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The Siberian Forest Cat, usually known simply as a Siberian, is an ancient breed originating from Russia, with a thick waterproof semi-longhaired coat ideally suited to the harsh winters of the Siberian Steppes in eastern Russia. It is now regarded as the national cat of modern Russia, and the current Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev has a Siberian cat called Dorofei. This breed is very similar in looks to the Norwegian Forest Cat and the Maine Coon, all of these breeds having been developed to survive in similar climatic conditions, and it can take as long as five years for the Siberian to fully mature. It is also said that the coat of the Siberian has hypoallergenic qualities, with laboratory tests showing that it excretes a far lower proportion of the allergen (Fel d1) which is transferred from the cat's saliva to the fur when it washes itself, and which causes those with cat allergies to have an adverse reaction. However, for those who usually suffer, it would be wise to visit the breeder a couple of times first, and spend some time with adult and kitten Siberians before purchasing a kitten.
The existence of Siberian cats has been recorded in their natural Russian habitat since the thirteenth century, although pet cats were banned under the communist regime in the old Soviet Union, and pedigree cats have only been recognised in Russia comparatively recently. Before they were domesticated, Siberians were feral cats, living wild in the streets as well as in the countryside and forests, and it wasn't until 1987 that the first breed Standard appeared in Russia, based on a magnificent male known as 'Roman' from whom most of the Russian Siberian cats are descended. As the breeding programme in Russia was planned and developed, the first Siberians were exported to the West (including the USA) in 1990, but it wasn't until 2002 that they first appeared in Britain, and the latest registration figures for the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) show that in 2010, 138 new kittens were registered. The Siberian can now be exhibited at GCCF shows and currently (2012) has Preliminary status.
The Siberian is a large, sturdily built cat with a thick protective coat that is designed for life in its original harsh weather conditions with a thick strong topcoat and dense undercoat, with well tufted ears and paws, all adding to the 'wild' appearance reflecting its natural outdoor origins. The coat can come in an impressive combination of 124 recognised colour and pattern combinations, including brown, black, blue, red, cream and white in most patterns, including self (all one colour), tabby, tortie, colour pointed, smoke and shaded. The dilute colours of chocolate, lilac, cinnamon, fawn, caramel and apricot are not permitted. The silver gene is allowed and all colours can be with or without white. The colour pointed variety of Siberian (with colour on the ears, mask, tail and legs, rather like a Siamese) is sometimes referred to as a Neva-Masquerade - 'Neva' after the river area in Russia where they were said to have originated, and 'Masquerade' for the masked colour on the face. This variety is permitted to have blue eyes, whilst all other patterns have varying shades of copper or green eyes, and all are oval in shape. The Siberian moults twice a year, once at the end of winter (related to the number of daylight hours, rather than the temperature) and then another, lighter, moult at the end of summer.
Siberians are intelligent and energetic cats that love to play, and, true to their origins, they are fascinated by water. Despite their huge reserves of energy, this is a very gentle, affectionate breed, but they are not 'lap cats', preferring to be with, rather than on, their humans. They are said to have many 'dog-like' traits, and will often follow their chosen favourite person relentlessly round the house, and 'helping' with everything that is going on. They have a very easy-going nature and make idea family pets, being very patient and tolerant of other pets and even small children. They are cats with a sense of humour, always playing the fool, and they are natural clowns. They have a loud purr, but quite a gentle voice for such a large cat, carrying out their conversations in a chirruping tone rather than a strident meow.
The Siberian is a particularly strong and healthy breed, deriving as it does from wild ancestry in harsh weather conditions. It is not known to have any breed-specific health problems and many live to around the age of 15 years. In common with other cats, they need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors.
Caring for a Siberian
This breed is not known to be a fussy eater, and in days past would be happy with almost anything it could catch for itself, and it will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food. They will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and even grated cheese, although cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available. The Siberian will be happy to lead an existence as an indoor cat so long as it is kept fully occupied and entertained. However, if it does go out, it is necessary to remember that it is descended from self-sufficient hunting cats, and may bring home wildlife trophies to impress you. As a semi-longhaired breed, the Siberian will need very regular brushing and combing to prevent the build up of knots and tangles. It is as well to have kittens neutered as soon as is recommended by the vet, as they mature sexually at an early age in accordance with their historical origins to survive as a breed - entire males may spray and un-neutered females will call loudly for a mate as well as making every attempt to escape.
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