Guide to Cat Breeds (See Full List)

Siberian

Siberian

Ancestry: Random-bred domestic cats
Place of Origin: Russia
Date of Origin: Unknown
Accepted by: All North American cat associations (championship)

 
Description

The Siberian is a large, strong, luxuriously furred cat who 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, who 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, according to the color and pattern.

As of 2011, CFA joined the other associations and accepted all colors, patterns, and combinations, including the pointed pattern. Colors are accepted with or without white; white is allowed in any amount and in all areas. 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.

History

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 who 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, since 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. Since 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 who 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, since 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 has purred its way into the hearts of American cat fanciers in record time. The Siberian, known as the Siberian Cat in a number of associations, is accepted for championship by all North American associations. While still relatively rare, the breed has a solid fan base. Breeders usually maintain waiting lists since demand often exceeds supply.

Notes

This breed is relatively new to North America, but so far the Siberian seems to be a healthy, hardy cat with few known breed-related health problems. The most serious health concern is one that affects many breeds and many random-bred cats as well—the inherited heart disease feline hypertonic cardiomyopathy (HMC), a progressive heart condition that is often fatal. The symptoms of HCM can be so subtle that the first visible symptom is sometimes sudden death. However, since HCM is the most common heart disease in domestic cats, a number of veterinary schools such as UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, California are working to find ways to test, treat, and cure the disease. A test for the mutation has been developed for the Ragdoll and Maine Coon, and researchers are working on tests for other breeds as well. No cure is currently available for the deadly disease, but medication can slow its progression if it is caught early. HCM can be diagnosed by cardiac ultrasound and ECG testing. In 2008 the Winn Foundation funded a study to research familial HCM in the Siberian. Siberian breeder groups are raising funds and collecting samples to help with the research.

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 Siberian lines, based on a survey by the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, California. Screening for PK deficiency is recommended for breeders; the genetic test is available at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

Some breeders claim that Siberians are hypoallergenic, or at least better tolerated than other breeds by people who are allergic to cats. While Siberian breeders have had a number of tests done through INDOOR Biotechnologies Inc., the evidence still seems to be largely anecdotal. Many breeders contend they’ve placed Siberians with people allergic to cats. Since allergies vary in severity from person to person, it is impossible to say with certainty how a person will react to any particular cat or breed.

Cat hair itself does not cause allergic symptoms. The culprit is usually a protein called Fel d1, which is secreted in the cat’s saliva and sebaceous glands. When cats groom, they spread this protein onto their fur. Even if you are only mildly allergic to cats, spend a good amount of time at a Siberian cattery before you agree to buy, if possible, and be sure to spend quality time with fully mature Siberians, since kittens may not have begun producing as much Fel d1 as they might when they’re older. If you don’t live close to a Siberian breeder, try to find a breeder who will send you a lock of hair or a piece of cloth that has been well treated with Siberian hair and saliva so you can be tested. Siberians are rare and relatively expensive, so it’s wise to be sure. Keep in mind that the amount of Fel d1 can vary from cat to cat, sometimes a great deal, so once you settle on the Siberian of your dreams, be sure you spend time with her or obtain a hair sample to see how you react to her individual allergens.

Talk to your breeder about these and any other health concerns, and buy from a breeder who screens breeding stock for HCM and PK deficiency, and provides a written health guarantee.

Did you know?

According to Russian stories, Siberian cats once weighed up to 45 pounds and protected their human companions and households "no worse than a dog." Today’s Siberians, however, are gentle, loving cats who weigh a maximum of about 16 pounds.

Personality

Siberians have hearts to match their size. Large, loyal and loving, they make great companions and wonderful family pets. Siberians are devoted, affectionate cats with a generous dose of curiosity and playfulness, and tend to love the entire family rather than only one person. Children, cat-friendly dogs, other cats, and strangers do not faze the Siberian; this breed makes friends with all creatures in the household, great and small—except for the resident mice, of course. They make them into a nice meal.

Most enjoy being handled, picked up and cuddled in your lap, if your lap is big enough to accommodate. Fanciers say that a king-size bed is a must if you have two or more Siberians, since they insist on sleeping with you, beside you and on you. "The closer the better" seems to be the Siberian motto. Developing a close, cuddly personality in a region where the temperature can drop to minus-96 degrees Fahrenheit would seem to be one of the traits that helped these cats survive in the region for which they are named.

Very intuitive, Siberians seem to know how you are feeling and try to cheer you up when you’re down by bringing you their favorite toys to toss or simply cuddling up and giving you a massage with their jumbo purr.

Siberians are extremely strong and remarkably agile for their size; they can leap great distances and heights. A tall cat tree or two is a must for this breed. Particularly as young cats, their playful acrobatics can be hazardous to your fragile knickknacks, but as adults they’ve usually learned to control their gravity-defying leaps and leave the breakables unbroken.

Siberians are generally quiet cats. They are very intelligent; fanciers note that Siberians problem-solve to get what they want, or to get you to get them what they want. They seem to ponder their next move before deciding to proceed as if life is a giant game of kitty chess. Most have a fascination with water and will often drop their toys into their water dishes and climb into the bathtub before it’s completely dry. Waterers that provide fresh running water are a big hit with Siberians and will prevent them from begging you to turn on the faucet every time you enter the kitchen.

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.