Last updated: February 18, 2017
Norwegian Forest Cat is an ancient, natural breed from Scandinavia. These big cats may have roamed Viking ships. Today, they are experiencing a revival and can now be found around the world as pets and at cat shows.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is a large breed with males typically weighing 12 – 18 pounds and females 9 – 12 pounds. They are substantially built cats with heavy bone. The body is medium long with slightly longer rear legs than forelegs. The feet are large, round, and well tufted. The long, bushy tail is at least the length of the body and may be longer. As would be expected with such a large cat, they take up to five years to reach maturity.
The head is an equilateral triangle if you draw lines between the ears and from the outer edges of the ears to the chin. They have large, obliquely set eyes that are almond in shape. The eyes can be any color except blue or odd-eyed (each eye a different color) and do not need to co-ordinate with the coat color. Blue eyes and odd eyes are permitted on white cats only. The ears are large and wide at the base, gradually narrowing to slightly rounded tips. They are heavily furnished and may have lynx tips. They tilt forward, giving the cat an alert expression.
The coat of the Norwegian Forest Cat is semi-long. It is a thick, water resistant, double coat as would be expected of a cat meant to live in a harsh climate such as that of Scandinavia. The undercoat is woolly and quite dense. The outer coat is long, smooth and coarse in texture. All colors are permissible except pointed colors like those of the Siamese. The coat does shed seasonally. Despite its length, little extra grooming is required and the coat is not overly prone to matting. Occasionally combing is suggested, particularly in spring when the heavier winter coat is being shed.
Many believe the Norwegian Forest Cat to be the same cat mentioned in Viking legends that accompanied the Vikings on their ships. They kept the ships and villages free of vermin. They were known as the “skogkatt” and accompanied the Vikings in all their travels. The Norwegian Forest Cats were prized for their hardiness and ability to withstand the climate and strong skills as ratters. They can be found in Norse literary works from centuries earlier. Norse mythology is also heavily peppered with cat references including a cat so large that even Thor could not lift it. The goddess Freya rode in a carriage pulled by two cats.
Unfortunately over the course of history, the number of Norwegian Forest Cats declined dramatically as they bred with domestic shorthairs. By the 20th century, they had practically disappeared. Attempts were made to revive the cat population but WWII interrupted these efforts and it was several years before they were taken up again. Then, in the 1970s a concentrated effort was made to preserve the breed. The late King Olaf named them Norway’s official cat and the fanciers of his homeland made serious and successful efforts to help the breed regain lost ground.
The first Norwegian Forest Cats to be exported to North America were a breeding pair that was sent to the United States in 1979. Today, they are recognized around the world by most registries and can be found in many countries. While not rare, they are not the most common breed of cat and you should expect to go on a waiting list for a kitten. The wait is worthwhile though as these Norwegian treasures make fabulous pets.
One of the nicest things about breeds that evolve naturally without gene mutations is that Mother Nature has done much of the hard work in making them hardy and healthy. In the case of the Norwegian Forest Cat, surviving by their hunting skills and ability to withstand the cold climate meant that weak or ill cats were eliminated from the gene pool. You need to be strong and hardy to survive under those conditions and the Norwegian Forest Cat did so for many centuries. Most of them live well into their teen years.
They are prone to the same modern diseases as other cats including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, retinal dysplasia, polycystic kidney disease, and glycogen storage disease IV. The latter is a fairly rare disease that results in an inability to metabolize glucose properly. Affected kittens are usually stillborn or die shortly after birth. Occasionally one may remain without symptoms until they are a little older, perhaps up to six months of age, but once symptoms appear they rarely survive longer than a few months.
The Norwegian Forest Cat, sometimes known as the Wegie, is an extremely intelligent cat with excellent hunting skills. They are lively animals that love to play and wish to be involved in absolutely every aspect of their owners’ lives. Privacy can be an issue and you may need to shut the door to get some. Despite this need to be involved and with you, they can be quite independent and love is generally on their terms. If they feel like it, you may find it difficult to get one off your lap but at other times, they are quite content simply to share the room.
They are very adaptable cats and handle change quite well. They are mild mannered and easy going, getting along well with children and other cat friendly pets. Given their hunting prowess, birds and rodents are perhaps not the best choice though.
The Norwegian Forest Cat does love to climb and a climbing tree is a good idea for the home. They are very athletic despite their size and will explore all corners of a room, including the upper most reaches. They also enjoy games and toys and can be quite resourceful when they feel the need. That being said, they are moderately active and enjoy lots of quiet naps as well. They are sufficiently independent that they are quite happy to be on their own for extended periods of time while the family is away at work and school.
For those who like the look of a longhaired cat but do not want the work of dealing with a coat like the Persians or Himalayans, the Norwegian Forest Cat can be an ideal choice. They are very adaptable and will adjust to most situations.