Vital Stats:Life Span: 12 to 16 years
The Norwegian Forest Cat is native to Norway, with a history going back hundreds and maybe thousands of years. He figures in fairy tales and legends, one being that the Norse goddess Freya’s chariot is pulled by six giant cats. Where or how the cats originated remains a mystery. They may be the descendants of longhaired cats from Turkey, brought back from Byzantium by Scandinavian warriors who served the Byzantine Empire, or they may be related to the Siberian cat from Russia. They could have been Viking booty, or they could simply have been the result of natural selection: shorthaired cats whose adaptations to the harsh, near-Arctic climate produced descendants with woolly undercoats and long topcoats that shed water with ease.
For centuries, the skogcatt—a Norwegian word that translates as “forest cat”—survived by his wits or offered his services as a mouser to farmers and housewives in exchange for shelter in barns, stables or homes. In 1938, the cats were exhibited at a show in Oslo, but World War II interrupted any plans for developing them as a breed. Fortunately, they survived the war, just barely, but there were still some hard decades ahead and little was done with them until the 1970s. In 1977, they were finally registered as a breed with Europe’s Federation Internationale Feline. Two years later, a pair of NFCs was exported to the United States for the first time. The breed has since become popular in Europe and the U.S.
These are big cats. Males can weigh 13 to 22 pounds or more, with females somewhat smaller. The Wegie matures slowly and isn’t full grown until 5 years of age.
The gentle and friendly Norwegian Forest Cat—Wegie, for short—is fond of family members but does not demand constant attention and petting. He is satisfied to be in the same room with people and will entertain himself if no one is home. Although he appreciates human company, he can be a bit reserved with visitors. Even with family, he’s not much of a lap cat, but a nice scritch between the ears or beneath the chin is always welcome, and he’ll usually reciprocate with a nice head butt or cheek rub. He communicates with classic Scandinavian restraint. His quiet voice is employed only when he needs something—dinner on time, perhaps—and rises only if he is ignored.
Not surprisingly, this large and athletic cat is a climber. You will often find him at the highest point he can reach in the home, and unlike some cats, he doesn’t have any qualms about descending trees or other heights headfirst. Thanks to his heritage as a wilderness and farm cat, not to mention his waterproof coat, the Wegie thinks nothing of fishing in a body of water for a nice meal. Aquarium and koi pond denizens, beware! While he loves the outdoors, he is content to live quietly in a home.
This is a smart, independent cat who learns quickly and has an alert nature. He likes to play and thrives with a busy family that loves him.
Both pedigreed cats and mixed-breed cats have varying incidences of health problems that may be genetic in nature. Norwegian Forest Cats are generally healthy, with a long life span of 14 to 16 years. The following diseases have been seen in the breed:
- Glycogen Storage Disease IV, a rare heritable condition that affects metabolism of glucose. Most kittens with the disease are stillborn or die within a few hours of birth, but occasionally a kitten will not show signs until about 5 months of age and usually die within a few months. A DNA test is available that can identify affected and carrier cats.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease that is inherited in some cat breeds such as the Maine Coon. Heritability has not been proven in the Norwegian Forest Cat.
- Polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition that progressively destroys the kidneys. No DNA test for the disease is available for Norwegian Forest Cats, but the disease can be detected through ultrasound as early ass 10 months of age.
- Retinal dysplasia, an eye defect that causes spots on the retina but does not worsen the cat’s vision.
Brush or comb the Norwegian Forest Cat’s long coat once or twice a week, using a bristle brush, wire slicker brush or stainless steel comb. If you run across tangles, work them out gently so you don’t hurt the cat. A bath is rarely necessary, which is a good thing. With the Wegie’s practically waterproof coat, it can be very difficult to get him wet enough for a bath.
Brush the teeth to prevent periodontal disease. Daily dental hygiene is best, but weekly brushing is better than nothing. Wipe the corners of the eyes daily with a soft, damp cloth to remove any discharge. Use a separate area of the cloth for each eye so you don’t run the risk of spreading any infection. Check the ears weekly. If they look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball or soft damp cloth moistened with a 50-50 mixture of cider vinegar and warm water. Avoid using cotton swabs, which can damage the interior of the ear.
Keep the litter box spotlessly clean. Like all cats, Wegies are very particular about bathroom hygiene. A clean litter box will also help to keep their fur clean.
He is certainly built to survive a cold climate, but it’s a good idea to keep a Norwegian Forest Cat as an indoor-only cat to protect him from diseases spread by other cats, attacks by dogs or coyotes, and the other dangers that face cats who go outdoors, such as being hit by a car. Wegies who go outdoors also run the risk of being stolen by someone who would like to have such an unusual cat without paying for it. If possible, build your Wegie a large outdoor enclosure where he can enjoy the elements safely.
Coat Color And Grooming
The Norwegian Forest Cat is notable for his long, thick, beautiful coat and large size. The head has an inverted triangle shape, pointed at the chin and then widening on each side up toward the medium to large ears, which are heavily tufted. Large, almond-shaped eyes are green, gold or copper, although white cats may have blue eyes or odd eyes (one blue eye and one eye of another color). The moderately long body looks powerful, with its broad chest and heavily muscled thighs. Large round paws have tufts of fur between the toes. The bushy tail is as long as the body.
The weatherproof double coat varies in length. The “bib” begins with a short collar at the neck, “mutton chops” on the side and a full frontal ruff. Full britches—long hair on the thighs—cover the hind legs. On the body the coat is long and flowing, but it changes with the seasons. A Wegie in summer looks relatively naked compared to his full winter glory. The coat comes in almost every color and pattern, with or without white, with the exceptions of chocolate, lavender or lilac, or a pointed pattern like that of the Siamese.
Children And Other Pets
The friendly, laidback Norwegian Forest Cat is a perfect choice for families with children and cat-friendly dogs. He loves the attention he receives from children who treat him politely and with respect, and he doesn’t mind playing dress-up or going for a ride in a baby buggy.
He is happy to live with other cats and cat-friendly dogs, too, thanks to his amiable disposition. Introduce pets slowly and in controlled circumstances to ensure that they learn to get along together.