The Norwegian Forest cat or “Weggie” (also referred to as Norsk skaukatt, Norsk granskogkatte, Norsk skogkatt, or simply Skogkatt – from its literal Norwegian translation) is native to and the official cat of Norway.
In 1938, King Olav V of Norway declared Norwegian Forest cats to be the national cat of Norway and officiated their title as Viking cats.
These cats are considered part of the “nordic race of cats” and are highly valued for their hunting abilities.
Mistery and speculation surround its origin.
According to some sources, such as the feline genetics company Basepaws, the Norwegian Forest cat could be a descendant of the shorthair cats taken by the Vikings from Great Britain and the longhaired cats taken by crusaders to Scandinavia.
Others, such as cattime.com, believe it could be related to the Turkish Angoras and the Siberian forest cats from Russia.
Official cat registries such as the GCCFA, the TICA, the International Feline
Federation, and the CFA claim that the Norwegian Forest cats once traveled alongside Vikings as ship’s cats.
They were allegedly considered to be a form of treasure or gifts transported during the first crusades.
Others believe that Byzantium traders and merchants took cats on their trips north along with other animals.
One thing is certain – the Norwegian Forest cats are an old breed.
The history of the Norwegian Forest cats
The Norwegian Forest cats were first introduced around the 1930s.
They gained recognition in 1930 and appeared in the Oslo exhibition in 1938.
However, they were threatened with extinction around the 1940s due to crossbreeding with local strays and house cats.
During World War II, some movements tried to preserve the breed, but there was little organized effort to protect the breed.
Around the 1970s, cat lovers relaunched these efforts.
In 1975, the first intensive breeding program was created. In 1977, the distinct variety was officially registered.
Since exports from Norway began, the first pair of Norwegian Forest cats were imported into the United States by 1979.
To this day, the Norwegian Forest cats are in the top 10 of the most favorite cats in Norway.
They are also popular in Sweden, Finland, the US, and France.
The cats of Vikings and warriors
Several researchers speculate that at the time of the Vikings, the earlier ancestors of these modern-day felines were among the animals raised for their warm fur.
They were also kept to stop vermins – either in the villages or aboard Viking longships during the raids and voyages.
Despite no mentions of specific breeds, recent archeological finds from Viking excavations and DNA studies point to interesting connections.
According to the archeological study by Julie Bitz-Thorsen, an undergraduate at the University of Copenhagen, drill holes and cut marks on feline bones suggested the bones were worn as amulets, and skin was used for pelts.
The paleogenetic analysis by Eva-Marie Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist at Institute Jacques Monod, and her colleague Theirry Grange generated results of ancient DNA similar to that found at old Viking settlements in Northern Germany, suggesting that Vikings found cats useful in eradicating mice problems.
Since Vikings were not only seafarers but also lived off farming, cats hunted the mice drawn to the grains.
Similarly, the research conducted by Kristian Gregersen, a conservator of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, asserted that since the presence of cats during the Viking age was not uncommon, it was plausible for people of the time to wear catskins.
The mystical cats of fairytales
The Norwegian Forest cats also appear in Norse literature and folktales. Thus, they have virtually legendary status.
A famous story from Norse mythology claims that Freja, the goddess of beauty and love, favored cats the most.
The goddess was often depicted to have her chariot drawn by Forest cats.
Cats can also be found in the tales of Thor and Utgarda-Loki.
In one tale, Loki dared Thor to complete three feats to prove his worth, the second being to lift his cat from the floor (spoiler alert: the cat was the Midgard Serpent in disguise).
A distinguished breed
The Norwegian Forest cats are notable for their intellect and sturdy build, with a beautiful flowy coat of fur.
Their magnificent fur makes them appear powerful and regal.
Their common features include a full ruff around the neck, strong claws, long legs, broad chest, toned muscles, bushy tails with the same length as the body, and tufts of fur on the ears and around the paws.
According to several breed standards of international cat registries, the females can be relatively smaller than males, but these felines are bigger than the usual house pet.
They can live up to 16 years and weigh as much as 18 pounds as females and 20 pounds as males.
What makes them unique is their dense, glossy double coat that is water-resistant and weatherproof, keeping them protected from wind and snow.
It allows them to be well-adapted to cold climates.
Their woolly undercoats and long topcoats come in a variety of colors and patterns, and their almond-shaped eyes come in shades of green, gold, copper, blue, and even in mixed “odd colors.”
They go through molting in the spring and summer months.
Wondering what it’s like to have the Norwegian Forest cat in your home?
The Norwegian Forest cats are known to have an easy-going and sweet nature. They’re perfect for individuals and families.
They’re not too vocal, but they are attentive and sociable. Furthermore, they’re impressive hunters and climbers.
They are rather independent and often explore the neighborhood.
They can come across as reserved – especially towards strangers – but will eventually warm up.
According to several sources, the Norwegian Forest cats do not have inherited health problems. For example, the study by Andrea Jenssen on Breeding traits and hereditary disorders of the Norwegian forest cat during breed development suggests that they have “few hereditary diseases.”
Despite being a healthy breed, they have been found to suffer from the following diseases: Glycogen Storage Disease IV, Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, hip dysplasia, PK Deficiency, Polycystic kidney disease, Retinal dysplasia, Diabetes mellitus.
The first three are considered to be prominent health risks.
Source: Norway Today