Saturday, 27 August 2011

Kittens in their new homes

Our Kitten Scrapbook

Just a few of the many notes and pictures that we have received from happy slaves of Vieuxtemps kittens…..

Thanks to Shirley for this photo of Magnus (born 1998) and Katia (2008)

Thugger [brown classic tabby and white boy, below] comes up to play with feet at about 3am, just to make his presence felt. He's already broken one of my Art Deco bowls, but I have loads so no loss, by swinging off the dining room table but que sera - I'd rather have him.
Had a lovely experience a few nights ago with Thugger and Tess the Airedale. She was asleep on the red rug in front of the fire, he was on his nightly mad gambol. Suddenly he stopped about 4ft in front of her, so she kept a beady eye on him (learnt that's best already). He sat, then crept forward, did it twice more - I said to Pete, 'This could be interesting'. He sat in front of her and we waited for pandemonium to break loose but he laid down and kept touching her paw. Did it several times and Tess stayed where she was, though keeping the beady eye alert -it was if he was saying to her - 'I like Airedales, will you be my pal. The relationship between them keeps growing and I'm sure they'll be cosy-ing up to each other before too long.

Linda, Cornwall 2011

I love Fadette (above), she is the most beautiful kitten, so gentle, fabulous personality. Last evening she went to sleep next to me on the settee flat out on her back with her front paws up around her ears.
David, Kent 2009

Update, August 2011

Just a quick up date to let you know that Fadette (now called Olivia) is still alive and well and coming up for her second birthday. She weighs approximately five kilos and goes out every day in the morning and roots about in her little territory. She is always back home in the evening again by 18.00 or before and spends each night sleeping on or nearby our bed. She gets on famously with her dog sister Bonnie and they spend a lot of time together play fighting or licking each other ears and heads. Somehow and we don't know how, she has learned about roads and cars thank goodness. She is the most docile playful little girl who has never tried to bite or scratch either Debbie or I. When she grabs your hand with her paws, the claws are in and she just licks your fingers. A truly delightful animal to have around. 

Hi there, well, I don't need to tell you how lovely Indy and Gabriel are, but they really are great. Can't believe the loudness of the purrs that come out of Indy at the mo - such a tiny cat making such a roar!
Lynn, Essex 2009

Bebe is exceedingly affectionate and a mummy's girl although very independent and doesn't like to be picked up when there's tomatoes to smell or trees to climb :-)  She loves the hose which my husband always finds fascinating as the other cats run a mile when he's watering the garden. Her coat's becoming amazing and the colours are really starting to show.

I am very happy with her - she's so happy go lucky and doesn't suffer from prima donna moods like Eva! She's always accommodating to the others at meal times and seems to be everyone's baby as even Bert has allowed her on the bed with him a couple of times which is unheard of !!

Sandra, Essex, 2008

Harry is wonderful, oh my god what a cat! He is into everything and definitely in charge! He is my friendliest cat, follows me everywhere, his tail is huge, he is big! 

Thought you might like the update, just to let you know you've bred an amazing cat. Thank you.

Wendy and family, Kent, 2008 

A valued visitor: when Ingjalf came to stay

Hmm, I wonder if these perfumed candles are good to eat?
Once upon a time I fell in love with a hunky male.  I was visiting my friend Carli in Denmark, and this gorgeous Viking chap came and sat next to me on the sofa.  Later that night, he crept into my bedroom just as I was going to sleep.  Unfortunately for me, he was already living with the woman he loved.  But luckily, HE was a Norwegian Forest Cat and SHE was a supremely generous human being.  Imagine my feelings when Carli offered that this wonderful boy, Ingjalf, could stay with me for a few months!  When I realised she wasn’t joking I privately burst into tears.  She explained that his size, impeccable temperament and other great points would really help the gene pool of NFCs in Britain and I had to agree.  There was just one qualification:  Ingjalf must be allowed full access indoors, and live with the rest of my cat family, just as he was used to at home.

During the next few months, Ingjalf went through the treatments that allowed him to gain a passport to travel from Denmark to England.  When he finally arrived at our house he was seven and a half years old, a veteran of the show bench who had sired over twenty litters.  He strolled into the sitting room and jumped in a leisurely fashion onto the settee.  In fact all of Ingjalf’s movements were rather slow and powerful, and if he were a piece of music he would be “largo”.  You could imagine the muscles rippling under his white and brown fur.  My retired stud cat, Kistrand, came up to take a look at the newcomer.  Before, I had always considered Kistrand a good sized NFC, but suddenly he looked as if he had shrunk.   He gave a disapproving snort in the direction of our large visitor, who just sat there as though he didn’t want to intimidate our curious resident cats.  Next Ingjalf checked out Kistrand’s rear end, to see if he might be an accommodating female, but discovering him to be an elderly male neuter he gave him a polite little lick.  Kistrand seemed to enjoy this and soon they were the best of friends.

The settee had been made up as a day bed because my partner, Bob, was seriously ill at the time.  Ingjalf spent a lot of time on that settee, and I truly believe he was instrumental in helping Bob to return to health.  He encouraged Bob to eat (“if you don’t have it, I will” he said) and persuaded him to improve on his dangerously low weight.  He also ensured that Bob was never cold at night, nor lonely, nor bored, and they bonded so well and cared so deeply about each other that by the time Ingjalf went home Bob was nearly fully recovered.

When Ingjalf got down to the business he came for, and was introduced to girls on heat, he was courteous and gentle but also very businesslike and single-minded!  You can imagine how happy I was when one of his kittens turned out to be almost a carbon copy of him, except that she was a girl.  Needless to say I kept her, and called her Ingjalfsdottir.  She certainly helped to ease the pain of knowing that one day he would be leaving us for ever.  Although Ingjalf was so macho, his litter tray never smelled!  I could never work out why this was - could he perhaps be an angel rather than a cat?

Ingjalf relaxing at home

This is Ingjalf's daughter, Dottie (Vieuxtemps Ingjalfsdottir).
Don't you think there is a family resemblance?

The only animal in our house that is bigger than Ingjalf is Butz, our bouncy Airedale.  Some of our cats are understandably wary of Butz, and avoid him at all costs, whilst others will rub up against him when he’s lying down, but keep well clear when he is in one of his more energetic moods, and I have to say I can’t blame them.  It’s not that Butz is in any way dangerous - his mouth is gentle enough to carry a raw egg without breaking the shell, and his judgment is excellent - but when he’s in the mood to give those Airedale BigNosePokes or JawsofDeath impressions it is understandable that  cats or humans give him a wide berth.  We have taken him to multiple training classes but still he’s the bounciest dog on earth.  Ingjalf decided that our dog training methods had been a dismal failure, and took the matter in hand (or rather in paw) himself.  It took a good few months, but in the end Butz would stand quietly or sit like a model dog whenever Ingjalf was around, and then Ingjalf would rub against the rough curly terrier fur and reward Butz’s gentle sniff with a lick.  This seemed little short of miraculous to us.

I did take Ingjalf to a couple of FIFe cat shows whilst he was here, just for fun.  At one of them he was being judged by an elderly Norwegian lady.  As he stood on her judging table, she proclaimed enthusiastically and rather loudly: “…at last, a REAL Norwegian Forest Cat!  I am honoured to have him on my table.”

It was always uppermost in my mind that one day Ingjalf would go back home, so I tried to hold back a little of my heart so that it wouldn’t get broken when he left.  However when the time came, I was surprised that my main emotion was one of joy to think of him being reunited with Carli and his patiently waiting feline harem, in the home where he belonged.  I remembered how Carli had confessed to shedding a tear when she said goodbye to Ingjalf the previous year, and I reflected on how very lucky I was to have had this beautiful cat share my life for a while, and how lucky he was too, in having such a wonderful home in Denmark.

Ingjalf babysitting some of his offspring

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Notes for buyers of Vieuxtemps kittens

This is the information we hand out to the buyers of our kittens:

Thank you for choosing a Vieuxtemps kitten!  I would like you to understand that you are buying a “package” which means you are always welcome to ring or email me with questions at any time, and if you ever need help I will do my best to provide it.  I would like to stress that should you have any problems whatsoever I’d like to know – and if in future you cannot keep your Vieuxtemps cat, please tell me first and I will assist in rehoming.

Your kitten has been reared on a variety of top quality foods, with the mainstay being Iams Hairball (dry) and Lily’s Kitchen organic food which can be bought on-line.  I always give away some food when the kitten leaves home.  This dry food should be available at all times along with a constant supply of fresh water (not milk).  I recommend stainless steel or porcelain bowls, not plastic.  In addition, you can give your kitten cans or sachets of Hills Science Diet, fresh white fish, cooked boneless chicken and other quality foods of your choice including any canned foods that list really good quality ingredients.  (Tesco, Sainsbury and ‘Pets at Home’ do some nice ones with only chicken/meat or fish.) However the basic dried food and water mentioned above is all the kitten really needs, and is great for teeth and gums, so other things should be considered as treats.  Adult food entirely should be given from the age of 8-12 months (depending on how fat or thin your Forest Cat is!).  My adults eat raw day-old chicks twice a week, and you might or might not want to try that! (It’s very good for them.)

At first, packets of Iams and Lily’s Kitchen food may seem expensive if you are used to feeding cheaper supermarket cans, but remember you are not paying for the added water of the cans, and there are better quality ingredients.  If you have a ‘Pets at Home’ supermarket near you, that often has bargains, or you can try buying Iams in normal supermarkets.  I find the Hairball Iams very good as it contains healthy fibre.

Please also make sure that a litter tray and scratching post are available at all times.  I find litter ‘pearls’ are super at reducing odour, and very easy to use (eg Bob Martin or City Cat which you can get from Tesco, Asda and Pets at Home).  Catsan litter is good too.  On the kitten’s first day, restrict him/her to just one room with everything s/he needs so that s/he is not overwhelmed.  It is better to block areas that the kitten can hide under/behind and remember to keep toilet seats, washing machines and windows etc carefully closed.  If introducing him/her to existing pets, please do so sensitively and very gradually and always be present until they have made friends.  This can take from hours to weeks but is always successful in the end.  It helps to make a fuss of your older pets so they don’t feel usurped.  Although many people buy their cat a bed it’s not strictly necessary – a cardboard box is often preferred and also makes a good plaything, with strategically cut holes.

The kitten has had full inoculations (flu, enteritis, leukaemia) so will not need these renewed until a year hence.   Please do keep up the inoculations, as they are very important!  You may want to consider pet insurance, especially if your cat is to go outside in future.  I provide cover from Pet Plan for the first four weeks in the new home – the most vulnerable time in a kitten’s life.  After that, shop around to see which insurance suits you best. In any case keep your kitten indoors for the first few months at least.  S/he’s only a baby, even though s/he seems so competent.

I always neuter the boys before they leave home; girls should be spayed at around five months.

Your kitten has also been microchipped, which means that they may be returned to you if they stray.  You will receive documentation from the microchip central agency in a few weeks.  They have been wormed with Panacur at 7 weeks and Drontal at 11 weeks.  It is a good idea to give them a Drontal tablet once every 3-4 months, just to be on the safe side.  I always give kittens a back-of-the-neck Stronghold anti-flea treatment just before they leave home. (These can be obtained from your vet.)  If you continue with this every 6 weeks or so, you will never be troubled by fleas, and it’s easy, so do try to remember to do that, or switch to another make as advised by your vet.  However over-the-counter preparations for fleas or worms from general pet shops do not always work well.

Norwegian Forest Cats are both sensitive and sensible cats and are passionate about those they love.  They are robust and hopefully will give you trouble-free pleasure for many years to come.  To groom, I suggest using a metal comb (a longer-toothed flea comb type) and go over the coat once a week.  In the main moulting time, as spring approaches, combing every day will save excess hair in the home and the cat’s stomach.  Mostly they can look after their own coats.

I hope you enjoy your Vieuxtemps kitten as much as I have.  And please remember to let me know if there are any queries – I’d love to keep in touch for as many years as you want!  (Adult photos would be much appreciated so I can check on my lines’ development and I would also like details of their health record.)  Above all, I would like to emphasise once again that if you need to rehome your cat for any reason at any time, do please tell me first as I will help.

Norwegian Forest Cats vs Maine Coons

This isn't about which breed is best - there is no best - just what's right for you.  Obviously at some stage I decided I wanted to breed and become heavily involved with Norwegian Forest Cats.  They are the breed for me.  My choice was influenced by a number of factors – the individual cats I encountered in the early days of searching, the people I met, and a sort of innate bias I have towards all things Northern.  I love the history of the Forest Cat, its large size combined with elegance and above all its intelligent, active but adorable character.  Equally others would be attracted to the cat of America, with its amiable face and huge size. Many people ask me what is the difference between Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest Cats.  Superficially they are sometimes thought of as being alike, but of course as you get to know them really they are very different, but with some similarities.

(Above:  Vieuxtemps Zeddicus has a definite NFC ‘look’ even though he’s only four months old)

Both breeds are "semi long haired" meaning that their coats are shorter than a Persian coat, and easy to look after.   The MC coat is somewhat flowing whilst the NFC has a double coat, with woolly undercoat in winter covered by glossy guard hairs.  In the spring time the woolly undercoat is shed at which point the cat suddenly looks thinner!  The seasonal difference in the MC's coat is less dramatic.  Even so, they are able to cope with fairly harsh outdoor conditions as both breeds stem from farm cats that are able to take whatever nature decides to throw at them.

Both breeds are described as large in their respective Standards.  In fact the MCs that I see in Britain tend to be bigger than the NFCs.  I have seen some larger NFCs in Scandinavia that could give the MCs a run for their money!  I have a feeling that MCs have got bigger over the years, whereas NFCs haven't.  Breeders of NFCs don't want to breed bigger and bigger cats with the problems that that might bring to the breed - such as hip dysplasia.  That has been found in a very few NFCs already and in some MCs and must be avoided at all costs.  That isn't an excuse for small NFCs however and both breeds should be sturdy and well-boned with the males considerably larger than the females.  The Maine Coon is a really strapping cat, whilst the NFC's size is meant to be tempered with elegance (long body, legs and head). Generally however most cats of both breeds are exceptionally healthy and robust.

Above: Maine Coon showing boxy muzzle and typical Maine Coon expression
 (Thanks to Daphne of Keverstone for the photo, which is by John Daniels)

Below: Norwegian Forest Cat showing correct triangular shape of head and oblique eye set 
(Thanks to Ilse of Dansbjergs for the photo)

Perhaps the most obvious physical difference between the two breeds is the head shape and expression.  The Maine Coon has a boxy muzzle and a distinct dip in its profile when seen from the side. The NFC should have a triangular head shape when seen from the front, with the ears following the sides of the head in a continuation of the triangle, and from the side the profile should look long and straight.  In reality, you get some not-so-good examples of either breed that are hard to tell apart. 

Character-wise, both breeds are really laid-back and good natured and both would be a pleasure to live with.  I have spoken to some people who own both breeds and also visited breeders of Maine Coons so I have found some differences of character and behaviour.  The MCs tend to be more talkative, giving pleasant little chirrups. NFCs are very quiet vocally, but not so quiet in their activities as they like to be involved in everything that you are doing.  Typically you only have to look at an NFC for him to come eagerly towards you, which makes it difficult to take photos sometimes!  MCs are quieter in their behaviour, tending to pose grandly and to be very relaxed most of the time.  Both are capable of being very affectionate but are not lap cats, being too large and preferring to sit next to their favourite person rather than on top of them.

Although both MCS and NFCs originated as outdoor working breeds they are content to live indoors so long as they have plenty of company, places to climb and a good scratching post.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

New kittens!

Some newborns arrived yesterday - three little girls.  One is solid black, one mainly black with white feet and a white ring round her tail, and a brown tabby.  The parents are:

Jet (Cleasanta Seorsa Sioda)

and Quink (Quil Gyldenloeve, our Danish import with a very special pedigree, now retired)

We are so delighted with these gorgeous kittens!  Jet comes from our lines on both sides, whereas Quink has different and rare bloodlines.  They compliment each other so well.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Coat of the Norwegian Forest Cat

Norwegian Forest Cats are found all over the world nowadays, from Iceland to Italy and from Australia to America.  They have proved to be a very adaptable breed but of course their real home is Scandinavia where there are long, bitterly cold winters interspersed with short hot summers.  The breed developed during many centuries from cats who were introduced to Norway, Sweden and Denmark from other countries whose offspring survived or perished according to their hardiness, resourcefulness and above all, their coat quality.  The cat that emerged successfully from the harsh trials of Mother Nature had a specially adapted coat which protected the animal from the elements and at the same time coped with the changing temperatures throughout the year.  Today most Norwegian Forest Cats live in homes with central heating.  If we want to keep the breed true, it is important that breeders take care that the coat does not gradually revert to being less able to cope with extreme weather conditions.

The importance of the NFC coat is shown by its status in the GCCF Standard of Points.  Out of 100 points for the overall cat (profile, chin, ears, eyes, torso, legs, feet, paws and tail) a full quarter of these go to the coat.   Nothing is given more importance.  Standards for other registries such as FIFe and TICA also give recognition to the importance of coat in the NFC.  These Standards originated from Scandinavia and were written by people who really knew the cats – so we should pay attention!

Colour in the NFC
Colour does not matter at all.  The only colour that would be unacceptable in an NFC is if the cat had Siamese-type points, as that would of course suggest mixed breeding.  There are a couple of colours that are unacceptable to the GCCF – lilac and chocolate type hues, although these have been accepted in Scandinavia and are officially recognised by FIFe.  The NFC is one of the few GCCF breeds for which there are NO points for colour or pattern, and at cat shows there are no colour divisions (except for at breed shows because of the need to split classes due to sheer numbers).  So you can see, for example, black and white cats that range from having a tiny white locket to being nearly all white with just a black spot somewhere.  My own cat, Velcro, is mainly white with a black tail and just a few black spots.  

The coat for all seasons
A fully-coated NFC proudly displays a ruff, shirtfront and knickerbockers.  The shape of the coat is very important too – if the coat is much the same length all over that is unacceptable.  There should be a distinct shape to the ruff so that it is defined by shorter hairs over the shoulder blades.  I once went to a seminar where a very experienced Swedish breeder-judge made the point that some of the cats there had a coat that was too long – they should be semi long haired – not short, but not extremely long either.

Here is the same cat, my dear departed Kistrand, in summer and winter - you can guess which picture is which.  Thanks to Kevin Reah for the summer photo - I took the other one.

In late spring the NFC has a major moult, and the whole undercoat comes out within a couple of weeks.  Suddenly the house is filled with what look like cotton-wool balls.  If you have a hard floor, they are reminiscent of dandelion seed heads rolling along in the draught.  Fortunately this fluff is easier to clean up than the moulted hair of “normal” cats and soon you are left with a feline that looks very different.  The shorter, woolly hairs are gone, leaving a much leaner looking cat, and the guard hairs lie flat against the body disguising their length so that only the bushy tail hints at the cat’s winter appearance.

The correct coat for life in Norway
Broadly speaking, all NFC coats should be able to withstand living outdoors in harsh surroundings.  That means the cat should have a double, waterproof coat that is self-maintaining.  The oil in the guard hairs is vital; if an NFC has a nice big coat, well shaped, but it knots easily and feels soft and fluffy like a Persian coat, that could mean the death of the cat in the wild.  Texture does seem to vary with coat colour and generally the brown tabby has the best texture although this colour can take a few years to reach a coat of full size and length.  But NO colour should be used as an excuse for a coat that is too high maintenance.

The double coat means that there is a woolly undercoat and a coarser, glossy overcoat.  In winter the undercoat acts like a duvet and the overcoat performs the duty of a raincoat.  The coat is puffed out a little so as to trap warm air between the outer layer and the cat’s body.  I used to be worried when some of my cats chose to sleep outdoors in the depth of winter.  I remember on one occasion I went out to the cat garden to persuade Impromptu to come indoors – but as soon as I touched him I realised he was very snug indeed.  His long tail was wrapped around his nose and, running my fingers under the protective top layer of his coat, I could feel he was really cosy – a whole lot warmer than I felt myself in fact.  He sleepily opened a green eye as if to say “you call this cold?  It’s twenty degrees warmer than Norway, so no need to worry!”  Having made this point, I would never advocate that an NFC should have to live outdoors without the option of heated accommodation in the UK.  Our country is much damper than Scandinavia which could give the cats rheumatism as they get older.

Coat faults
Things that the NFC coat should NOT be are:  soft and fluffy, too short in winter, too long in summer, lacking guard-hairs, lacking shape in winter (ie much the same length all over), prone to knotting. 

Finishing touches
The wonderful coat of the Norwegian Forest Cat should also provide lynx-like tufts to the top of the ears, helping to give the alert expression of the capable hunter; ear furnishings (long hair coming out of the ears) to help keep them cosy; and long thick tufts in between the toes – which I am sure the cat is grateful for in the wild as he prowls through the snow.

I just hope that, with changing lifestyles and geographical expansion, the beautiful and practical coat of this rugged breed does not change over the coming generations.  It is the responsibility of breeders to ensure that our cats continue to have the correct coat, even if they don’t literally need it any more in order to survive.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


Here are our currently available kittens,  just waking up from a snooze: don't be fooled at how sweet and sleepy they look!  A few minutes later they were racing around all over the place like little hooligans.  To the left is Kia, and to the right, Sarengo.

We have another kitten, born mid April, called Velcro, whom we are keeping.  She had her very first outing today to the Norwegian Forest Cat Breed Advisory Seminar, and took it all in her stride, purring throughout.  What a little darling.

Friday, 12 August 2011

So you want to become a cat breeder?

There are a huge number of people breeding pedigree cats in the UK, so there must be something enjoyable about it! There are also some people who breed (usually unintentionally) non-pedigree cats. Although “moggies” can be every bit as beautiful and loving as the pedigree breeds, they are of course unpredictable in their development, health and temperament, due to their unknown roots. It is also true to say that some pedigree cats are of undesirable type, health and temperament, but this is more unusual and can be researched. If you do want to breed cats, then think of it as helping to preserve your favourite breed or breeds and become one of the army of responsible breeders – it’s worth it and you’ll make lots of amazing friends along the way. Don’t casually breed non-peds, as there are too many of these already which often leads to tragedy.

A lot of people think there is money to be made in producing and selling kittens. In my opinion, once you start thinking about profit then cat welfare goes out of the window. To give an example: in my own breed, Norwegian Forest kittens usually sell for £400. Hence you might think that an average litter of four would produce a profit of £1500 after deduction of a few expenses. In my case (as per recommendations), each kitten gets full inoculations, microchip, registration, worming and de-flea treatments totalling over £100 per kitten. If I use an outside stud cat the fee might be £200. I test my cats for HCM – a hereditary disease – which costs at least £300 per cat every two years. This is just one of the checks made to ensure that only healthy cats are used for breeding. I blood test my queens before mating so as to ensure they are in a good state of health before having kittens. I also blood test my stud cat regularly. If there is any illness then costs soar, but fortunately that doesn’t happen very often! I have never had to take a queen to the vet for a caesarian section during the birth of a litter, but if that happens it will cost several hundred pounds also.

All of the cats in my household are given full inoculations and the best possible diet – a combination of premium dry cat foods, raw chicks and bottled water. (I don’t inoculate cats that are over ten years old though as I am told that may do more harm than good.) Cat litter alone costs tens of pounds per week. I once worked out that I “lose” over a thousand pounds per year on my cats. (I don’t mind as they pay me back in purrs!) That’s not taking into account “extras” –which includes showing (I think this is essential for all breeders so as to both check on the quality of the cats they are producing, and also to support the cat fancy without which there would be no pedigree cats). Another expense in my case is travel abroad, as I like to ensure I am in touch with Norwegian Forest Cats in Scandinavia(there is a tendency for us to have a bit of an insular attitude in Britain which doesn’t help the breed). It is important to advertise kittens so that you get a good choice of purchaser (only the best new home is good enough!) There are also hidden costs such as having the heating turned up higher for young kittens, replacing damaged household items, extra phone calls and so on.

Don't cut corners!
Some breeders are more geared towards, if not making money, then at least not losing so much. They might re-home cats after a few years, hence saving the cost of caring for a retired cat that doesn’t produce any kittens, and will inevitably incur higher vet bills as he or she gets older (but is that nicer for the cats?) Some don’t bother to go to cat shows – they are happy to produce kittens without checking that they are correct according to the breed standard. Another way of saving money would be to use cheap cat food and litter, and perhaps not changing the litter as often as the cats would like. Yes, there are all sorts of corners to be cut, but believe me, it doesn’t pay in the end. I have known a breeder who tried to save money by not inoculating her cats – the result was illness running through the cattery, very expensive vet bills and ultimate tragedy.

The price of kittens varies greatly between different breeds. Some of the more fashionable, or rarer, breeds are very costly indeed, and I do believe that individuals can very occasionally make a good profit with certain breeds. But this is the exception rather than the norm. In any case, it’s best to choose a breed that you love to live with, and just accept the fact that you won’t make money. What you WILL make is a wide circle of friends, and you will meet all sorts of people you otherwise wouldn’t. In addition you will have the pleasure of living with adorable cats and have a steady supply of charming, funny and beautiful kittens.

Six golden rules
If, after having read this, you still want to give it a go – then here’s some advice:

1 – Think long and hard about which breed you would like to live with. Visit as many breeders as possible and talk to people to find out what the cats are like. Use your eyes and ears on these visits to see if you like the behaviour, looks and sounds of the cats. ALL kittens are gorgeous, so don’t be tempted to make a hasty decision!
2- Having decided on your breed (and I do suggest having just one breed, at least to start with) research any possible health problems. For example, quite a few breeds are prone to PKD (polycystic kidney disease) which is tragic. However it can easily be tested for, so if you are choosing a vulnerable breed, only buy a kitten from tested stock. The same applies to other diseases. Only then should you choose your first kitten.
3 – The best way to get to know a breed, and also learn about the good and bad points of different lines, is to buy a show neuter and attend some shows. After that you can choose your first breeding queen with more confidence.
4- Having found an available, healthy potential kitten, do ensure that you are happy with her breeder – will you get plenty of support after purchase?  Does the breeder look after their cats in a way of which you approve? Do all the cats in their household seem healthy and happy? Does the breeder have sufficient contacts to help you to find a good stud cat that compliments your queen?  Above all, do you get on with the breeder on a human level (a good relationship can really help you to progress whereas a bad one can finish you before you’ve begun)?
5 – Having chosen your breeder, make it clear that you plan to start breeding, and if they are responsible they will sell you a kitten of suitable quality. You should be able to meet the mother and siblings, and hopefully the father too, so as to get an idea of how the kitten will develop as she becomes an adult cat.
6- Go slowly, so that you can buy or keep future kittens from a position of knowledge. Don’t buy several females and a male all at once – stud cats are much more difficult to live with and you do need experience as a breeder before obtaining one. However you can start researching which stud you are going to use many months before your kitten is old enough to become a mother, and contact the owners who should be helpful and supportive.

With these steps in place, you will have mounted the first rung on the ladder of cat-breeding. You should be prepared for possible setbacks – for example, not all cats become pregnant easily; feline illness can appear unexpectedly and undeservedly; the best laid plans sometimes go astray. At these times, remember that your reward will come when you eventually produce a fine litter of kittens. In the meanwhile, what a delight it is simply to enjoy the company of your chosen breed of cat (especially if you choose Norwegian Forest Cats)!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The History of Norwegian Forest Cats

The Faerie Cats of Scandinavia

If you have ever met a Norwegian Forest Cat "in the fur", you will realise that they are very solid and real. But in their native land they have long been associated with the supernatural, simply because they were often seen flitting amongst the trees, beautiful and elegant as well as large and robust. As early as the 16thcentury, Norwegian folk tales mention cats who looked like today's Norwegian Forest Cats. For a long time people believed them to be a mix of lynx and cat, and they were often referred to as "Huldrekatt" which is Norwegian for "faerie cat". Norse tales mention huge cats with lynx-like ear-tufts, and the goddess Freya's carriage was said to be drawn by a pair of white male cats from the forest.

 Although their origins are swathed in the mists of centuries past, it is clear that this is a very natural breed, and unlike many pedigree cats the appearance and character of the Norwegian Forest Cat has been fashioned by nature, not by man. It is not surprising to learn that these resourceful animals have long been the companions of isolated Norwegian farmers, in a mutually beneficial relationship. When Norwegians go out in their native wilderness they can still sometimes catch a glimpse of a wild Forest Cat, although most of them have sensibly settled amongst the homesteads and fishing villages which enable them to thrive. Their long association with mankind means that they are also quite prepared to be friendly. In fact, those that live as family pets are exceptionally affectionate and responsive. They have been welcomed by the natives of Scandinavia for much longer than the native British cats have been tolerated in the UK. Maybe this long association with mankind is why Norwegian Forest Cats are so fond of human company.

Where did these magnificent creatures originally come from? As there are no small wild cats indigenous to Scandinavia, they must have originally come from further afield. (There are lynxes, but these cannot successfully mate with Norwegian Forest Cats.) Looking back to the Vikings gives us a clue. A hoard of gold was deposited at Hon, southwest of Oslo, in the second half of the ninth century, containing Arabic, Byzantine, English and Frankish coins, together with large neck-rings from Russia, which illustrates just how widely travelled the Vikings were.

 We all know that ships need cats in order to control the rodent population. So it is almost certain that these doughty Viking sailors took on board cats encountered all over their world. In fact, many of the colours found in Norwegian Forest Cat populations relate to colours common in Turkey but rare across the rest of Europe, another pointer to the Vikings having brought cats across their trade routes from the Byzantine East. It is worth noting here that several Byzantine emperors had Scandinavian guards, known as the Jaeringer, so there was a lot of commerce between the two nations. In particular, the "Snow Cats"(pure white Forest Cats) are reminiscent of the elegant silky-white Angoras from Turkey. There would also have been Russian Blue-type animals with their plush grey coats; ticked ancestors of today’s Abyssinians from North Africa; and, of course, ordinary European moggies in shades of silvery brown tabby or black and white. Spain probably contributed the tortoiseshell variation (the Vikings spent some time in Cadiz and C√≥rdoba –nowhere with a navigable river was safe from their adventuring).

It has sometimes been suggested that Forest Cats may have partly originated from Scottish Wild Cats too, but I think this unlikely as the Scottish cats are impossible to handle right up to the present day, even when hand-reared from birth. I’m sure that the Vikings would have chosen cats with as trouble-free a character as possible to join them on their travels. Whatever their place of birth, when these cats were brought home to Scandinavia they would have had a harsh environment to contend with, so would gradually have evolved into the large-boned, heavy-coated, many-coloured animals which we know and love today.  There are still "real" albeit unregistered Forest Cats living on farms, or waiting on quaysides for the return of fishermen, throughout Norway- just as cats do the world over.

It is probably this very melting-pot which has given rise to the exceptional hybrid vigour exhibited throughout the breed. We’ll have to make sure that, with the luxuries of warmth and readily available food now afforded to them, we never forget that they should remain truly rugged! The important thing is that even today and beyond breeders should ensure that every Norwegian Forest Cat born should look like a Forest Cat, behave like a Forest Cat, and be equipped to survive in its native country by means of size, coat quality and intelligence - even if in reality he or she is destined for a life of luxury by the radiator.

Photo acknowledgements:  Top, Bob Fox; middle, Shirley Fullarton; bottom, Alan Robinson