Despite being a breed that has developed pretty much unhampered by human intervention, this breed is incredibly popular across the world. With a beautiful expression and doting personality, they make wonderful pets for families and those with dogs. Owners frequently insist their personalities are more like dogs than cats. They are now becoming popular pets for people with allergies.
The Siberian Forest Cat has lived as a semi-feral animal in Russia for centuries. It is an ancient breed believed to have descended from the original landrace cats. As a result it is an ancestor to all modern long-haired cats. They have appeared in Russian fairy tales and children’s books, becoming a national treasure. Originally living in the forests of Siberia, they were domesticated to help kill rodent infestations on farms. With their loyal personality they soon became pets in many households.
Until the end of the Cold War they were not involved in breeding programmes or even seen outside Russia. As a result they have developed to suit their environment. With the creation of cat shows in Europe, Russians also developed their own championships in the 1980s. This was the first time the breed was shown against traditional pedigree breeds, and encouraged a number of owners to create clubs specifically for Siberian Cat fanciers. To help promote the breed, experts were invited to exhibitions, and the breed soon became popular among European breeders. The Russian enthusiasts developed a breed standard, forbidding outcrossing to ensure the breed stayed natural and limited the influence of breeders who wanted to change certain characteristics. A specific name was given to the Siberian Cats from the Neva river region around St Petersburg – the Neva Masquerade. These had been unintentionally mixed with Siamese and Persian imports to create a seal point colour. Their fur was also fluffier. This helped keep the two lines separate and as natural as possible. As the word spread of the new, ancient breed across the showing world they grew in popularity and were soon seen in every Cat Show.
In 1990 the first Siberian Forest Cat was exported to America – the fall of the Wall allowing the breed to finally move further afield than Europe. Being quite expensive to transport, they are still fairly rare in the United States but are now common in the UK with breeders recognising their hypoallergenic characteristics.
Having developed in the forests of Russia, they are designed for surviving in cold, harsh weather conditions. Where Napoleon failed, the cats thrived. The Siberian Cat has three different layers of fur to keep them warm in the snow and harsh winds, which is naturally glossy to stop it from matting. They will moult twice a year, to lose their dense winter coat for summer, and again at the end of summer to replace the summer coat with layers to protect them from snow. They also have a large ruff around their neck, tufts of hair in their ears and underneath their toes, as well as a large bushy tail. They are naturally waterproof. All perfect protection in the wilds of Siberia. Despite their thick long coat, they only need to be groomed once a week.
Siberian cats mature slowly, taking around 5 years to get to their full size and weight. They can weigh around 5 kilograms, with males being the larger of the sexes. They can be tabby or solid colours, with females also born in Tortoiseshell. There is also a variation of the breed called the Neva Masquerade that comes in colour point similar to Siamese cats. This specific breed is thought to come from the Neva river region.
Over the past decade many articles have been published stating that the Siberian Cat is a great breed for allergy sufferers. Many owners with an allergy have provided anecdotal evidence to show that they can live happily with the breed without any issue. From 1999 onwards a number of scientific studies have looked at the breed to test the claim and find why the breed is hypo-allergenic.
Original studies used a very small sample but did find that Siberian Cats have a lower level of Fel d1 in their saliva and fur. A non-profit organisation now allows breeders to submit swabs from their cats to study the allergen levels. Roughly 50 per cent of those tested do show lower levels of Fel d1 than other breeds, although Siberian cats with silver coats can be quite high.
If you do have allergies, the best advice is to meet the parents of the kitten. If this doesn’t trigger any medical issues, you will most likely be fine with the kitten. You may be allergic to other things than Fel d1 so be prepared for an allergic reaction just in case.
Siberians are known as the cat for dog people. They enjoy the company of their owners and will even come when called. They fit well into families with children and other pets, including dogs, due to their easy going nature. Being slow to mature, they also keep their kitten personality into adulthood, and can be very mischievous and playful. They will love to chase toys, jump onto high shelves, fetch items and stalk you as you walk around the house. As well as playing with them often, leave toys around the house for them to find.
Unlike many cats, the Siberian loves water. Many prefer to drink straight from the tap rather than their bowl. If you have a bath or shower, they will want to follow you to play.
As they thrive with their owner’s companionship, they can also pine and become destructive when left alone. Keeping them with another cat or dog will keep them company during the day. They are easy to train to walk in a harness on a leash, so can even go on short walks with you.