Siberian cats are an ancient natural breed of domestic cat that has existed in Russia for centuries. The breed’s full name is the "Siberian Forest Cat." Siberian cats are believed to be ancestral to all modern-day, long-haired cats. They share many similarities with the Norwegian Forest Cat, to which they are closely related. The Siberian Forest Cat is the national cat of Siberia. One notable feature that distinguishes this breed from others, along with its antiquity, is that Siberians seem to be hypoallergenic for many people with cat allergies.
While the breed may be new to the United States, it's hardly new to the Asian continent and to Europe. Exactly how and when the Siberian cat made its way to Siberia (and subsequently, to Moscow and St. Petersburg) is not known for certain, but the theory is that the breed arrived with Russian emigrants. The cats survived and developed into a rugged, hardy, long-haired breed able to withstand the harsh, unforgiving conditions of the region. The breed then spread throughout Europe, and Siberian cats were noted in Harrison Weir’s late nineteenth century book, "Our Cats and All About Them," as one of the three longhairs represented at one of the earliest cat shows held in England in 1871.
Breeder Elizabeth Terrell of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is credited with first bringing Siberian cats to the attention of American cat fanciers. As a Himalayan breeder and also an aficionado of Russian culture, Ms. Terrell responded to a 1988 article in a cat publication asking for breeders willing to donate or trade Himalayans to help establish that breed in Russia. She contacted Nelli Sachuk, a member of St. Petersburg's Kotofei cat club, which is a member of the international division of ACFA.
Kotofei, named after a character in a Russian fable that had the head of a cat, is one of the few Russian cat clubs that extend official pedigrees. Until recently, Russia did not allow citizens to own any kind of household pet, because of the housing and food shortage. It wasn't until 1987 that Kotofei was formed, and breeding records started being kept. The first cat show in Moscow was held in 1988.
Terrell sent four Himalayans to Nelli Sachuk and in exchange received three Siberians on June 28, 1990, one male and two females. Before long, the Siberian cat had captured Terrell's heart, and she ended up investing thousands of dollars into obtaining more cats and establishing Siberian cats as a recognized breed in America. Other Siberian cat breeders and fanciers joined her and they began the long process of winning association acceptance. Terrell has formed an inter-registry breed club called "Taiga" (after the forests of that name in Siberia) to help maintain the breed's purity and to promote the breed among cat fanciers. While this breed is still rare, the response has been very positive, and its popularity is steadily growing.
Siberian cats are very affectionate cats with a strong dose of lively personality and playfulness. They are happy to be handled, love to sit in your lap, and breeders note that Siberians, like Bengal Cats, have a fascination with water, and often drop toys into their water dishes or investigate bathtubs as they drain. Siberian cats are very intelligent, with an ability to solve problems to get what they want. Despite their large size, they are very agile and graceful, and are great jumpers, able to leap tall bookcases in a single bound.
The Siberian cat is a very dog-like, loyal cat who will come to greet you with enthusiasm. They are friendly, good with dogs, other pets, and strangers, and exhibit high energy. They tend to be a talkative breed, and will comment with short soft mewing sounds when they encounter an interesting object, or plead for a bedroom door to be opened so that they can sleep with their favorite person. They also make an unusual chirping sound that is quite distinctive, and, at the end of your workday, they will want to report on the activities of their own day. Happy to live indoors and socialize with others, they are also extremely well adapted for cold environments, and love to explore in heavy snow.
Siberian cats are one of the largest breeds of domestic cats. Siberian males range between 17 and 26 pounds and the females, between 13 and 17 pounds. As befits a breed that has adapted to thrive in the harsh climate of Siberia, the Siberian cat possesses a long, thick coat with a full ruff around the neck and a tight undercoat that becomes even thicker in cold weather. The coat's oily guard hairs make the coat water-resistant.
The breed possesses the three natural types of feline fur: guard hairs, awn hairs, and down. These three layers protect the cat from weather extremes, and produce a hardy, easy-to-care-for coat. The fur is textured but glossy, which makes it less likely to mat. A twice-weekly combing is usually enough to keep the coat in good condition.
As with many other cat breeds, color varieties of the Siberian vary and all colors, such as tabby, solid, tortoiseshell and colorpoint are genetically possible. The breed does not have any unusual, distinct, or unique fur colorations or patterns. Most breeders, organizations, countries and main registries such as TICA and the WCF, accept the color point coloration as being natural. Color-point Siberians are also known as "Neva-Masquerade": Neva for the river where they are said to have originated, and masquerade, for the mask-like coloration.
Siberian cats tend to become reproductively mature earlier than other breeds, sometimes as young as five months, although their rate of maturing overall is relatively slow. It is thought that this is related to the breed's closeness to its natural wild state. Feral cats often die young due to harsh natural conditions. Attaining reproductive ability early and having relatively large litters provides a biological balance to this. The average Siberian litter consists of five to six kittens, as compared to the average litter of three to four kittens with other pedigreed breeds. However, Siberian litters may consist of as few as one or as many as nine kittens.
Siberian cats make wonderful parents, with the fathers helping to care for the kittens if they are allowed access to the nest. Parents are often strongly bonded and some females will mate with only one male. Atypically for cats, teenage male Siberians have been observed cuddling and grooming their cousins and siblings. Siberians, due to their communal nature, are often happiest in a home in pairs.
Siberian cats are basically a very healthy breed, though many lines have been impacted by one or more genetic diseases. The most common are Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, or HCM, and Persian kidney disease (PKD-1). In an effort to reduce genetic disease in Siberians, several organizations maintain open-source reports of Siberian HCM and PKD, providing breeders with information about high-risk lines.
Hypoallergenic qualities of the Siberian breed have been noted since the cat was first imported to the U.S., as the breed tends to produce lower levels of Fel d1, the primary allergen present on cats, than many other breeds. Since females of all feline breeds produce still lower levels of Fel d1, breeders often suggest that families with allergic members adopt female cats. Allergy sufferers are advised to check their reactivity directly with the parents of any Siberian kitten they are thinking of adopting.
Kathy Wade, owner of "Croshka Siberian Cats," was kind enough to talk with me on the phone and give me some breeder’s insight. The very first thing she brought up was the issue of the hypoallergenic aspect of Siberian cats, since she is allergic to cats herself! She confirmed what I had already found through my research: that many, many people who are allergic to other breeds find that they are not allergic to Siberians which is a strong selling point if ever there was one! She said that she too encourages any potential Siberian owner to visit her household and spend time with her kittens and adults.
She confirmed that Siberian cats are a very dog-like breed that always comes when called, has an outgoing personality, enjoys strangers, and loves other cats and dogs. She also mentioned the unusual "chirping"" sound that Siberians make, and said that these are ideal lap cats who are also very active during playtime. She has approximately twenty cats, and has been in the business of breeding Siberians since 1994—only four years after they were first introduced to this country. Her first cats were from Russia, and others have been imported from Finland and Budapest. New bloodlines have been added along the way, and she almost always has healthy, happy kittens for sale, of all colors.
Kathy Wade may be reached through her Siberian cats ad. Her website offers a great wealth of further information about Siberian cats: their history, physical conformation, different colorations, splendid personalities, and charming behaviors.
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With thanks to:
Enyclopedia of Cat Breeds—J. Anne Helgren