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The Norwegian Forest Cat (known affectionately as 'Wegies' by aficionados of the breed) is considered to be the national cat of Norway and believed to have developed from the earliest arrival of cats in Norway. The breed is also known by its native Norwegian name, the Norsk Skogkatt, even in the UK, and one of the two clubs dedicated to the breed here is also known by this early name. The Norwegian Forest Cat is classified as a semi-longhaired variety in this country, and the thick dense coats of these cats are well suited to the harsh Norwegian winters, where they are still popular with farmers as working cats. All the cats of this breed in Britain are descended from stock imported from Norway, with no outcrosses to other breeds. The breed is generally sound, although any experimental breeding for slightly longer bodies and noses could have spinal and dental repercussions.
Early records indicate that cats arrived in Norway with the Vikings in around 1000AD. Although it would be difficult to prove the exact origins of the breed, the Forest Cat can be found in Norwegian folklore when it is said that the Vikings treated them as family pets. By 1000 AD, when the Vikings were maintaining trade routes with the Byzantine East, there is evidence that cats were included in this trading as there are coat colours common in cats in Turkey (Byzantium) that are rarely seen elsewhere in Europe. It is also a popular belief that early Norwegian Forest Cats served as 'mousers' on Viking ships! Even in the sixteenth century, large cats with long legs, big ruffs and ear tufts were recorded, and it was also noted that they liked water (as do modern Norwegian Forest Cats) and were superb hunters able to catch fish and other prey. Norse folklore describes the native breed as 'Mountain-dwelling Fairy Cats with an ability to climb sheer rock faces that other cats could not manage' and this certainly fits the Norwegian Forest Cat of today who is an adept climber with its extra strong claws. As time went by, and the remote parts of Norway became more densely populated with people, the breed was at risk of dying out and although it was regarded as a breed in its own right by the 1930s, a planned breeding programme did not begin in Norway until the 1970s. Since then, the breed has increased in popularity, especially in the Scandinavian coutries, although it is thought that unregistered Norwegian Forest Cats are probably still living on farms throughout rural Norway! The first pedigree Norwegian Forest Cats were imported into the USA in 1979, and into Britain in the late 1980s being first officially recognised as a breed here in 1989.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is a large heavy-boned, yet elegant semi-longhaired breed, and reflects its natural origins as an outdoor working farm cat used to harsh weather conditions with a distinctive double coat. The woolly undercoat is covered by a smooth, water-repellent overcoat, which consists of long, coarser and glossy guard hairs covering the back, sides and tail. They also have 'snowshoe' paws designed for climbing rocks and walking on snow and ice in their native habitat. An adult cat in full coat gives the impression of wearing a shirtfront and knickerbockers, and there is a full ruff under the chin going down between the front legs - although the coat may be slightly shorter in the summer months. The tail is long and bushy, and should reach at least up to the shoulders. In terms of coat colour, currently all Governing Council of the Cat Fancy colours are allowed - with the exception of chocolate, lilac, apricot, caramel, cinnamon, amber and fawn and any Siamese pattern. Eyes can be of any colour, but in shape should be large, oval, obliquely set and with an alert expression. The ears are large, set quite high with lynx-like tufts and long hair coming out of them. This breed matures very slowly and can take up to four years to reach full maturity.
Despite this breed's humble origins as a working farm cat, one of the most endearing features of the Norwegian Forest Cat is its beautiful temperament. This gentle, laid-back cat is very intelligent and fun loving, energetic and sociable, yet not too demanding, and they make excellent family pets. If they go out, they will not feel the cold, but problems could arise as they will defend their territory vigorously. However, they have adapted well to indoor life, although will need exercise which can be achieved from playing with their owners, and also with a range of toys. They are good with children and will appreciate other feline company, or even a dog, so long as new arrivals are introduced carefully. It might be a good idea to have two kittens from the same litter if they are to be simply family pets rather than breeding cats.
This is generally a healthy breed of cat without any breed-related defects, and they can live up to 14-16 years, although they may be prone to kidney or heart defects in later life. The Norwegian Forest Cat needs annual vaccination boosters against the `common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors.
Occasional combing will be the only grooming that you will need to give this cat as their naturally tough disposition extends to their coat, which is largely self-maintaining. They will eat most good quality brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. However, cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available. As they are so large and heavy-boned, they tend to eat more than many other breeds, but will be happy to burn off their calories by vigorous exercising.