What is the Norwegian Forest Cat?
The Norwegian Forest Cat is a mystery wrapped in fluff.
Where did this cat come from? Who were its ancestors? The Norwegian Forest Cat is the stuff of legends – quite literally – and facts are hard to come by.
What is the history of the Norwegian Forest Cat?
No one knows how these fluffy cats ended up in Norway. Norse mythology mentions some longhaired cats, or at least we think it does: Norse mythology was passed on through oral tradition over thousands of years; the stories weren’t actually written down until the years 800-1200, so we can’t be exactly sure. But there’s a story in the Poetic Edda (the written version), about the fertility goddess, Freyja, who drove a chariot pulled by two fluffy male cats. Now THAT’S a cat lover.
Other Norse legends refer to a “mountain-dwelling fairy cat with an ability to climb sheer rock faces” Check out this video of a Norwegian Forest Cat climbing down a tree face first, and see if you still think it’s only a legend.
(Keep an eye out for the stunned Siamese at the end of the video.)
So, there are legends that place Norwegian Forest Cats, or something like them, in Norway before history was even written. But there are other possibilities that could explain their backstory, too.
The ancestors of Norwegian Forest Cats might have arrived with Leif Erikson or his buddies in the late 900s. Cats were brought aboard ship to keep mice from raiding the grain bins, and they could have slipped away on shore leave in Norway. But these would have been shorthaired cats from Great Britain, nothing like the Norwegian Forest Cats that we know.
If not Viking cats, the Norwegian Forest Cat's ancestors could have been Roman cats, introduced to Northern Europe by settlers, traders, and Crusaders a thousand years ago. These would have been shorthaired cats, too.
Perhaps the Norwegian Forest Cat's ancestors were Turkish longhaired cats brought home by Scandinavian warriors as souvenirs on their way back from the front lines in Byzantium (Greece). On the other hand, Russians could have brought their longhaired Siberians to Northern Europe. Siberians and Norwegian Forest Cats do look similar.
How did Norwegian Forest Cats come to be? Did short-haired Viking or Roman cats adapt to the frigid Norwegian climate, evolving, Darwin-style, into the fluffy Norwegian Forest Cats we know today? Did the shorthaired cats interbreed with longhaired varieties like the Turkish Angora and Siberian? Or did Bygul and Trjegul, Freyja’s handsome chariot cats, just have a busy social life?
Whatever the truth of their origins, Norwegian Forest Cats were nearly extinct by the beginning of the 20th century. Norwegian Forest Cats had crossbred with free-ranging cats of other types and the Norsk Skogkatt (literally Norwegian Forest Cat in Norwegian) was nearly gone.
Cat fans had plans to rebuild the breed and Norway's King Olaf declared the Norwegian Forest Cat the country's official cat in 1938. But then World War II got in the way and efforts to preserve the breed didn't truly get underway until the early 1970s. The first pair arrived in the U.S. in November 1979.
Today they are called Wegies for short. "Norwegian Forest Cat" can be a mouthful.
What does a Norwegian Forest Cat look like?
It’s not a matter of opinion: this is a beautiful cat.
Norwegian Forest is semi-longhaired cat, with a thick, insulated, waterproof double coat perfect for Scandinavian winters. The long, loose guard hairs are silky, and they cover a dense, woolly undercoat. This cat has a short collar of fluff around the neck, a bit of mutton chop, and a full ruff on the chest. His ears and toes are heavily tufted and his back legs sport furry britches. His plumed tail is as long as his body and he can wrap this luxurious tail around himself to keep warm.
The Norwegian Forest Cat’s coat seems designed for a life near the Arctic. But this is a coat that changes with the seasons. This cat undergoes a heavy molt in springtime, almost as if she is taking off her winter jacket.
A Norwegian Forest Cat can be almost any color. Brown tabby and white is traditional, but a Norwegian Forest Cat can be pure white to coal black and almost any color in between, including tuxedo markings. The only color pattern that this cat never sports is the “pointed” look of a Siamese.
This cat’s lovely face is triangular in shape, with large almond eyes that are set at a slight angle. The eyes can be green, gold, copper, or blue. Odd eyes, called heterochromia, are also a possibility.
This is a slow-to-mature cat. He won’t be fully grown until he is five years old! By then, he’ll have a sturdy, heavy-boned, and well-muscled body weighing up to 22 pounds. (Twelve to 16 pounds is typical.) A female Norwegian Forest Cat will weigh a bit less: nine to 12 pounds.
Some people confuse the Maine Coon cat with the Norwegian Forest Cat, and it’s possible that Maine Coon ancestry includes some Wegie. There are noticeable differences between the two breeds, though: a Norwegian Forest Cat has a more compact body and a straight facial profile. A Maine Coon’s body is longer and its profile more scooped. Maine Coons also have a more open, oval shaped eye, in comparison to the Norwegian’s almond-shaped, obliquely set, eyes.
What is a Norwegian Forest Cat’s personality?
This cat is a bit of a study in contrasts. Norwegian Forest Cats are true athletes, but they display bursts of energy, followed by loooonnnng naps.
The love to be near their humans, but not necessarily on their humans. The Cat Fanciers Association explains that any relationship with a Norwegian Forest Cat will be on her terms: “Yes, Forest Cats can be lap cats, but THEY will decide when to get on or off that lap.”
Wegies love to follow their family around but they don’t demand constant attention or petting.
They’re not vocal or particularly loud, but they are great purrers.
Norwegian Forest Cats are sweet, friendly, and most definitely family-oriented. This is a good cat if you have polite children who know how to behave respectfully towards cats. That being said, the Norwegian Forest Cat will likely put up with children who enjoy dressing him up or taking him for a ride in a baby stroller. The Norwegian Forest Cat is also a good choice for families with cat-friendly dogs.
This cat loves everyone in her household. She won’t necessarily bond with any one person in family and she may be reserved with strangers.
Norwegian Forest Cats love climbing and enjoy being up high. Prepare to purchase a cat tree: the tallest one you can find.
Does the Norwegian Forest Cat have any health issues?
Unfortunately, this cat breed is associated with three possible health concerns:
Healthy Norwegian Forest Cats may live to the ripe old age of 12 to 16 years.
How do you care for a Norwegian Forest Cat?
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You might not think so, but this semi-longhaired cat is not the high maintenance pet she appears to be.
His coat will tangle and mat without brushing, but a weekly comb through with a bristle-brush, wire-slicker brush, or stainless-steel comb (or some combination) may be all that’s required. In springtime, when the Norwegian Forest Cat is shedding heavily, he may need the attention of a brush two more times each week. A bath is rarely necessary.
Otherwise, give this cat the care all cats require: brush his teeth at least three times a week (preferably every day), and trim his nails every other, and your Norwegian Forest Cat is ready for his chariot.
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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.
 Bessant, Claire. The Complete Guide to the Cat. Barron's, 1999.
 “Main.” Berloga Workshop, 10 Apr. 2019, berloga-workshop.com/blog/71-bygul-and-trjegul.html.
 Patterson, Jonathan. “Norwegian Forest.” Welcome to TICA - The International Cat Association, TICA Cats, TICA Pedigreed Cats, Pedigreed Cats, Pedigreed Cats Registry, Household Pet Cat Registry, Domestic Cat Registry, Savannah Cat, Bengal Cat, Persian Cat, Maine Coon Cat, tica.org/breeds/browse-all-breeds?view=article&id=1875.
 “Glycogen Storage Disease Type IV (GSD IV) in Norwegian Forest Cats.” Glycogen Storage Disease Type IV (GSD IV) in Norwegian Forest Cats | Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, vgl.ucdavis.edu/test/gsd-iv-cat.