Although it has an ancient history, the Norwegian Forest Cat (NFC) is considered a “new” breed by American standards. This hearty breed of cat of is both affectionate and helpful to people and makes a fine house pet. Not bad for a breed that has lived most of its existence just shy of the Artic Circle.
The exact history of the NFC is unknown, but it has been revered in Nordic myths and poetry for millennia. They emerged from the Nordic forests some 4000 years ago to live with humans, which is how they got their name. A possible theory of their existence is that they are a combination of shorthaired cats from England that the Vikings brought back after their conquests and longhaired cats from the south brought in by the Crusaders. However, the strange thing about these cats is that even though they are longhaired, they look nothing like the Persians and other longhaired cats that were known at the time. So the question is: Did these two breeds comingle with the best traits of each surviving in the cold climate or did the shorthaired breed evolved into a longhaired breed on its own? Either way, the NFC is something quite unique in the cat world. They are one of the few breed of cats that evolved with hardly any human interference for thousands of years.
In Norse mythology, there is a myth of a cat so huge that the thunder god Thor could not lift it from the ground. The goddess of love and fertility, Freyja, had a carriage pulled by two large cats. The goddess was also a champion of cats and would bless those who were kind to them. There is an old saying still used today that if there is nice weather during a wedding, the bride was said to have “fed the cat well.” After Norway’s independence from the Dutch in the 1800’s, Peter Christen Asbjomsen and Jorgen Moe took a combination of Norwegian folktales and myths and turned them into fairy tales, as a way to give Norway a literary history. The tales mention Troll Cats who were huge and furry; later translations changed Troll to Forest Cat. The most famous of these tales is Three Billy Goats Gruff. In 1912, Gabriel Scott, renowned Norwegian poet, wrote an entire book about a white forest cat called Solvfaks (Silver Fox or Silver Fur depending on who is translating) who was mobbed by other cats because he was longhaired.
Although the NFC evolved on its own, it is still considered a domestic breed and Nordic farmers kept them as pets to control rodents. They were also invaluable on Viking ships to protect food supplies from these scavengers. Called Skogkatts by the locals, they are very fit animals with thick double coats to survive the cold and snow. They are very fast, handy for escaping predators and hunting prey. They possess razor-sharp alertness and incredible intelligence, making them clever companions. It is quite possible that the breed traveled to many distant shores with the Vikings and may have even made it to North America as the Maine Coon Cat and the Longhaired Manx varieties may suggest. However, their official arrival to American shores was much, much later.
Norwegians started a cat association in the 1930’s as a way for them to preserve their special breed, considered a national icon. Its first official showing was in 1938 at a cat show in Oslo. However, the organization was interrupted by WWII and purebred NFCs dwindled. The breed didn’t fully recover until the 1970’s when a group of dedicated breeders formed the Norwegian Forest Cat club, Norsk Skogkattring, to save them. The next year the NFC was recognized by the European cat registry. In 1979, the first breeding pair of NFCs were imported and bred in the United States. The Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) then accepted the “new” breed two years later. NFC finally became a champion in 1993.
The CFA describes the breed profile as a “feast for the eyes.” They have bright emerald green eyes with a band of gold and long flowing hair. Their faces have a sweet expression and silk-soft fur. They have a double coat in winter with an outer coat that protects them from the cold and an undercoat that helps keep them dry. They do shed this undercoat in the spring, which makes them a not-as-furry cat in the summer months. Their colors are from purest white to coal black with every color in between. In fact the CFA takes almost three pages in their breed standards information to describe the many colors. Although they have this long coat, very little is required in the grooming department. One CFA breeder is quoted as saying, “Mother Nature does not have hairdressers in the deep woods, so she did not design the cat to require the daily attention necessary to some other longhaired breeds.” Some unusual characteristics include hairs that stick out from the ears some three to four inches to protect the ears from water and they have thick tufts of fur between their toes to help them walk on the snow, like snowshoes.
Nicknamed “Wegie,” the NFC disposition is a gentle, loving cat. Despite its wild evolution, this cat is very affectionate toward humans and is completely devoted to their human parents. These cats make wonderful house pets and will constantly amaze their owners with their devotion, affection and looks. So when looking for a cat companion, consider this “new” breed with an ancient history.
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