The Norwegian Forest Cat is a breed of domestic cat native to Northern Europe, and adapted to a very cold climate, with top coat of glossy, long, water-shedding hairs, and a woolly undercoat for insulation. Although this is uncertain, the breed's ancestors may have been short-haired cats brought to Norway by the Vikings around 1000 AD, and may also have included the long-haired Siberian and Turkish Angora. During World War II, the breed became nearly extinct until efforts by the Norwegian Forest Cat Club helped the breed by creating an official breeding program. It was not registered as a breed with the European Fédération Internationale Féline until the 1970s, when a local cat fancier, Carl-Fredrik Nordane, took notice of the breed and made efforts to register it. Currently, the Norwegian Forest Cat is very popular in Norway, Sweden, Iceland and France.
It is a strong, big cat, similar to the Maine Coon breed, with long legs, a bushy tail, and a sturdy body. The breed is very good at climbing, since they have strong claws. The lifespan is usually 14 to 16 years, though kidney and heart diseases have been reported in the breed. Specifically in this breed, complex rearrangements of glycogen branching enzyme (GBE1) can cause a perinatal hypoglycemic collapse and a late-juvenile-onset neuromuscular degeneration in glycogen storage disease type IV.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is adapted to survive Norway's cold weather. Its ancestors may include black and white shorthair cats brought to Norway from Great Britain sometime after 1000 AD by the Vikings and longhaired cats brought to Norway by Crusaders. These cats could have reproduced with farm and feral stock and might have eventually evolved into the modern-day Norwegian Forest Cat. The Siberian and the Turkish Angora, longhaired cats from Russia and Turkey, respectively, are also possible ancestors of the breed. Norse legends refer to the Skogkatt as a "mountain-dwelling fairy cat with an ability to climb sheer rock faces that other cats could not manage." Since the Norwegian Forest Cat is a very adept climber, author Claire Bessant believes that the Skogkatt could be about the Norwegian Forest Cat.
Many people believe that the ancestors of the Norwegian Forest Cat served as mousers on Viking ships. They lived in the Norwegian forests for many centuries, but were later prized for their hunting skills and were used on Norwegian farms. Norwegian Forest Cats would continue acting as mousers at Norwegian farms until they were discovered in the early twentieth century by cat enthusiasts.
In 1938, the first Norwegian Forest Cat Club was formed. The club's movement to preserve the breed was interrupted by World War II (WWII). Due to cross-breeding with free-ranging domestic cats during WWII, the Norwegian Forest Cat became endangered and nearly extinct until the Norwegian Forest Cat Club helped the breed make a comeback by developing an official breeding program. Since the cat did not leave Norway until the 1970s, it was not registered as a breed in the Fédération Internationale Féline, a European federation of cat registries, until Carl-Fredrik Nordane, a local cat fancier, took notice of the breed, and made efforts to register it. The breed was registered in Europe by the 1970s, but was not recognized by the American Cat Fanciers Association until 1994. In 1978, it was recognized in Sweden, and in 1989, they were accepted as a breed in the United Kingdom. The Norwegian Forest Cat is very popular in Norway and Sweden. It is the fifth most popular breed in France since 2003, where there are about 400 to 500 births per year.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is strongly built and larger than an average cat. The breed has a long, sturdy body, long legs, and a bushy and full tail. The coat consists of a long, glossy, thick and water-repellant top layer, and a woolly undercoat, and is thickest at the legs, chest, and head. The profile of the breed is generally straight.
The head is long, with an over-all shape similar to an equilateral triangle, a strong chin, and a muzzle of medium length; a square or round-shaped head is considered to be a defect. The eyes are almond shaped and oblique, and may be of any colour. The ears are large, wide at the base, high set, have a tufted top, are placed in the extension of the triangle formed by the head, and end with a tuft of hair like the ears of the lynx. All coat colors are accepted except chocolate and lilac and the dilutions fawn and cinnamon. Since the cats have very strong claws, they are very good climbers, and can even climb rocks.
Norwegian Forest cats have a quiet voice but can develop a loud voice if kept in a house with a dog. They are friendly, intelligent and are good with people. The Norwegian Forest cat has a high amount of energy and can be very demanding of attention. Those cats that live primarily outdoors become swift and effective hunters, but the breed can also adapt to indoor life. If bought from a registered breeder in the USA, they tend to cost from $550 to $800. The cats usually live to be 14 to 16 years old. As they are heavy-boned and tall they require more food than most other domestic breeds. Males are considerably heavier and larger-boned than females.
There have been kidney and heart diseases reported in the breed. In an experiment directed by John C. Fyfea, Rebeccah L. Kurzhals, and others, it was concluded that a complex rearrangement in the breed's Glycogen branching enzyme (GBE1) can cause both a perinatal hypoglycemic collapse and a late-juvenile-onset neuromuscular degeneration in glycogen storage disease type IV in the breed. This disorder, while rare, can prove fatal to cats that have it. There are DNA test available for GSD IV, it is highly recommended (some cat associations obligate their Norwegian forest cat breeder member) to carry out the DNA test before using such animal for breeding. PawPeds provide pedigree data base which come together with health programmes, through publishing each single cat's test result, to provide useful information for breeders who aim to breed healthy cat make a well informed breeding decision. The breed has also been known to suffer from hip dysplasia, which is a rare, partially hereditary disease of the hip joint. The breed, along with several other cat breeds, can be poisoned by things that are considered safe to humans, including alcoholic beverages, avocados, all forms of chocolate and coffee, macadamia nuts, onions, raisins, grapes, salt, and garlic. The breed is, along with most other cats, known to run the risk of getting Feline viral rhinotracheitis, Feline immunodeficiency virus, Rabies, H5N1, or several other diseases.