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The Turkish Van is a natural breed, known for its distinctive color pattern. In fact, the word "van" is now used by the cat fancy to describe white cats with colored head and tail markings. The Van body is moderately long, broad, sturdy, deep-chested and muscular. Mature males show marked muscular development in the neck and shoulders; the shoulders are at least as broad as the head and flow into the well-rounded rib cage and then into a muscular hip and pelvic area. The legs are muscular, moderately long and set wide apart. The tail is long but in proportion to the body, with a brush appearance. Tail hair is long and full. Adult males weigh 12 to 17 pounds; adult females weigh 9 to 13 pounds. The Van can take three to five years to reach full maturity, so show judges take gender and age into account when judging the Van.
The head is a substantially broad wedge with gentle contours and a medium length nose, prominent cheekbones, and a firm chin in a straight line with the medium length nose—all harmonizing with the large, muscular body. In profile, the nose has a slight dip below eye level. The muzzle is rounded. The ears are moderately large, wide at the base, set fairly high and well apart. The tips are slightly rounded; the insides are well feathered . The clear, alert, and expressive eyes are moderately large with a rounded aperture that is slightly drawn out at the corners and set at a slant, equidistant from the outside base of the ear to the tip of the nose.
The Van’s fine, silky-smooth coat lies flat and lacks a wooly undercoat, making it gloriously touchable and resistant to matting as well. The adult coat is semi-long, soft, and water-resistant. Feathering is seen on the ears, legs, feet and belly; facial fur is short. The coat changes according to season; in summer it is short and in winter it’s substantially longer and thicker. The neck ruff and full tail plume become more prominent with age.
The only pattern accepted is glistening chalk white with colored markings, preferably only on the head and tail. In CFA, random markings of color covering up to 15 percent of the entire body (excluding head and tail color) are permissible, but not of a size or number that detract from the van pattern, making the cat appear to be bicolor rather than van. Color in excess of 15 percent is a disqualifying fault. Other associations are a bit more liberal. In TICA, AFCA, and AACE, for example, color in excess of 20 percent is merely penalized, not cause for disqualification.
Color is required on the head from eye level up to the back of the head and on the tail. Markings may be any other color and white, with the exception of those showing evidence of hybridization resulting in the colors chocolate, lilac, etc., and the pointed pattern. The eye colors are amber, blue or odd-eyed, and the color may fade with age. The breed has no allowable outcrosses.
Several tall tales are told about the origins of the Turkish Van. One that Turkish Van fanciers tell with enthusiasm involves two longhaired, ring-tailed cats who were along for the ride on Noah’s Ark. When they reached Mount Ararat in what is now Turkey, the cats leapt into the water and swam for dry land where they’ve lived ever since.
The actual history of this magnificently tailed swimming cat is at least as intriguing as the legends. Although the Turkish Van is a relative newcomer to the United States, this natural Turkish breed has lived in the Van region for thousands of years. Turkish Vans can also be found in the nearby areas of Armenia, Syria, Iran, Iraq and areas of the former Soviet Union. No kind and gentle environment here; Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey and one of the highest lakes in the world, knows extreme temperatures in both summer and winter. Since summer temperatures reach well above 100 degrees, the Van may have learned to swim to cool off. Or perhaps the breed was hunting herring, the only fish that can survive in the briny water of Lake Van. Whatever the reason for the Van’s tolerance of water, it probably explains the development of the cashmere-like, water-repellant coat, which enables the Van to swim and come out relatively dry.
No one knows for sure when the cats arrived in the Lake Van region for which the breed was named. Ornaments depicting cats who look remarkably like the Turkish Van date as far back as 5000 B.C.E. from the ancient kingdom of Urartu, centered in the mountainous region around Lake Van. If these artifacts depict actual cats, the Van could be one of the oldest cat breeds still in existence. According to some, the breed should be called the Armenian Van, since the land around Lake Van was ruled by the Armenians for many years before Turkish rule. Local Armenian folk stories and songs mention the Van cat.
In the Lake Van region and surrounding areas, the Van was and still is treasured for its hardiness, temperament and lovely fur. Turkey is largely a Muslim country, and Turkish Vans who have the "thumbprint of god" pattern are highly prized. These Vans have a color patch between the shoulder blades called the Mark of Allah, and it’s believed these special cats have been blessed.
Vans were reportedly first brought to Europe by soldiers returning from the Crusades, some time between 1095 and 1272. Over the centuries, Vans were transported throughout the Mideastern countries by the many invaders, traders and explorers.
In 1955, while photographing Lake Van, British citizens Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday became fascinated by the beautiful Van cats of the area. Lushington was given a pair of auburn and white Van cats because of the work she had done for the Turkish Tourist Board. She began a breeding program and eventually imported three more Vans in 1959. The breed was registered with the British GCCF as "Turkish cats." In 1969, the Turkish Van was given full status by the GCCF.
The first Van kittens arrived in the United States in the 1970s, but it was not until breeders Barbara and Jack Reark imported two Vans from France in 1983 that the breed began to flourish in North America. Acceptance from many of the cat registries quickly followed. In 1985, TICA granted the Turkish Van championship status. CFA accepted the breed for championship in 1994. Today, the Turkish Van is still one of the lesser known breeds, but has a spirited group of fanciers. Since Turkish Vans are rare and breeders few, demand usually exceeds supply.
Because of a 1992 survey by a Turkish university found only 92 pure Turkish Van cats in their native region, the Turkish government officially recognized the breed in the mid-1990s and added breeding facilities at the Ankara zoo for the Van in order to preserve the breed, just as they did for the Turkish Angora. Vans are now considered a national treasure in the Republic of Turkey, and are no longer permitted to be exported; most breeding stock imported into America comes from European countries. Since the gene pool in the United States is still quite small and since breeding the Van with other breeds is not allowed, Vans from Australia, Sweden, and England are imported to add vigor to the existing lines.
In the beginning, the ancestors of the Turkish Van lived in an unforgiving environment, and natural selection helped turn the Van into a hardy, healthy cat. Breeders have worked hard to keep the breed that way. Today’s Turkish Van is usually healthy, however, the breed does have a blood type incompatibility problem. Both blood types A and B exist in Van bloodlines, which is a problem only if you plan to breed, or if your Van needs a blood transfusion. Type B is usually extremely rare in the domestic cat population; researchers estimate that less than one percent of domestic cats in the U.S. have type B blood. However, some purebred bloodlines have higher percentages of type B blood because of line-breeding, and Turkish Vans have up to 60 percent type B, according to the University of Pennsylvania. Queens with type B blood, when bred to toms with type A blood, can produce both type B and type A kittens. The kittens with type A blood from such matings are born apparently healthy but then fade rapidly and die 24 to 72 hours after birth. This is sometimes called "fading kitten syndrome," and is due to the antibodies that type B cats produce against type A blood. The antibodies are passed to the kittens, possibly in the colostrum (the first milk the mother cat produces), where they attack and destroy the kitten’s red blood cells. Fortunately, Dr. Leslie Lyons at the University of California, Davis has developed a test for the B blood group, and cats can be tested at an early age. Because giving type A blood to a type B cat may result in a fatal reaction, it’s wise to have your cat blood typed in case your cat requires an emergency blood transfusion. UC Davis provides this type of blood testing.
Since Vans like water, you might assume Turkish Vans are easy to bathe. Don’t count on it! After all, Vans are cats and as we know cats do things on their own terms. While your Van may enjoy a splash in the sink, he may not be nearly as excited about a shampoo-and-water scrub in the tub.
Some think any cat with the van pattern is a Turkish Van, but it’s just not true. The van pattern is just that—a pattern. Turkish Vans must conform to the breed standard and must have a documented history in the form of a pedigree as well. While random-bred cats who possess the van pattern can make fine and attractive companions, they should not be bred as this contributes to the cat overpopulation problem.
Muhammad, the great prophet of Islam, was a well-known cat lover. An often-told story tells of a Turkish cat named Muezza whom Muhammad prized so highly that rather than disturb the cat’s slumber when he was called to prayer, Muhammad cut off the sleeve of his robe on which the cat slept.
The Van is not called the swimming cat for nothing, and is known to go jump in the lake—as long as it’s the Van’s idea, of course. Not all Vans enjoy swimming, but most are at least fascinated by water and are willing to dip in a paw or two. Many like to bathe their toys in their water dish or even in the toilet. This is a special breed indeed, since traditionally cats and water go together like, well, cats and water. To see a feline plunging in for a cat-paddle is indeed amazing. Highly intelligent, some Vans learn to turn on faucets and flush toilets. For your Van’s safety, be sure to keep the lid down and be careful your Van doesn’t dive in when you use the dishwasher and washing machine. Waterers that provide fresh running water are a big hit with Vans and will prevent them from begging you to turn on the faucet every time you enter the kitchen.
Be sure you like active cats before you acquire a Van. They are very energetic and intelligent, and will literally run circles around you, and everything else in the house, too. Put breakables in a safe place.
Adept hunters, Vans love interactive cat toys—which means anything that moves, including you. Many learn to fetch and will bring you their toy mouse the moment you walk though the door. Whirling, feathery cat teasers will send a Van into a dance of predatory joy. But watch out, because Vans can play rough when they’re excited. Tickle your Van’s belly and you may find yourself donating a bit of blood.
Not that they don’t have their loving, loyal side. If you can put up with the action-packed temperament, Vans make wonderful buddies. Once you’ve developed a bond with a Van, you’ll never be lonely again. The Van will be at your side forevermore, even when you’re in the shower. Vans tend to pick one person and develop a very close relationship; they imprint on their chosen human, breeders say. They are still affectionate to others in the household, but you are well aware of who their favorite person is. Because of this intense bonding, Vans are not easy to transfer from one household to another once they are adults. Consider your relationship with a Van to be a lifelong commitment—15 to 20 years, according to fanciers.
Size:Medium to large.
Coat Length(s):Long hair.
Grooming Requirement:Twice a week.
Activity Level:Very high.
Usually Good With:Adults (18-65) and children (11+).
Time Alone:4 to 8 hours per day.
Attention:Needs lots of attention.