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Norwegian Forest Cat in woods

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Breed Details

  • Average Height: 9 to 11 inches
  • Average Weight: Females, 8 to 15 pounds; males, 10 to 18 pounds
  • Coloring: Most colors and patterns
  • Coat Type: A medium-long, thick, silky, water-resistant top coat over a thick undercoat
  • Average Lifespan: Mid-teens
  • Key Personality Traits:
    Affectionate Affectionate
    Calm Calm
    Intelligent Intelligent

From the land of mountains, fjords, and cold winters comes the Norwegian Forest Cat, a cat breed that once sailed with the Vikings. 

Despite their large size, wild appearance, and strong hunting instinct, these cats are incredibly affectionate and calm. 

Though they have the same needs as other breeds (like a complete and balanced diet, mental stimulation, and clean litter boxes), there are some breed-specific things that are helpful to know about the Norwegian Forest Cat before adopting one.

History and Origin

The Norwegian Forest Cat has been a distinct breed since at least the 8th century. It was likely the cat that the Vikings brought on their sea voyages to keep mice in check. 

Aptly named Skogkatt (Forest cat in Norwegian), they lived in Norway’s countryside, land dominated by mountains and deep forests. The Norwegians welcomed these skilled hunters and climbers on their farms and stables to control rodents.

The Norwegian Forest Cat also figured into mythology, which was an important part of Norse life during this period. One story tells of Freyja, a goddess whose chariot was pulled by giant-sized Norwegian Forest Cats.

By the 20th century, this former warrior cat became threatened due to centuries of inbreeding, prompting a group of cat lovers to work towards its preservation. With all eyes on World War II, however, their plans were postponed.

Cat enthusiasts started a new, successful breeding program in the 1970s, and in 1977, the Fédération Internationale Féline assigned the Norwegian Forest Cat its official recognition. The breed arrived in the United States in 1979, and in 1984 The International Cat Association (TICA) awarded it championship status. This was followed by the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), who accepted it for registration in 1987 and for competition in 1993.

While their Viking days may be over, some Norwegian Forest Cats still live in Norway’s countryside. Mostly however, they’ve become popular companion animals. Since 2012, the Norwegian Forest Cat has ranked between 11 and 14 (of 45) breeds on CFA’s Top Breeds list, and are reportedly one of the most popular cat breeds in Scandinavian countries.

Norwegian Forest Cat Physical Characteristics

Woman with Norwegian Forest Cat outside

The Norwegian Forest Cat’s physical features speak to its successful adaptation to centuries of cold Scandinavian winters.

These cats are big-boned and muscular, and along with breeds like the Maine Coon and Persian, they’re typically larger than most cats. Females weigh between 8 to 15 pounds and males from 10 to 18 pounds, says Dr. Robin Downing, hospital director at The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado. “That said, a healthy Norwegian Forest Cat will not weigh at the high end of that range.”  

Their paws are large and equipped with sharp, long claws, which give them their superior climbing skills. Most cats can climb up a tree, but the Norwegian Forest Cat is the only breed that can climb down head first. They share this in common with wild Leopards!

They have somewhat of a triangular-shaped head with wide-set ears that are tufted at the tips. Their nose is long, and their large, almond-shaped eyes come in green, gold, and green-gold. White and partially-white Norwegian Forest Cats may have blue eyes. 

The coat makes them look even bigger than they already are. It’s double-coated, consisting of a medium-long, silky, water-resistant, thick, top coat over a thick undercoat. 

They come in most colors and patterns (like calico, tortoiseshell, and tabby) except for colorpoint, which is present in just a few breeds like the Siamese and Ragdoll. Examples of color combinations are Black, Blue Smoke, Mackerel Tabby, Patched Tabby, Silver Tabby, Red Tabby, Tortoiseshell, Calico, Cream, and Van Calico.

Because they mature more slowly than other breeds, it can take up to 5 years for a Norwegian Forest Cat to become a full-fledged adult cat.

Norwegian Forest Cat Personality Traits

Don’t let the rugged exterior and history as a Viking’s assistant fool you. Norwegian Forest Cats are known for being affectionate, calm, and laid-back. “They like to be with people and have more of a dog-like personality versus a standoff-ish cat attitude,” says Dr. Susan Jeffrey, a veterinarian at Truesdell Animal Care Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. 

They’re strong-willed, independent creatures, but are also content to rest on your lap, says Dr. Sasha Gibbons, an associate veterinarian at Just Cats Veterinary Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut. “Once they have gone out on their adventures, many love to come back and cuddle.”

They’re also intelligent and have strong hunting instincts. And though they’re gifted climbers who wouldn’t hesitate to ascend a nearby tree, they don’t need to live outside, says Downing. “Appropriate environmental enrichment helps them to be well-adjusted indoor cats.” She does however, recommend building an outdoor enclosure for your Norwegian. “This allows them to experience the richness of auditory, olfactory, and visual stimulation while remaining safe from vehicles and predators.”

They do well in a variety of households, including those with kids and other animals. “If they are raised with other pets (including dogs) they can be quite content with an extended fur family, but like any cats, some Norwegian Forest Cats prefer to be singletons,” says Downing.

Norwegian Forest Cat Care Guide

Norwegian Forest Cat in grass

While the Norwegian Forest Cat is not a super high maintenance breed, it can still benefit from some specific care.

Diet and Nutrition

All cat breeds, including Norwegian Forest Cats, are carnivores. “I think cats should eat a combination of canned food and dry kibble from brands that are AAFCO-approved,” says Jeffrey.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an organization that determines whether a pet food is complete and balanced for optimal nutritional benefit. An AAFCO-approved product will have a nutritional adequacy statement on the label.

As a larger breed, they do require slightly more calories than the typical house cat, says Dr. Lauren Demos, chief veterinary officer of Pettable.com

Ask your veterinarian about the best diet for your cat’s individual needs. 

Exercise and Activity

While most Norwegian Forest Cats don’t seek constant attention, they still need environmental enrichment and exercise to maintain good health. 

Norwegian Forest Cats are intelligent, which coupled with strong hunting instincts, makes them ideal candidates for games like fetch and hide and seek, says Demos. Downing also recommends puzzle games that allow them to “hunt” for their food.

Grooming 

Norwegian Forest Cats do shed more frequently than other breeds, but because of how the top coat lays over the undercoat, the fur is less likely to mat when compared with other long-haired cat breeds, says Gibbons. “Weekly brushing is still recommended as a preventative measure.” 

Downing recommends using a coarse, long-toothed comb in order to reach down into the undercoat.

Cats are generally very clean animals, adds Jeffrey. “I don’t recommend bathing them unless they’re dirty or require medicated baths for dermatological conditions.” 

Norwegian Forest Cat Health Issues

Norwegian Forest Cat at vet

In general, the Norwegian Forest Cat is a healthy and hearty breed but is still at risk for several health issues. 

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM): HCM is a progressive, irreversible heart disease found in all cat breeds, but more prevalent in some, including the Norwegian Forest Cat. “The heart walls thicken, making the chamber sizes much smaller which interferes with normal circulation, ultimately leading to heart failure and death. HCM can cause sudden death which may happen before there is any indication that the cat has a problem,” says Downing. 

Cats diagnosed with HCM can be prescribed medications to help extend life expectancy, she adds.

Hip Dysplasia: This is a deformity in the hip joint that leads to osteoarthritis (OA) and degenerative joint disease (DJD), and though it’s much more common in dogs, the Norwegian Forest Cat is one cat breed that’s susceptible, says Downing. 

“Even though the Norwegian Forest Cat is identified as at risk for hip dysplasia, this is an uncommon condition,” she adds. “Should a cat be diagnosed with hip dysplasia, there are excellent ways to slow the progression of osteoarthritis and to manage pain that happens as a result.”

Glycogen Storage Disease Type IV: GSD IV occurs when an abnormal amount of glucose is stored in the muscles, liver, and nerve cells, causing organ dysfunction and ultimately death. It’s been identified in the Norwegian Forest Cat (primarily kittens), most of whom die soon after birth.

A genetic test that identifies carriers of GDS IV in Norwegian Forest Cats is available. If adopting a kitten through a breeder, ask if they test for it.

Norwegian Forest Cat Lifespan

Healthy Norwegian Forest Cats can live into their mid-teens, “if they can avoid serious diseases such as cancer or HCM,” says Downing.

Interesting Norwegian Forest Cat Facts

Actor Chris Hemsworth once snuggled up with them in a short video called The Man Who Dreams Only of Surfing.

Although relatively new to the U.S., they are rumored to have sailed with Viking explorer, Leif Erikson to North America in the 10th century.

The Norwegian Forest Cat is the only domestic cat breed that can climb down a tree head first. This is because of its large paws and long, sharp claws.

They played a part in Norse mythology, most notably as chariot drivers for Freyja, the goddess of love, fertility, battle, and death.  

Some people believe they’re a direct ancestor of the Maine Coon. Though they look very much alike, there are some differences. For example, Maine Coons are larger, have bushier tails, and are louder.

In the 1970s, King Olav V designated the Norwegian Forest Cat as Norway’s national cat.

Norwegian Forest Cat Adoption Tips 

Woman holding Norwegian Forest Cat

It’s not a very common breed in the U.S. and Norwegian Forest Cat Rescues are difficult to locate. This doesn’t mean adopting a Norwegian Forest Cat is out of the question. Here are some options to consider.

Purebred and mixed breed cat rescues. Examples include Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue, a foster network based in the Midwest, and Tree House Humane Society, an all-cat rescue in Chicago.

Online adoption databases. You can do a search by cat breed at both PetFinder and RescueMe.

Norwegian Forest Cat Breeders

When it comes to breeders, it’s essential to know who you’re doing business with. Instead of relying on random internet searches, try to meet breeders in person or virtually via cat breeder associations like CFA or TICA.

Avoid becoming a victim of an Internet scam. Check out sites like BBB’s Scam Tracker and Petscams.com to be sure you’re dealing with a legitimate breeder.

Ask a lot of questions. A few to consider:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Do you test for Glycogen Storage Disease Type IV?
  • Do you have a veterinary record I can look at?
  • Do you have references I can check?

Norwegian Forest kittens are pricey, usually ranging between $600 and $1,200 dollars. This doesn’t include the lifetime maintenance costs like nutritious foods, veterinary care, and other supplies.

Norwegian Forest Cat FAQs

Portrait of Norwegian Forest Cat

Before making a Norwegian Forest Cat part of your feline family, it’s important that you have all of the basic information you need about the breed. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about this large and affectionate cat. 

How Big Do Norwegian Forest Cats Get?

They usually weigh between 8 to 18 pounds but can be larger, especially if obese.

Are Norwegian Forest Cats Hypoallergenic?

No cat breed is truly hypoallergenic, so the Norwegian Forest Cat can still spread dander and cause allergies. There are certain cat foods and supplements that are formulated to reduce allergens in cat hair and dander.  

Are Norwegian Forest Cats Vocal?

Norwegian Forest Cats are one of the quieter cat breeds, communicating in purrs and meows, as well as chirps. 

Norwegian Forest Cat Pictures

With their striking green eyes and long, silky coats, Norwegian Forest Cats are a sight to behold. Plus, their size makes them one of the largest cat breeds. If you’re like us and can’t get enough of these majestic felines, browse our gallery of Norwegian Forest Cat pictures to get your fix.

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