Turkish Van Cats

The "Swimming Cat"

Turkish Van cats originate from the mountainous region around Lake Van in eastern Turkey. This handsome breed has only been widely known outside of Turkey since the 1950's when two English women brought back two examples to Britain.

Photo: Dan Forg

A serious breeding program was started, five more examples of the breed were collected from the Lake Van region and after four years, litters of consistently patterned kittens were being produced.

Known as Van Kedi in their native Turkey, the Turkish Van breed is also known as the Van Cat, the Turkish Cat and most usually as the swimming cat..

These cats have the reputation of having a love of water, and indeed many examples, but not all, will readily take to the water and swim recreationally.

Sociable and affectionate, but with a strong degree of independence, not particularly lively but playful, Van cats are often described as being as brave and proud as lions, although some can be quite nervous especially concerning sudden noises.

Turkish Vans are climbers and will make use of your furniture to get themselves above eye level.

These felines are curious and love to investigate everything, using their intelligence to learn how to open cupboard doors!

Usually a Van will get on very well with other pets in the household, including dogs, but will certainly want to be the boss! Turkish Van cats thrive in the company of other Turkish vans, and will spend hours enjoying a play together.

These cats are semi-longhaired, but as they do not have an undercoat grooming is not too much of a problem. They will shed, particularly when they loose their winter length coat, but a once a week grooming session should be sufficient.

It is often said that Turkish Vans don't tolerate being picked up and cuddled, this may be true of many Vans but by no means all. In general the breed is very amenable, amicable and affectionate.

Van cats are very attractive felines and always generate lots of attention which they love!. Strong and healthy, if cared for Vans provide their owners with years of faithful, loving companionship.

Turkish Van Cats - Appearance

A Turkish Van named Coco. Photo: NoirKitsune

The officially recognized Van pattern is white with darker patches on the head and tail. The most usual coloring is chalky white with auburn patches, but examples of the Turkish Van breed can be found in the following colors.

Solid (and White) Red, Black, Cream, Blue.
Tabby (and White) Red, Cream, Brown, Blue.
Parti-color (and White) Tortoiseshell, Dilute Tortoiseshell, Brown Patched Tabby, Blue Patched Tabby.

Eyes are round, clear and very expressive, in amber, blue or odd eyed. The head is broad with protuberant cheekbones and a firm chin. Ears are fairly large, with slightly rounded tips and set high on the head.

Turkish Van cats have longish, muscular bodies with wide shoulders and deep chests. Legs are long and sturdy and the paws are on the large side. The tail is fairly long and has a brush appearance.

Male Turkish Vans weigh around 10 to 13 pounds, although some larger examples have been reported, females weigh slightly less.

History of the Turkish Van Cat

Archaeological evidence hints that domestic cats were known in Turkey as long as 7000 years ago.

Excavations by the British Archaeological Institute uncovered small Neolithic figures of women holding, or playing with cats. These terracotta statuettes are thought to be the oldest known representations of pet cats.

From AD75 to AD387 the Romans occupied the Lake Van region in Eastern Turkey.

Battle armor from this period displayed in the Louvre Paris, shows large light colored cats with tail rings, these are believed to prove an early presence for the Turkish Van Cat.

These cats have been highly valued and respected pets for centuries in the mountainous Lake Van district.

It is the remoteness and somewhat isolated nature of the region that helped preserve the unique breed.

Turkish Van Cat Breed - Introduced to the West

In 1955 two British photographers, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, were working in the Lake Van region on an assignment from the Turkish Tourist Board.

Enthralled by tales of the "swimming cat" the pair showed a lot of interest in the local felines with auburn head markings and faintly ringed auburn tails, and were given an unrelated pair of Turkish Van kittens.

After the obligatory period of quarantine upon arrival to the UK, the kittens were sent to the home of Laura Lushington where it was established that they belonged to a breed unknown to the world of pedigree cats.

A serious breeding program was started, five more examples of the breed were collected on subsequent trips to the Lake Van region, and after four years litters of consistently patterned kittens were being produced.

Turkish Van Cat Breed - Recognition

Then began what proved to big a long process in getting the Van cat officially recognized as a new breed.

The stunning photographs that the owners took of their cats, particularly shots of them swimming, gained a lot of publicity, but this cut no ice with the feline associations.

It was not until 1969 that this attractive breed was given recognition. Delay had been caused by Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday's decision to use the name Van for the breed and also for their own registered cattery, this was not permitted by the associations.

For a time the cats had to be known as Turkish cats rather than Van cats.

This stipulation caused confusion with the related, but separate, breed the Turkish Angora, therefore the new name never became popular. It was not until Laura Lushington retired from cat breeding that the name reverted to Turkish Van cat.

Also, because records were not kept in Turkey, there had to be breeding through four generations before there was official recognition as pedigree felines.

It was not until 1982 that examples of Van's arrived in the USA, and another thirteen years before they were officially recognized.

Van cats continue to gain popularity. They are a charming, intelligent breed, and prove to be loyal, loving companions.

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