Getting to Know the Norwegian Forest Cat

By Dawn M. Shiley
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

Cats, who explored the world with the Vikings in ancient times, have captivated America and the world today. From its heavily tufted ears to its magnificently plumed tail, the Norwegian Forest Cat (Norsk Skogkatt) is the gift of the Norse gods to the cat kingdom. Celebrated in Norse mythology and nineteenth century Nordic fables, this cat has an air of enchantment. It has awed Thor and pulled Freya's chariot. Asbjomsen and Moe embellished their Norwegian fairy tales with descriptions of these "huge and furry Troll cats." Today, the Norwegian Forest Cat, lovingly called the Wegie, with its bright eyes, robust body, flowing hair, and sweet expression, continues to endear itself to its human companions.

The Norwegian Forest Cat possesses a strong body and a profuse coat, the product of survival in the harsh wilds and icy winters of its native land. The coat is the most striking quality of this breed. It is endowed with a warm and water repellent fur combination: a wooly undercoat topped with silky flowing guardhairs of varying lengths. The coat also is seasonal, differing greatly in looks from summer to winter. In autumn, the thick wooly undercoat develops. As the shorter days of winter approach, the full frontal ruff and britches covering the back legs flourish. Sometime in the spring, as the days lengthen and warm, the Wegie begins to shed the wooly undercoat. The mane will appear smaller and the guard hairs lie close to the body. From a distance, the bushy tail may be the only indication that it is a longhaired cat.

Many other features of the Norwegian Forest Cat's coat set it apart from other breeds. Its ears are tufted with long, wispy hairs designed to deflect wind and snow. These hairs are sometimes as long as four inches. The cat's large round paws have heavy tufting between the toes which provides "snowshoes," a protective layer of fur between the feet and the cold ground. Since Mother Nature designed these cats, their coats come in a wide array of colors, from solid white and black to particolor and tabby. The darker cats may have slightly less fur because they more easily can soak up the warmth from the sun.

Beneath the fur, the Norwegian Forest Cat has many qualities that make it a distinct breed. It matures slowly and may take four or five years to reach its full potential. It is a strongly built cat of medium to large size. Average females may weigh between eight and twelve pounds while average males will be between ten and sixteen pounds. The forest cat's hind legs are longer than its front legs, a characteristic that enabled its ancestors to climb trees easily as well as transverse the rocky Scandinavian landscape. Its body is muscular and a mature cat has well-developed and heavy thighs. There are stories and pictures of the Wegie using its powerful legs to descend from trees by climbing down the tree trunk headfirst.

Their Personality

Norwegian Forest Cat

The Norwegian's alert and intelligent expression is a product of a well-proportioned head. The refinement of the head is written in the science of geometry. When seen from the front, the head shape is a triangle that is formed by lines of equal distance from the base of its well-tufted ears to the tip of its strong chin. The muzzle line from the tip of the nose to the base of the ear is smooth and straight. The Forest Cat has a strong nose that, in profile, is straight. In profile, the chin is firm and is in a straight line with the front of the nose. The ears are medium-to-large and follow the lines from the side of the head down to the muzzle. The look is finished with large, expressive almond-shaped eyes that tilt upward to the outside corner of the ear, creating a sweet and expressive face.

Norwegian Forest Cats generally are friendly, highly intelligent, and alert. As all cat lovers know, cat personalities vary from cat to cat as much as human personalities vary. Forest Cats usually are adaptable and can be inquisitive and courageous. They tend to get along well in new environments and with other cat breeds, dogs, and children. Many Forest Cats will be extremely loyal to one family member. They are not unfriendly with others in the household, but will give more attention to one person.

Many people claim that Norwegian Forest Cats are not lap cats. Some of them are, and some of them are not. Not being lap cats does not mean they do not interact. They will demand petting, head bumps, and chin scratches. Most will follow their "special people" around the house as they move from room to room. The Forest Cat is people-oriented and likes to be where the action is.

Normally a calm and composed breed, the Norwegian Forest Cat easily can be stirred into action when its owner produces a favorite toy. Reckless abandon characterizes the Forest Cat's flights of fancy while its hunter instincts turn the game into a contest of wills between the cat and its illusive adversary. Coiling the body and swishing the tail, the Forest Cat signals its intention to attack. With its eyes locked on its "enemy," the Forest Cat will leap without bounds in pursuit.

Grabbing the toy and throwing it in the air, the Wegie brings its foe to life. This pitched battle can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes before the enemy is vanquished and the forest cat pauses for a quick bath or well-deserved nap.

An obsession with toys is a normal trait of theirs. Spots of light hold a special fascination for them. It could be from a laser light or an errant sunbeam casting a spot on the wall, the Forest Cat simply does not understand that some prey cannot be captured. If anything interrupts the Wegie's game, its attention is not easily diverted. It is not unusual to find a Forest Cat patiently waiting for a spot of light to reappear more than an hour after the game is finished.

One of the most engaging Norwegian Forest Cat traits is its variety of bird-like songs. This is no "one-note" cat. While not extremely vocal, the Wegie can run through a chorus of sounds to express its moods. From its soft purr to its excited "chirps," this cat will tug on its owner's heart. Without question, the Norwegian Forest Cat makes an affectionate companion and an entertaining pet.

Care of the Norwegian Forest Cat Coat

While a profuse wooly undercoat may sound like it could be difficult to groom, just the opposite is true. For most Wegies the coat is easier to care for than most other longhaired cats. As one breeder is fond of saying: "Mother Nature does not have hairdressers in the deep woods, so she did not design the cat to require daily attention necessary for some other longhair breeds." For the non-show cat, the owner should comb or brush the cat once a week. During the shedding period, usually a sign of spring, it is recommended to increase the grooming to three or four times a week. This helps avoid knots that could develop when the loose hairs tangle in the coat.

Preparing the Norwegian Forest Cat for the show ring is another story. The cat's natural coat is designed to be waterproof and is somewhat oily. For a beautiful cat competing in the show ring, the coat should be free of oil and every hair should stand apart. The first challenge is to wet the "waterproof" cat. Most breeders recommend that a degreasing shampoo be applied to and worked through the dry coat. It is very important to work the shampoo into the coat behind the ears and through the frontal rough. Adding a bit of water allows the groomer to move the suds down to the cat's skin and finally get the cat completely wet. Following the degreasing, the coat should be rinsed and then washed again with a shampoo formulated for cats.

Every cat will have different requirements. Trial and error eventually will determine the proper technique to use for an individual cat. Some cats will have softer coats and need texturizing shampoo. Some cats are oilier than others and require additional degreasing steps (particularly intact males). Some cats with a lot of white will need brighteners to enhance these areas. Others will look best with color shampoos that bring out the natural brown and red hues. Because of the oiliness of the coats, Wegies generally do not require conditioners. A good rule to follow is to make sure that the cat is well rinsed. Generally, when groomers think their cats are rinsed, they should continue rinsing for two to five more minutes because the coat is so thick and dense that shampoos are easily retained.

The Wegie is as hard to dry, as it is to get wet. The dense coat retains the water for a long time. It usually is best to let the cat partially dry by itself. This can be done by putting the cat in a carrier placed in front of a heater that is blowing warm air or by using a cage dryer. The heat of a dryer can be dangerous. Therefore, caution must be used when employing this method of drying. Maintain a safe distance and constantly check on the cat to insure that it does not overheat. The finishing touch is done with a blow dryer. The Forest Cat should be blow-dried until every hair is dry and separated. Final blow-drying time will vary from cat to cat but averages between forty-five minutes to one hour. Particular attention must be paid to the hair on the belly and the britches because it tends to curl. You can avoid this problem by gently combing the coat while blow-drying.

A well-groomed Forest Cat will require little preparation in the show hall prior to showing in the ring. If done properly, the owner should be able to quickly comb the cat and take it to a ring. In fact, overcombing and overhandling will stimulate the oil to form and this should be avoided. In the winter, or in particularly dry show halls, static may be a problem. Applying a small amount of antistatic spray to the groomer's hands and lightly working it into the coat with upward motions can avoid this problem.

Like most breeds, there is little special handling that is required for the Norwegian Forest Cat. Some novices think they should stretched the way Maine Coons are stretched by judges in the ring. The Forest Cat's almost square body and its depth of flank can make this an awkward position. Some cats even will tell you that they do not like it by tensing or hissing. It is better to support the heavily muscled hindquarters with your hands and keep the cat in a pseudo-sitting position when carrying it. Some of the cats will let you know that in addition to that position, they like being cradled in your arms like a baby.

Like most cats, the Norwegian Forest Cat likes to have its feet on the ground. During examination, some show judges will hold the cat up in the air at eye-level to get a special look. Some of the cats will wiggle excessively in this position but will settle down the minute that all four feet touch the ground. It is assumed that the cat feels safer and more in control in this position.

Breed History

The Norwegian Forest Cat emerged from the forest some 4000 years ago. Most likely, the ancestors of the Skogkatt were Southern European shorthaired cats that migrated to Norway in prehistoric times. Through natural selection, only those cats survived that adapted to meet the challenges posed by the difficult climate. Eventually, the Forest Cat became a working farm cat, useful for rodent control.

The Cat Fancy in Norway started in the 1930s and out of it grew a movement to preserve the Forest Cat as the Norwegian national breed. The movement was interrupted by World War II and was not resurrected until the 1970s when changes in Norway had improved the chances of the shorthaired housecats' survival. Crossbreeding between the Forest Cats and the shorthaired housecat and other breeds was bringing the Skogkatt to extinction. In December 1975, a dedicated group of breeders in Norway formed the first Norwegian Forest Cat breed club, Norsk Skogkattring, to save the breed by developing a breeding program. The next year, a European cat registry recognized the breed with Provisional status.

Then, in 1977, it officially accepted the Norwegian Forest Cat for competition. From then until 1990, the breeders worked diligently to find appropriate non-pedigreed examples of the breed and have them certified for registration by a panel of judges. The goal was to develop a gene pool large enough to ensure that the breed would not have to rely on inbreeding and the risks that can be involved.

In 1979, the first breeding pair of Norwegian Forest Cats was imported into the United States. Two years later, the first surviving litter of kittens was born in the United States. CFA acceptance of the "new" breed was a major goal of Norwegian Forest Cat breeders in the United States. The Norwegian Forest Cat secured championship status in CFA in 1993.

This robust breed which emerged from the dark forests and colorful Norwegian legends has taken its rightful place in the cat kingdom. The Norwegian Forest Cat owes its destiny to its enduring relationship with man who recognized the value of preserving this gentle-spirited national treasure. From the Viking ships to the modern showhall, the Norwegian Forest Cat continues to inspire wonder and entice the imagination.

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