The Turkish Angora cat
Will the “real” Turkish Angora cat please stand up?
Today’s Turkish Angora is a stunningly beautiful cat, and a fun cat to live with, too. But is it a true Turkish Angora?
The Turkish Angora is a venerable breed of cat that was nearly lost to us. But some say that the Turkish Angora that has since been “found” is a Turkish Angora virtually in name only.
Read to learn more about this special cat, and the twists and turns that took the Turkish Angora from ancient history, to near extinction, and to the cat some of us are privileged to know today.
The history of the Turkish Angora
Turkish Angoras have been around for a long time. How long is long? No one knows for sure.
But we do know that the Turkish Angora comes from the part of the world that was the likely location for the domestication of cats. Yes, the breed may really be that old.
How Angoras’ long hair is a clue to their history
The Turkish Angora is a longhaired cat, but longhaired-ness didn’t come automatically to cats. Although some people still wrongly claim that Turkish Angora evolved from Manul or Pallas cats, Turkish Angoras are actually descended from the same common ancestor as all domestic cats: Felis silvestris lybica, the African wildcat. The DNA evidence is irrefutable.
And African wildcats are shorthaired.
Turkey can get cold in winter, and Turkish Angoras might have developed long fur through a handy (and gorgeous) mutation.
But longhaired cats appeared in other parts of the world, too, namely Russia and Persia (now Iran). Longhaired cats could have sprung up, separately, in three different places. Or, traveling cats could have dropped their longhaired genes into local gene pools as they went.
We can imagine that Roman and Phoenician traders took cats with them on their silk and spice routes. Cats were necessary for textile traders, especially, who relied on them to keep vermin from their wares.
So, a mutation is possible, but it’s equally possible that Turkish Angoras got their long hair from their wayfaring Russian or Persian cousins.
The first historical record of Turkish Angoras
The first Europeans to mention longhaired cats for the history books do so in the 1500s in Italy, and then in France.
An Italian traveler named Peitro della Valle took home a few pairs of longhaired gray cats from the Khorazan province of Persia.
Meanwhile, French scientist Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc took home a couple of white Angora cats as souvenirs from his travels in the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey).
It wasn’t long before the two types of longhairs were crossed with each other in Europe. Eventually, the terms “Persian” and “Angora” became interchangeable names for the same breed of cat.
Meanwhile, back in Turkey…
By the early 1900s, no one, absolutely no one, was breeding true Turkish Angoras.
This alarmed the Turkish government, which feared the complete loss of a national treasure: the pure-white Turkish Angora cat.
The government began collecting all the remaining white cats with blue, amber, or “odd” eyes (one of each) to establish a breeding program in conjunction with the Ankara Zoo. Ankara is the modern-day name for the capital of Turkey, formerly called Angora.
For a long while, it was actually against the law to export a white Angora from Turkey to anywhere else. But finally, in 1963, Turkey released a breeding pair to cat fanciers in the United States, and these two kitties, along with a handful of future exports, became the foundation for the Turkish Angora breed most of us know today.
But are they “true” Turkish Angoras?
Here’s where things get messy for the Turkish Angora
Today’s American purebred Turkish Angora cats look a certain way: they are gorgeous, fine-boned creatures.
Breeders in Turkey, however, feel that this version of the breed is not representative of true Turkish cats, who have a thicker, sturdier build.
For the record, “Turkish” Turkish Angoras wouldn't do well in cat shows, because most cat-registry breed standards reflect American (and Western European)-style Turkish Angoras.
Making matters worse were several controversial scientific studies aimed to “define” various breeds through particular kinds of DNA tests, using cats primarily obtained in the United States.
Some criticize the methodology and the science applied in these studies, which may have created a bias toward American-style Turkish Angoras.
Critics also say that the breed studies encourage the continued breeding of cats who may have remnants of true Turkish Angora DNA, but don’t reflect the breed that the Ankara Zoo and the Turkish government tried so hard to protect.
For the purposes of this post, my comments refer to the American-style Turkish Angora, because this is where I live and where many of my readers live. This in no way minimizes the importance of the “Turkish” Turkish Angora, which is sometimes referred to as the Ankara Kedisi (literally, “Ankara cat”), and which some consider the “true” Turkish Angora cat.
What does a Turkish Angora look like?
There are three words for today’s Turkish Angora: beautiful, beautiful, and beautiful.
Turkish Angoras are fine-boned and elegant. They’ve been described as ballerina-like, with long, sinuous, bodies. These cats sport shimmering coats, with thick, foxy tails, typically carried upright.
A Turkish Angora is a small to medium-sized cat, about five to nine pounds. An Angora's head is a wedge with wide-set ears, upright and pointed. The eyes are walnut-shaped in blue, green, amber, or yellow. Often, an Angora's eyes are mismatched in color, a condition called heterochromia, which is considered a desirable trait.
Although white is traditional, today’s Turkish Angora may have a coat of almost any color and pattern, including the solid colors of black, blue, red, and cream, and patterns such as tortoiseshell, tabby, and bi-color. Some breeders are developing Turkish Angoras in smoke and shaded tones.
The Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) accepts any color and pattern except those that hint at outbreeding, such as lavender, chocolate, or pointed.
(Read about white cats in this post, "Are all white cats deaf?")
What is the personality of the Turkish Angora?
Similes abound. One source refers to Turkish Angoras as the “border collies of the cat world.”
Another calls the Turkish Angora, the “racecar of the cat world: always on the go and willing to play.”
Even if you’ve never met a border collie, one of the highest-energy dogs on the planet (and also one of the smartest), you probably know that a cat that can be compared to a racecar is not going to tolerate your long hours at work and desire for a lap cat.
The Turkish Angora is playful, intelligent, active, and demanding. You can train this cat, and he can train you. You’ll know you’re trained when you find yourself turning on the faucet for him when he leaps to the kitchen sink.
The Turkish Angora is good at opening cabinet doors and getting into things. She loves puzzles and solving problems.
This is also a cat who loves to interact with humans, and bonds with them, usually connecting deeply with one special member of the family. He’ll be bored if you can’t give him attention, and he loves a busy household. Give him kids and dogs, but understand that he’ll likely have the upper hand (or paw, as the case may be) with other household pets.
He likes company, too, and will run to the door to head the welcome party when the doorbell rings. This is not your ordinary cat.
If you get a Turkish Angora, be prepared to find her balancing on the tops of doors and riding on your shoulders. Don’t be surprised if yours loves a dip in the bathtub or swimming pool, or wants to join you in the shower.
Is the Turkish Angora a healthy cat?
Turkish Angoras have been known to live into their 20s
They have few health problems but the ones they do have are worth mentioning here.
The gene that causes deafness in white cats is present in most Turkish Angoras. Hereditary deafness is associated with white coloration in many animal species, including dogs, horses, llamas, and pigs. The gene that makes some animals white is "pleiotropic," meaning it has two different effects.
The effect is strongest in white cats who also have blue eyes. 65-85% of blue-eyed white cats are deaf, while 17-20% of white cats with eyes of other colors are deaf. If a cat has one blue eye and one eye of another color, she is more likely to be deaf on the blue-eyed side.
Turkish Angoras are also at risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which is the most common form of heart disease in cats. Read about HCM in this post.
Turkish Angora kittens may also suffer from hereditary ataxia, a rare condition that causes kittens to have shaky movements and not survive until adulthood.
How do you care for a Turkish Angora?
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A Turkish Angora has a silky top coat, and a thin undercoat, or no undercoat at all.
This makes them easy to groom. A simple comb-through with a fine-toothed comb or slicker brush every week should do the trick. You might have to groom a little more frequently during the summer shed to prevent hairballs from forming.
Many Turkish Angoras love water, so a bath, if it’s ever necessary, should be a breeze. (See how to do it in this post about bathing cats.)
Otherwise, you should just feed this high energy cat a premium diet. She’ll need quality calories to maintain her energy and health.
Is a Turkish Angora the same thing as a Turkish Van?
Not all simple questions have simple answers. First, read all about the unique and stunning Turkish Van cat in this post.
For the purposes of cat fancy, the Turkish Angora and the Turkish Van are indeed distinct breeds. And the controversial (and flawed) breed studies that I discussed above, concluded that Angoras and Vans have significant genetic differences, and suggested that the two cat breeds likely emerged separately, from different regions in and around Turkey.
But in Turkey, there was never any distinction between the two types of cats, nor any evidence that pure-white cats lived in one part of the country, while cats with van markings lived in another.
The origin story of the Turkish Van breed suggests that the British journalist who “discovered” the Van cats while working for the Turkish Tourist Board, may have simply selected cats with particular markings for a breeding program for this “new” breed of cat.
In their home country, a Turkish “Van” is really an Angora with van markings.
In American and Western European show rings, however, these cats are two distinct breeds who look very different, even to a casual observer.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
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