Thursday, 6 October 2011

Overview of the Norwegian Forest Cat

The Cats from the Woods

I guess that most cats would enjoy a prowl round the woods, should they get the chance. None more so however than the Norwegian Forest Cat, whose development in the harsh natural surroundings of Scandinavia literally took place in the woods and farmlands over a number of centuries, resulting in the rugged cat we know and love today. This breed is really the “moggie” of Norway and Sweden, being a mixture of all the variegated cats that arrived there over many hundreds of years, brought by travellers going back to the Vikings. Their origins probably spread as far as Russia, Turkey and North Africa, but only the sturdiest, most self-sufficient individuals would survive the Scandinavian winters.

The Norwegian Forest Cat’s history has equipped them with keen hunting skills and a robust constitution that ensures they can cope with anything that life throws at them.   Rain and cold do not usually bother the NFC, who will often prefer to lie in a cool spot indoors instead of in front of the fire.  Their coats are self-maintaining and waterproof, with a unique duvet-like undercoat to keep them warm in winter covered in a glossy, oily overcoat to protect them from rain and snow.
In fact coat quality is perhaps the single most important feature of the breed. Soft, silky coats are not allowed in the Standard of Points. Another feature of the coat is its shape - in winter, a fully developed cat will have a large ruff, shirtfront and breeches, with shorter fur on the shoulder blades which defines the ruff. In summer however the woolly undercoat is shed (suddenly one’s house is covered in cotton-wool like balls of fluff, but fortunately this happens for only a couple of weeks). The result is that for a few months the shiny guard hairs lie flat against the body, and it is only the plumed tail that gives a hint of the cat’s winter glory. Colour is not important and this breed comes in almost every colour and pattern.
Another important feature of the breed is its body - size and shape.  This is a large breed, like many in the Semi Long Hair group, and the legs are tall with big round paws so as to help the cat when wading across snow.  However perhaps the first thing you notice about a Forest Cat is its head shape and expression - the cat has an alert, intelligent look with a triangular head shape, long straight profile and large tufted ears.
Although these cats have been around in their native country for longer than we have had pet cats in Britain, it is comparatively recently that they actually became a pedigree breed. In 1977 the National Cat of Norway made front page news when it gained formal acceptance as a breed in its own right. The Norwegians had fought for pedigree status in order to protect the breed, as by the mid twentieth century conditions in Scandinavia were changing and the spread of population, together with the import of many other breeds, endangered the integrity of the NFC. You might think that with such a “wild” background NFCs are a little untamed, but that is not the case at all. In fact their adaptability and companionable nature has meant that they have now spread all over the world, from Europe to America, Australia and Africa.
A Norwegian Forest Cat can as easily make him or herself at home in an apartment as in the forest, and so long as they have plenty of food and company the NFCs really don’t mind where they live.  Companionship really is a key thing - the NFC actively wants to become part of your life, sharing everything you do and even sitting on the edge of the tub whilst you bathe.

This irresistible combination of being laid-back and being interested in human activities, being intelligent without any neuroses, and looking beautiful without a lot of special care, has meant that the NFC’s popularity has soared with people who have got to know the breed. They love to live in groups and rarely show either aggression or fear. When I have introduced new NFCs to my multi cat household (not to mention the dog) they usually just stroll in and say hallo to everyone. This is even the case when introducing adults, and I have known several full males to live together in gentle companionship without so much as a growl. In the UK the NFC was comparatively rare until recently (having been introduced in 1987, with a tiny handful of breeding cats). Since then it has deservedly risen to the top ten of the pedigree cat world here.  However in Northern Europe it is one of the most popular breeds of all. For example, when I visited the World Cat Show in Copenhagen in 2003, there were well over 300 Norwegian Forest Cats entered - meaning that around one in five cats at the show was an NFC. With personalities like that, and with the aristocratic long heads and impressive grace of the breed, it is only a matter of time before they become just as sought-after in the UK.

If you would like to learn even more about Forest Cats, please visit the website of the Norwegian Forest Cat Club.

Photos –the cats in this post are all Vieuxtemps cats.  Thanks to Heather Bird for the second photo, Joanne Santillo for the third and Shirley Fullarton for the last one.  A version of this article first appeared in the Semi Long Hair Cat Association Magazine, November 2004

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