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The Turkish Van is a longhaired breed of domestic cat that is descended from the landrace of Van cats found near Lake Van in modern Turkey. The breed is rare, and is distinguished by the van color pattern, where the color is restricted to the head and the tail, and the rest of the cat is white; this is due to the expression of the piebald white spotting gene, a type of partial leucism. A Van may have blue or amber eyes, or one eye of each colour (heterochromia iridis). Also known for its unusual love of water and swimming, the Turkish Van is nicknamed the swimming cat. The breed was developed in Britain from a selection of Van cats obtained from Eastern Turkey in 1955. It was first recognized in Britain by the GCCF in 1969.
Breed standards allow for one or more body spots as long as there is no more than 20% color and the cat does not give the appearance of a bicolor. A few random spots are acceptable, but they should not detract from the pattern. The rest of the cat is white. Although red tabby and white is the classic van color, the color on a van's head and tail can be one of the following: Red, Cream, Black, Blue, Red Tabby, Cream Tabby, Brown Tabby, Blue Tabby, Tortoiseshell, Dilute Tortoiseshell (also known as blue-cream), Brown Patched Tabby, Blue patched Tabby and any other color not showing evidence of hybridization with the pointed cats (Siamese, Himalayan, etc.).
While a few registries recognize all white cats as Turkish Vans, most do not. CFA, the world's largest registry of pedigreed cats, does not recognize the all-white Turkish Van as they define the breed by both its type and pattern. WCF and FIFe, the largest international cat fancier organizations, recognize only van-patterned cats
In 1955 two British women, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, were gifted with some local cats on a trip to Turkey and decided to bring them home. They bred true, and were used as foundation cats for the breed.
"I was first given a pair of Van kittens in 1955 while traveling in Turkey, and decided to bring them back to England, although touring by car and mainly camping at the time - the fact that they survived in good condition showed up the great adaptability and intelligence of their breed in trying circumstances. Experience showed that they bred absolutely true. They were not known in Britain at that time and, because they make such intelligent and charming pets, I decided to try to establish the breed, and to have it recognized officially in Britain by the GCCF."
The first Vans were brought to the United States in 1982 and accepted into championship for showing in the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in 1994. Since then, CFA has registered approximately 100 Vans born each year in the US, making them one of the rarest cat breeds. However, the gene pool thrives because it still uses cats imported from the Lake Van area of Turkey. Imported Vans have no human breeding intervention and are quite robust. No other breed is allowed to be mixed into the breeding schedule, and all registered Turkish Vans can trace their ancestry back to imported cats from the original area.
Called the Turkish cat when given breed recognition in 1969, the name was changed in 1979 in the US (1985 in the US) to Turkish Van to better distance the breed from the Turkish Angora cat (originally called Angora) which had its origins around Ankara, in central Turkey.
The coat on a Turkish Van is considered semi-longhaired. While many cats have three distinct hair types in their coat - guard hair, awn hair and down hair - the Turkish Van only has awn hair. This makes their coat feel like cashmere or rabbit fur, and the coat dries quickly when wet. Lake Van (at 5,260 ft (1,600 m). above sea level) is a region of temperature extremes and the cats have evolved a coat that grows thick in the winter with a large ruff, and bottlebrush tail for the harsh winters. The coat sheds out in the body during the warm summers. The full tail is kept year round.
The Turkish Van is one of the larger cat breeds. Ideal type should feature broad shoulders with a body that is 'top heavy', that is a cat with its center of gravity forward. The cat is moderately long and its back legs are slightly longer than its front legs, but neither the cat itself nor its legs are so long to be disproportionate. These cats are large and muscular. Males can reach 16 pounds (7 kg) and the females weigh about 12 to 14 lb (5 to 6 kg). They have massive paws and rippling hard muscle structure which allows them to be very strong jumpers. Vans can easily hit the top of a refrigerator from a cold start on the floor. They are slow to mature and this process can take 3-5 years. A Van can take up to 3 years to reach full maturity. Vans have been known to reach 3 ft (1 m) long from nose to tip of tail. Also, their fetching skills are quite good and they are quick to learn.
An interesting trait of the breed is its fascination with water; most cat breeds dislike being immersed in water. The unusual trait may be due to the breed's proximity to Lake Van in their native country; it may have acquired this trait due to the very hot summers and have extremely waterproof coats that make bathing them a challenge. As such, Turkish Vans have been nicknamed the "Swimming Cats" for this most unusual trait. Most Vans in the United States are indoor cats and do not have access to large bodies of water, but their love and curiosity of water stays with them. Instead of swimming, they stir their water bowls and invent fishing games in the toilet.
Laura Lushington noted the cats' affinity for water in this manner: "Originating in the Lake Van area of southeastern Turkey, these cats have been domesticated for centuries (in fact for as long as the famous Saluki Hound); they are much loved and prized by the Turks for their exceptional character and unique colouring. Apart from their great capacity for affection and alert intelligence, their outstanding characteristic is their liking for water, not normally regarded as a feline attribute. They not only dabble in water and play with it, but have been known to enter ponds and even horse-troughs for a swim - they soon became famous as the 'swimming cats.'"
Turkish Vans are very intelligent, and will easily take over their home and owners. Vans are people cats that want to be with people wherever they go. They like to play and jump and explore anything in their reach, which is quite large. They are energetic; they play hard and sleep hard. Many Vans are dedicated to fetching their particular object of interest, and many owners describe them as "dogs in a cat suit" because of their unusual personalities.
The piebald spotting gene (partial leucism) appears in other different species (like the horse and ball python). It also shows up in the common house cat, and other breeds of cat, since the van spotting pattern is merely an extreme expression of the gene.
A Turkish Van may have blue eyes, amber eyes, or one eye of each color, (heterochromia iridis) making it an odd-eyed cat. The variability of eye color is genetically caused by the white spotting factor, which is a characteristic of this breed. The white spotting factor is the variable expression of the piebald gene that varies from the minimal degree (1), as in the blue-eyed cats with white tip on the tail to the maximal degree (8-9) that results in a Van-patterned cat, as in Van cats, when colored marks occupy at most 20% of the white background, but the white background in the breed covers about 80% of the body. Breeding two cats together with the same level of white spotting will produce cats with a similar degree of spotting.
Van-patterned Turkish Vans are not prone to deafness, because their phenotype is associated with the van pattern (Sv) semi-dominant gene. Solid-white Turkish angoras carry the epistatic (masking) white color (W) dominant gene associated with white fur, blue eyes and often deafness. All white Van cats may share this gene. All three types of cat may exhibit eye colors that are amber, blue or odd. Deafness is principally associated with cats having two blue eyes.