The Norwegian Forest Cat is a mystical breed, originally thought of as fairy cat. This is the feline of the Vikings, so popular and beloved in Northern Europe that it is a frequent muse in numerous Norwegian urban stories and myths. Although believed to be between 1000 to 2000 years old, their mythology continues to live on to this very day.
The Norwegian forest cats are large, sturdy and strong. Adult males weigh anywhere from 5.5 to 7.5 kg (12 – 16.5 lbs), and females from 3.5 to 4.5 kg (7.7 – 10 lbs). Old Norwegian myths described the size of the cat to be so huge, not even the mighty Gods could lift them. One such story suggested that Thor, the God of Thunder and son of Odin Allfather, lost a contest of strength to Jormungand, the serpent son of Loki, the God of mischief. And how did Jormungand win? He was disguised as no other than a Norwegian Forest, of course!
Originating in Northern Europe, the natural breed is adapted to a very cold climate. They are well protected from the water and snow with their insulated, waterproof double coat. “If ever there was a cat built to match its environment, it is the Norwegian Forest Cat. It has developed over many years of natural selection into a breed able to survive the long harsh winters of Norway. – The Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA)
Although usually identified by their tabby-white medium-long fur, Norwegian kitties come in all possible colors and patterns except for chocolate, lilac, fawn and cinnamon. The breed is easily distinguished by their large, almond-shaped eyes, triangle-shaped head and a straight profile from the brow ridge to the tip of the nose. Their large ears are wide at the base and high set with a tufted top. Tufted ears and toes serve as earmuffs and boots to help protect the cat against cold and wet weather.
Norwegian Forest cat is one of a mystical origin, believed to be between 1000 to 2000 years old. Served as “mousers” on their ships and farms, these were the warrior cats of the mighty Vikings. While it is certain that the breed originated in Norway, there are two theories of who their real ancestors are. One theory suggests that their ancestors are black and white shorthair cats brought from Great Britain cross-bred with longhaired cats brought by Crusaders.
Another theory claims that the ancestors are Siberian Forest cats brought from Russia and Turkish Angoras from Turkey. Either way, it was Carl Fredrik Nordane, a Norwegian cat fancier, who first initiated that these beautiful felines were registered as an official cat breed. The breed was finally registered in Europe in 1970s, and in the American Cat Fanciers Association in 1994.
Norwegian Forest cats are friendly, social and independent. While they highly appreciate the company of their favorite humans, they like to keep things in their own terms. They can be lap cats, but only when, where and with whom they want to cuddle. These kitties love to explore and they make for excellent climbers. If let to roam freely, they will often develop into very effective hunters. A stretching post, plenty of toys and/or a tall bedding will go a long way with these kitties. Forest cats have a calm nature and usually get along very well with humans and other pets.
Health and care
Although generally strong and healthy, there are some health issues reported in the breed. According to (Burke, 2005), kidney and heart diseases have been noted. Some published studies have also recognized the Norwegian Forest cats, among several other breeds, to be at a higher risk from Diabetes mellitus (Cooper RL et al, 1997-2007)(Ohlund M et al, 2015).
In a study conducted by Fyfea et al in 2007, a complex rearrangement in the Glycogen branching enzyme (GBE1) has been identified in this breed. This rearrangement can cause a perinatal hypoglycemic collapse and a late-juvenile-onset neuromuscular degeneration in glycogen storage disease type IV in the breed (Fyfea J. C. et al, 2007). The breed has also been known to suffer from hip dysplasia (Eldredge, 2003), a rare, partially hereditary disease of the hip joint.
Their lifespan is usually around 14-16 years of age. Considering their size, they do require more food than most domestic breeds. Consult with a vet and find the food specifically designed according to your Forest’s age, size, health status and activity. It is important that what your cat eats fully addresses all its nutritional needs. To avoid obesity, it is recommended to dose their high-quality food in two measured meals per day.
Norwegian Forest cats also require regular grooming (at least on the weekly basis). Regular grooming will ensure that your beautiful Forest will have a shiny and strong coat, toned muscles and less hairballs. Grooming is also a perfect opportunity for you to keep an eye for fleas, ticks and other parasites, as well as signs of allergies, lumps, swellings and skin disorders.
If your cat doesn’t respond well to grooming, try to train it to accept the routine by associating the experience with something pleasant and enjoyable. You can do this by grooming them only when you are both relaxed and talking to your cat gently and calmly. Make the sessions short at first, and prolong them as the cat is getting used to it. Don’t forget to reward the pawesome behavior with their favorite treats!
The mythology behind their purrfection
Often described as “the mystic wildcat of the fairy tales”, the Norwegian Forest cats have been followed by magical tales ever since the early beginnings. As according to the magical legends we dug out, a certain mystique still surrounds the cat to this very day:
1. Norwegian Forest cats were the favorites of Freya. Norse mythology (mythology of the North Germanic people), claims that the breed was the favorite kind of Freya, the goddess of love, beauty, fertility and health. She was often portrayed with Norwegian Forest cats playing or napping around her, or driving her around in her chariot. Farmers believed that if Freya passed through their fields, it would cause their crops to sprout and grow.
Those who left milk out for Freya’s cats would be blessed with luxuriant harvest. Because Freya was the goddess of love, people also believed that girls who loved cats had greater chance of getting married and having a happy marriage. Feeding a cat would definitely bring sunshine on the wedding day, and gifting cats to the happy couple represented good luck.
2. Thor, the God of Thunder, could not lift a Norwegian Forest. As mentioned before, one of the famous legends following the cat is that in which Thor, the strongest God of them all, lost a contest of strength to Jormungand who came disguised as a Norwegian Forest cat.
3. They are mountain-dwelling fairy cats.. Other Norwegian myths dramatically go on to describe the glorious feline as the “mountain-dwelling cat with an ability to climb sheer rock faces that other cats could not manage”. Funnily enough, Norwegian Forest cats are known for their exceptionally strong claws and ability to climb rocks. No wonder they inspired such mighty tales!
4. They can scare the trolls away.. Once upon a time, a farmer was having a Christmas supper with a group of trolls. A wanderer and his pet bear came by to spend the night during the feast. One troll, thinking the bear was the wanderer’s cat, offered the beast some food. The beast let out a fearsome growl instead! Because trolls are terrified of thunder, they all ran away, forever afraid of cats. Other tales describe the Norwegian Forest cats turning into trolls and trolls turning into cats.
Did you know?
1. They are Norway’s national cat. To no surprise, the Norwegian Forest cats are their country’s national cat. This title was designated to the “Viking Cat” by King Olav V of Norway (born Prince Alexander of Denmark).
2. They are famous under different nicknames. In Norway, the breed is often referred to as Norsk Skogkatt (which is Norwegian for Norwegian Forest cat), Norsk skaukatt or Norsk granskogkatte. In literature, nicknames such as Mystical Fairytale Cats, Viking Cats or even Warrior Cats are often stumbled upon too. Sometimes, they are also affectionately called “Wegies”, a nod to their Norwegian origins.
3. They once almost became extict.. During World War II, the breed didn’t get a lot of attention, and thanks to crossbreeding, came very close to extinction. The legendary breed was preserved thanks to an official breeding program created by the Norwegian Forest Cat Club.
There is a certain mystique surrounding the glorious breed of Norway that just can’t be ignored. Fascinated by their glamorous ways, we hope to have delivered some of the magic to you too! Which story of the Viking Cat was your favorite?
1. Burke, Don (2005). The Complete Burke’s Backyard: The Ultimate Book of Fact Sheets. Millers Point, N.S.W.: Murdoch Books. p. 723.
2. Cooper RL, Drobatz KJ, Lennon EM, et al. Retrospective evaluation of risk factors and outcome predictors in cats with diabetic ketoacidosis (1997-2007): 93 cases. J Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio). 2015;25(2):263-272.
3. Eldredge, Debra (2003). “17: Preventative Health Care for Your Pet”. Pills For Pets: The A to Z Guide to Drugs and Medications for Your Animal Companion. Citadel Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-8065-2436-8. “An example here is the Norwegian Forest cat. Dedicated owners learned that their cats have the possibility of suffering from hip dysplasia.”
4. Fyfe, J. C.; Kurzhals, R. L.; Hawkins, M. G.; Wang, P.; Yuhki, N.; Giger, U.; Van Winkle, T. J.; Haskins, M. E.; Patterson, D. F.; Henthorn, P. S. (2007). “A complex rearrangement in GBE1 causes both perinatal hypoglycemic collapse and late-juvenile-onset neuromuscular degeneration in glycogen storage disease type IV of Norwegian forest cats”. Molecular Genetics and Metabolism. 90 (4): 383–392. doi:10.1016/j.ymgme.2006.12.003. PMC 2063609 Freely accessible. PMID 17257876.
5. Öhlund M, Fall T, Ström Holst B, Hansson-Hamlin H, Bonnett B, Egenvall A. Incidence of diabetes mellitus in insured Swedish cats in relation to age, breed and sex. J Vet Intern Med. 2015;29(5): 1342-1347.