Although the Norwegian Forest cat is still considered a relatively new breed, in reality the Wegie is a very old breed in its homeland Norway (as well as in Sweden and Finland). Nobody knows exactly how long the Forest Cats live in Scandinavia already or where their origin lies.
At present a number of scientists is more or less certain that the Norwegian Forest Cat has evolved thanks to the Vikings: returning home from their trading routes along the Wolga and the Dnjepr all the way to the Anatolian peninsula they took semilong-haired cats, as the Turkish Angora and Turkish Van, with them home to their mother country. Research has made clear that these savage and militant barbarians have kept cats as pets and micecatchers in their homes as well as on their renowned longships. This might also be an explanation for the existence of wild semilong-haired cats in Normandy and in the new world.
According to another theory the cats have travelled along with the people during the Great Migration from Southern Russia to Northern and Western Europe, after the Huns - also a group of rough and relentless people – around 370 AD had appeared in the areas around the Black Sea, sowing dead and destruction.
It is also possible that a combination of both theories is true. In any case the history of the Norwegian Forest Cat goes back to times before the dark Middle Ages:
Fairytale-cat of the Norwegian Forests
The old Norse mythology speaks of a cat which was thus enormous, that even the god Thor could not lift him off the ground. Freija, the goddess of love and fertility, had a golden chariot drawn by a pair of large cats.
The Norwegian folktales (after the Middle Ages) tell about large troll cats with a thick coat and a long bushy tail. Later this was translated into ‘Forest Cat’, but in fact ‘troll cat’ means fairy cat (fairytale-cat).
In the 16th century the Danish priest Peter Clausson Friis, when he was living in Norway, made a classification of the Norwegian lynx. He distinguished three types: the cat-lynx, the fox-lynx and the wolf-lynx. Very likely the cat-lynx refers to the Norwegian Forest Cat.
The first written indication of the Forest cat is presented in the fairytales and sagas which Peter Christian Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe have collected around 1835. These tales mentioned the Huldrekatt, the cat with the bushy tail.
The Scandinavian version of the Puss In Boots-story probably also refers to a Norwegian Forest cat or Norsk Skogkatt.
In 1912 the Norwegian poet Gabriël Scott wrote a children’s book about a white Forest Cat, called Sølfvaks, that was robbed by other cats, because he was long-haired. The illustrations in this book show a large cat with a bushy tail and a full collar.
In the rough Norwegian climate the Norwegian Forest Cat has become what he is today, because only the best adapted cats survived. In the forests these cats had to look after their own food and to defend themselves against enemies, so only those survived which were the best in hunting and escaping from larger carnivores. Cats who survived their first winter had long legs and were resilient, intelligent and brave.
In the course of the centuries the cold, wet climate forced the Forest Cat to develop a double coat: the long greasy, smooth outer coat prevents the cat to get soaking wet in rain and snow and the dense, woolly undercoat, which generally develops in winter, provides warmth and isolation. The tufts in the ears and between the toes (the so-called ‘snow shoes’) give some cover against snow and ice and then there finally is the long thick bushy tail which can serve as a warm blanket when the cat is sleeping.
Thus this unique breed has evolved without any human interference and for this reason the Norwegian Forest Cat is a ‘natural breed’.
The road to recognition as a breed
Up to the thirties of the last century the Forest Cat was an ordinary domestic cat like any other cat in Norway. Nobody had been really interested in these roaming semilong-haired cats and their existence was so common, that it never crossed the mind of the Norwegians to consider this cat a ‘breed cat’. Only the farmers did appreciate the presence of these beautiful, large cats for their skills as mice- and ratcatchers. Just like our farm cats these cats were not really wild. They would hang around people, because on and around the farms they had the best chances of surviving. Even now still ‘original’ Forest Cats live on the farms in Norway.
Around 1933 incidentically some enthusiasts visited a cat show with a Norwegian Forest Cat - these cats could only compete in the household pet section.
In the sixties of the previous century the Forest Cat population decreased as a result of deforestation, urbanization and crossbreeding with short-haired cats. Eventually their numbers diminished so alarmingly that only a recognition as a breed could prevent the Norwegian Forest Cat from extinction. With this aim the Norske Rasekattklubbers Riksforbund (NRR) was established in 1963, which has been of great importance in the conservation and the recognition of the Norwegian Forest Cat as a breed.
This association has also recorded the breed standard. For this purpose they selected one tomcat which was considered to be a particularly beautiful representative, with all the proper characteristics. This tomcat, Pan’s Truls, was the property of Egil and Else Nylund of Cattery Pan.
In 1975 the ‘Norsk Skogkattring’ was set up to direct the breeding activities. Breeders had to follow strict rules and only ‘genuine’ Forest Cats were admitted to the breeding programme. To monitor the breeding several meetings were held where breeders could show their cat to the Breeding Commission. Only cats that had been approved by the Commission could be registered.
Eventually all exertions were rewarded when the FIFé recognized the breed in 1977. This recognition has been presented by the Norwegian media as breaking news and much attention was payed to it. For this special occasion Norway even published a postage stamp.
Soon after the official recognition the breed captured the hearts of non-Scandinavian cat fanciers also. Meanwhile the Norwegian Forest Cat and its passionate breeders can be found all over the world: from Iceland to Japan, the United States, South Africa and Australia!
for the breed standard of the Norwegian Forest Cat click HERE