Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Coat of the Norwegian Forest Cat


Background
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.

SOP
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.


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