Known as warrior cats, of “wegies”, Norwegian Forest cats are not only the national cat of Norway, but they are also creatures of mythical proportions! Popular in Europe, these incredibly large cats excel at tree climbing and thrive outdoors, but also make great family companions. This is an intelligent and independent breed with a laidback family attitude.
- A very large cat
- Not a particularly healthy breed
- A breed that can be kept with dogs
- A cat that doesn’t mind being around children
- A very vocal cat
The History of the Norwegian Forest Cat
The Norwegian Forest cat is a creature of legends – quite literally! Norwegian myths make reference to a longhaired tree-climbing cat that resembles the Norwegian Forest cat. Most beloved by Freya, the Norse goddess of beauty and love, this longhaired cat (referred to as the skogkatt) features in numerous tales that refer to it as a “Fairy cat”.
Outside of myths and legends, however, it is said that the Norwegian Forest cat is the offspring of longhaired “ratter” cats brought to Scandinavia by crusaders. These cats, carried on crusader’s ships to eliminate rodents, are believed to have bred with Norwegian barn cats to produce the Norwegian Forest cat. These first generation forest cats would have wandered forests and continued to breed with local barn cats and strays, developing the cat that we recognize today.
Over time, the Norwegian Forest cat became a popular breed among locals who were impressed with its ability to catch rodents. Most often, these large cats were kept by farmers who used them for their original purpose – rat catching! In return for keeping barns clear of rats and mice, the cats were given shelter. Despite being taken under wing by locals of Norway, when World War II came, populations of Norwegian Forest cats were decimated and pushed close to extinction. Fortunately, a few individual cats survived and in time populations once again began to climb. By 1977, populations were once again rich and, for the first time, the Norwegian Forest cat was brought to the United States.
Appearance and Vital Stats
The Norwegian Forest cat is a heavy-set cat with thick bones, high muscle mass, and a dense coat – characteristics developed from its native land of Norway. This breed takes longer than most to mature and fully fill out, often not becoming “fully developed” until age five. The Norwegian Forest cat stands at between 9 and 11” tall. Females of the breed weigh in between 9 and 12lbs, where males weigh in between 12 and 16lbs and sometimes even top out at 25lbs!
The Norwegian Forest cat is a hefty cat with thick bones and a muscular build. The body is long and the paws are very large with strong claws that enable this cat to be such a great climber. The “wegie” has tufts of hair between its toes and a large and bushy tail that provide protection and warmth during winter months. This breed has a particularly triangular shaped head with large but low set tufted ears.
The lifespan of this large cat averages between 14 and 16 years.
The coat of the Norwegian Forest cat developed based upon the Norwegian climate. A thick, long double coat provided protection from the harsh Norwegian winters. Even the ears of this cat are covered with long hairs which, combined with their low-set profile, help to maintain body heat. Annual molting prevents matting of the coat, protecting what was once a while cat from becoming weighted down in the wild.
The Norwegian Forest cat can have a coat of varied length, but most frequently the coat is quite long. A characteristic longer haired bib sits on this cat’s chest and tapers around the neck to shorter hairs. The hair on the back of the hind legs is longer, giving the appearance of pants and the main body is covered in a thick long coat. The thick coat of the “wegie” is seen only during the colder months. Once the seasons begin to change, this breed will lose its thick coat and look much slenderer.
When it comes to coat color, this is a breed that hits just about every color and pattern profile except for a pointed pattern, lavender, chocolate, or lilac coloration.
The eyes of this cat are large and usually copper, green, or gold in color. Occasionally cats will have blue or one blue eye, a characteristic found only on white “wegies”.
Despite originally being a “wild” cat, the Norwegian Forest cat is quite a relaxed feline breed that appreciates companionship. Family is important for this breed and they like to be close to their human family members, but they also like to have control of when and for how long. A “wegie” does things on their own terms.
Although quick to adjust to home life and changes that might occur in their environment, this is a cat that still harbors natural instincts. Most notably, the Norwegian Forest cat must be provided with a scratching post and a climbing tree to exercise its need to climb and scratch. If not given these tools as an outlet, furniture, drapes, and just about anything else can become fair game for the sharp strong claws of this breed.
A sociable breed, this is not a cat that will do well with a family that is not home often. It is also important to note that despite its ancestry as a roaming and hunting breed, this cat should be kept as an indoor pet. Outdoor life is not healthy for any cat due to the risks of illness or injury.
The Norwegian Forest cat will do well in just about any home environment as long as they are provided with stimulation and companionship. Appropriate stimulation includes the provision of scratching posts and climbing trees as noted above, as well as toys and interaction. Window perches are also a great addition to any home with this cat.
Children and Other Pets
The Norwegian Forest cat is one of the friendlier breeds when it comes to both children and other family pets. Tolerant of younger children and dogs, this cat perhaps gains its confidence from its size.
Although it does well with companions of most types, the “wegie” still requires respect and proper handling. Without the opportunity to walk away or escape a situation where they feel threatened, the strong claws of this breed can be quite dangerous.
Due to its history as a ratting breed and the simple fact that this is a cat, the “wegie” should not be given access to domesticated rodents of any kind.
A large cat, the Norwegian Forest cat requires more food than the average housecat. The main basis of this cat’s diet is protein; carbs should be avoided. It is also crucial to control food portions when feeding this breed due to a prevalence of obesity. As a very large breed, obesity creates a lot of strain on the bones, joints, and organs of this cat.
The thick long fur of the Norwegian Forest cat requires regular grooming. Daily brushing is a good practice for this breed because it provides time for bonding. Owners can, however, get away with grooming twice a week or four times a week during shedding season if the aim is simply to reduce shedding in the home. If daily brushing or combing is done to increase bonding, brushing time should be limited to prevent excessively stimulating the oil glands. Too much stimulation of the oil glands through grooming can lead to an oily and unhealthy coat.
Some people believe that longhaired breeds like the Norwegian Forest cat should be shaved during hotter seasons or in hotter climates. It is preferable to keep this cat inside in the air conditioning to avoid any need for shaving. If no air conditioning is available, it may be necessary to give a long shave cut to this breed to provide relief from hotter climates. Overall, however, this breed should simply not be kept in hotter climates without access to air conditioning.
A moderately active breed, the Norwegian Forest cat does require access to toys, climbing trees, and scratching posts for exercise. It is also necessary to provide this cat with human interaction and play time for bonding and mental stimulation.
Although this may seem like a robust cat due to its ability to thrive outdoors in extreme temperatures, there are a number of health conditions that affect the Norwegian Forest cat. These conditions tend to crop up mostly from poor breeding practices and inbreeding within the population.
A hereditary disorder in which the head of the femur bone does not properly fit into the hip socket on one or both sides. Hip dysplasia can be prevented by breeding only cats with healthy hips that have been certified by an orthopedic specialist. Symptoms of hip dysplasia in cats include lameness, pain, and a reluctance to jump. There is no cure for hip dysplasia but surgery can reform the hip socket or remove the femur head to create a better joint. If surgery is not preferred or if dysplasia is mild, symptoms can be treated with anti-inflammatories, pain relief medications, and joint supplements.
Glycogen storage disease type IV
Glycogen storage disease type IV is an inherited disease. Cats with Glycogen storage disease type IV lack an enzyme that is necessary to metabolize glycogen. Without this enzyme to metabolize glycogen, it quickly builds up in the muscles and the nerves and is always fatal. If kittens affected by Glycogen storage disease type IV do not die shortly after birth, they will begin to show signs of the disease by 4 months old.
Symptoms of Glycogen storage disease type IV include fever, weakness, and tremors. Prevention of Glycogen storage disease type IV can only be achieved by testing potential parent cats for the disease before breeding.
Polycystic Kidney Disease
A genetic condition, polycystic kidney disease is a disease where cysts grow on the kidneys and progressively reduce kidney function. Symptoms of this disease usually aren’t seen until cysts grow in size or number when a cat is in their late middle age, around age seven. Symptoms of this disease include increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, decreased appetite, vomiting, lethargy, and nausea. There is no way to reverse the damage that polycystic kidney disease causes. Eventually, polycystic kidney disease can reduce kidney function to a point where euthanasia is the best choice for the affected cat.
There is no DNA to test for Polycystic Kidney Disease at this time, but it can be detected when kittens are around 10 months old through ultrasound. Early detection allows for accommodations to be made to the kitten’s lifestyle to reduce stress on the kidneys.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common type of heart disease in all cats, but it is found most frequently in certain breeds, including the Norwegian Forest cat. This variety of heart disease causes the muscle in the left ventricle of the heart to be thicker than normal or to enlarge. This structural abnormality is believed to be inherited and causes the heart to function at a lesser capacity. Symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be seen in cats as young as just a few months or may not be seen until cats are well into their geriatric years. Often this is a disease caught first by veterinarians by the detection of a heart murmur before physical symptoms are displayed. If symptoms are shown they include, difficulty breathing, breathing with the mouth open, and lethargy.
Treatment for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy includes controlling symptoms. Cats can survive with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy for varied time spans depending upon the severity of their disease. The specific cause of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is thought to be genetic, however, it is not confirmed to be solely genetic in cause. Due to this, it is likely that breeding only parent cats with cardiac clearances would reduce the occurrence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Breeds frequently confused with the Norwegian Forest cat include the Maine Coon cat and other longhaired breeds. The truth is, however, that this is a particularly unique cat and while often confused for other breeds by appearance alone, there is no link between these cats and the Norwegian Forest cat.