurious coat, and pleasing temperament.

Notes

Some people claim Wegies can grow to the size of lynxes, but it's simply not true. Male Wegies usually won’t exceed 17 pounds unless they are overweight, although there are exceptions. Please don’t choose this breed just because you want to have the largest cat on the block, or your cat may not meet your expectations—and the same goes for other large breeds such as the Maine Coon, Ragdoll, Siberian, and Pixiebob.

The Wegie has a magnificent double coat that usually requires only a thorough grooming once a week to keep the downy undercoat from matting. However, the breed does go through two distinct molts during the year—once in the fall when shedding the summer coat, and once in the spring when shedding the winter coat. At these times, daily grooming will keep seasonal layers of cat hair off everything you own, and keep your Wegie from becoming painfully matted.

The Wegie is a hardy, healthy cat with few inherited diseases. However, the disease glycogen storage disease type IV (GSD IV), an inherited abnormality of glucose metabolism governed by a recessive gene, is found in some Wegie lines. Kittens who inherit a copy of the gene from each parent are stillborn or die soon after birth. Less commonly, a kitten may survive and appear normal until five months of age, and then deteriorate over the next few months and die. The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California Davis offer genetic testing for GSD IV, which helps breeders cull carriers from their breeding programs. For more information visit www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/cat/GSDIV.php.

In addition, the mutation responsible for Erythrocyte Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK deficiency), an inherited condition that causes an instability of red blood cells leading to anemia, has been found in some Wegie lines. Screening for PK deficiency is recommended for breeders; the genetic test is available at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at UC Davis. It’s wise to get a written health guarantee from your cat’s breeder and, if you plan to breed, ask for documentation proving that the parent cats have been screened for these diseases.

Did you know?

Norse myth recounts a contest between Thor, the god of thunder, and Utgardsloki, the strongest frost giant. Utgardsloki challenged Thor to lift his Norwegian house cat. Laughing at the seemingly easy task, Thor accepted the challenge. But when Thor tried, the cat arched his back higher and higher until finally Thor had to admit defeat.

Personality

With its powerful physique and large size, the Wegie could be a formidable foe. It’s a good thing this is a mild, well-mannered breed, hard to provoke into unruly behavior. In fact, Wegies are known as jumbo packages of love and are usually tolerant of even the most rambunctious children and dogs. Wegies are gentle, friendly, family-oriented cats with a large supply of affection for their human companions. Don’t let those huge feet and gleaming fangs fool you: Wegies want nothing more than to sit by your side, casting you loving looks with those large, liquid eyes and rumbling their motorboat purr. After all those years prowling the cold forests of Norway, where only the strong and resilient survive, the Wegie seems happy to lounge by a warm fire and accept treats and caresses from loving hands.

That’s not to say Wegies aren’t above a mischievous prank or two. Highly intelligent, courageous and playful particularly when young, Wegies will find ways to amuse themselves if you are momentarily distracted from your primary job as cat entertainer. Wegies retain their fun-loving spirit throughout adulthood. Because of their well-honed hunting instincts, they are eager and relentless hunters. If you wisely keep your Wegie indoors (most breeders demand it), be sure to cater to this breed's desire to hunt and need for play by providing a steady supply of catnip mice, soft balls for fetching and interactive toys. Whirling feather toys are always popular.

Because of their muscular physique, Wegies are natural athletes who love to investigate the highest places in the house. A tall, well-built cat tree for climbing and scratching is a must if you don’t want your Wegie wedged on top of your tallest bookcase or highest window treatment.

Wegies can be reserved around strangers, no doubt due to their strong survival instincts, but with family they are friendly and affectionate. Once they’ve learned you can be trusted, Wegies are loyal and loving, and tend to enjoy the whole family rather than bond with only one person. They are not lap cats, however, and would rather sit or curl up beside you. They make it quite clear they don’t like to be held, cuddled, restrained or participate in any form of affection that involves human lips. Petting, forehead presses, and chin scratches are warmly welcomed, however, and most enjoy being groomed.

Wegies haven’t lost the versatility and skill that enabled them to survive their unforgiving mother country. The ability to adapt to virtually any situation is one of the traits that makes the Wegie such a delightful companion.

Breed Characteristics

Size: Large.
Coat Length(s): Long hair.
Body Type: Moderate.
Grooming Requirement: Once a week.
Talkativeness: Quiet.
Activity Level: Average.
Affection: Very affectionate.
Usually Good With: Everyone.
Time Alone: 4 to 8 hours per day.
Attention: Needs average attention.
Handling: Easy to handle.