A domestic cat native to Northern Europe, the Norwegian Forest Cat has adapted to very harsh climates by developing a top coat of long, glossy, water-shedding hair, and a thick woolly undercoat for insulation. The Norwegian Forest Cat, called the “skogkatt” (forest cat) in Norway, is a natural breed and, despite its feral appearance, is not a descendant or a hybrid of any wild cat species. Norwegian Forest Cats are mentioned in Scandinavian fairy tales and mythology, where they have been described as “enchanted cats of the forest that could disappear at will…”.
Forest Cats probably arrived in Norway from Europe, descendants of domestic cats introduced to northern Europe by the Romans. It is supposed that the Norwegian Forest Cat has existed for a very long time, since Norwegian mythology includes references to large, long-haired cats. While the origins of these myths is unknown, their existence suggests that domestic cats have been in Norway for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years.
When cats arrived in the northern countries, most likely with human settlers, traders or crusaders, the breed's ancestors were probably short-haired, since the cats transported by the Romans mostly came from Egypt where that type of cat was common. With the passage of time, these animals adapted to the severe climate. Northern Norway’s rigorous conditions provided a challenging setting for these cats. A feral existence for centuries within this brutally cold and wet environment resulted in a more resilient coat, as well as a shrewd instinct to achieve long-term survival. One of these strategies embraced the value of befriending the region’s farmers who needed help with rodent control. In return, they were sheltered and warmly admired.
Efforts to preserve this breed by the first Norwegian Forest Cat Club’s formation in 1938 was soon thwarted by World War II. Cross-breeding with run-of-the-mill domestic cats during the war endangered the lineage of the Norwegian Forest Cat to the point of near extinction. Resumption of the Norwegian Forest Cat Club’s activities in the 1970s initiated an official breeding program, which eventually provoked royal recognition by the late King Olaf who honored it as the official cat of Norway.
The first members of this breed were imported to the United States in 1979. The International Cat Association was the first North American registry to grant Championship status to the Norwegian Forest Cat in 1984, and it was recognized as a championship breed by the American Cat Fanciers’ Association in 1994.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is a big, strong cat, similar to the Maine Coon cat, with long legs, a bushy tail, and a very sturdy body. The breed is very good at climbing, since it has strong claws, and is even able to climb rocks. Natural athletes, Norwegian Forest Cats love to investigate counters, bookcases, and the loftiest peaks of their home environments. “Wegies,” as they are endearingly referred, are active and playful and retain their fun-loving spirit well into adulthood. They are sweet, friendly, family pets, and they love the people with whom they live. Despite the wild years in the forests of Norway, or perhaps because of that experience, today’s Norwegian Forest Cats would much rather cuddle than prowl.
Also as a result of those harsh survival years, this cat takes most of life in stride. They accept new people, new pets, and new situations without so much as a shrug. However, their fondness for their modern lifestyle can be measured in how emphatically they purr, particularly when perched beside a favorite companion. Outgoing and gregarious, they have plenty of love for every member of the family, young or old, including all its other pets.
The Norwegian Forest Cat's distinguishing double coat varies in length according to the time of year. The cat goes through a spring “molting,” when the winter coat is shed, and then a fall shedding, when the summer coat is renewed. At these times of year, thorough combing is necessary unless you want seasonal layers of cat hair on everything. The rest of the year the Forest Cat requires minimal grooming.
The Norwegian Forest Cat has features like a lynx, with large ears that are decorated at the tips by beautiful tufts of long hair. Norwegian Forest Cats come in a broad range of colors, as do their eyes. The Norwegian Forest Cat’s independent nature makes it easily adaptable to homes where owners are gone all day. Although they can thrive easily outside the house, it is recommended that you keep your cat inside for its own safety and your lifelong enjoyment.
Slow to mature, kittens may need up to five years to reach full size. Males are usually bigger than females, weighing from twelve to twenty pounds, while females weigh eight to fourteen pounds. Males may occasionally weigh as much as twenty-two or twenty-three pounds. These are rather enormous cats! Litters range from three to seven kittens.
“Wegies” make a chirping sound similar to that of racoons in the wild. This is a bird-like sound used especially when talking to each other. They don't usually meow unless they are trying to tell you something. Compared to many other breeds, these are fairly quiet cats. They are not afraid to lavish generous affection on those they love. They will talk to you with their sing-song voice, and even try to wash your face if you let them. The Norwegian Forest Cat has a high level of energy and can be very demanding of attention especially after patiently awaiting your return home after a long day of work. Considering their ample, heavy-boned build, they will require more food than most other domestic breeds in order to remain strong.
Barron’s Encyclopedia of Cat Breeds