The Norwegian Forest Cat is a large, semi long haired cat which has never been quite as well known as the Maine Coon, which it resembles in some respects. However, these lovely cats, often known affectionately as 'Wegies' by those familiar with them, has always had a following, particularly in Europe rather than in the USA. So here are some facts about this lovely breed.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is one of the only cats to become the national cat of a particular country. In the 1970s, after the breed became officially recognised by FIFe, King Olaf V of Norway named it as the country's official national cat. That is quite some recognition for a breed which was not very well known until recent times.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is quite an old breed, yet its origins are shrouded in mystery. They could be related to short haired black and white cats from Britain, but might also be descended from long haired cats brought to Scandinavia during the Crusades, and quite possibly a combination of the two. Wherever it came from, the longer hair of these cats was a great advantage in the Scandinavian winter, and gradually the farm and household cats of Norway began to be these hardier, longer haired cats. But nobody really considered them as a separate breed until the 20th century.
Despite the lack of any clear cut facts regarding its origins, this breed has many stories and legends surrounding it. Norwegian myths talk of the 'skogkatt', a large mountain dwelling cat with the ability to climb sheer rock faces. This skogkatt was beloved by Freya, who was the Norwegian goddess of love and beauty, and she was said to ride in a chariot drawn by these cats. Other Norse fables also tell of the skogkatt. Even today, some Norwegian breeders refer to the Norwegian Forest Cat as the 'Norse Skogkatt'.
Despite this ancient history, recognition as a breed was quite a long time in coming. In the 1930s, some of these cats were shown in Germany, to great acclaim. A group of breeders then made efforts to preserve the type before it faded into the general feline population, as has happened in the past. World War Two interrupted these efforts, but they were resumed by other people in the 1950s. It was not until 1975 that a breed club was established, and FIFe gave the Norwegian Forest Cat full championship status in 1977. TICA soon followed, and the GCCF recognised the breed in the 1980s. From a slow start, these cats grew in popularity, and were just outside the top ten breeds within 20 years.
Norwegian Forest Cats tend to be huge, in fact they are a similar size to Maine Coons, which they resemble in many ways. Males can range from 13 to 22 pounds, with the females being a little smaller.
Even today, the Norwegian Forest Cat is very much like the outdoor northern farm and feral cats from which the breed descended. The long, glossy coat is water repellent, and can cope with the worst of Scandinavian winters. Their tufted ears and paws work very much like natural boots and ear muffs. Yet despite this heritage, the Norwegian Forest Cat is entirely happy to be a pampered house cat, living entirely indoors if necessary.
As well as being lovers of the great outdoors, 'wegies' love to climb and be up high, probably a throw back to their tree climbing outdoor life of the past. So even if they are kept as indoor cats, it is best if they can have a cat run, catio, or enclosed garden, preferably with a large cat tree which they can climb, and from the top of which they can watch the world go by.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is very friendly and affectionate, and enjoys attention from people. These cats are also very intelligent, and they can be easily trained. They even enjoy performing tricks if taught how to do so. So they make excellent family cats.
The similarity to Maine Coons is not accidental, as the two breeds are in fact related. Genetic testing has indicated that the Maine Coon is a descendent of the Norwegian Forest Cat and an unknown domestic breed. But they do look somewhat different – their head shapes differ, the noses are a different shape, and their eye shapes are not the same. Knowledgeable owners of either breed can tell the difference easily, but they look very similar to other people.
There are a few health issues which are known in this breed. In common with Maine Coons and Ragdolls, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is a known inherited condition, although good breeders will test for it and make sure that their cats do not have it. Hip Dysplasia is also a known inherited condition in this breed. And there is also a rare condition which can show up in newborn kittens, Glycogen storage disease type IV. Luckily, none of these are common.
If you would like to own a Norwegian Forest Cat, kittens are fairly easy to find, as the breed has been steadily increasing in popularity in recent years. Your best bet might be to visit a cat show, where examples of Norwegian Forest Cats will be found in Section 2, which includes all the semi-longhair breeds. You might even be able to talk to a breeder, and maybe even get your name on a waiting list for one of their kittens. You can also visit the Pets4Homes Norwegian Forest Cats for Sale section. So good luck!