As it turns out, heaven does exist.
Unfortunately, it’s in Prigorondny, Siberia, which is a long way to travel (for most of us), and cold.
Prigorodny is the home of Russian farmers Alla and Sergey Lebedeva and their “million, maybe more” Siberian Cats. Here’s a glimpse:
What is the Siberian Cat?
The Siberian Cat, known more formally as the Siberian Forest Cat, or even Moscow Semi-Longhair, is an ancient cat now believed to be the foundation breed of all modern longhaired cats.
What is the history of the Siberian Cat?
This is what we know: the Siberian Cat began as a landrace, which only means that it developed on its own, isolated from other cat populations, and without any “help” from humans. Not all cat breeds are landraces, of course. The Munchkin and Sphynx breeds, for example, were bred specifically by humans for certain traits, like short legs and hairlessness.
Cats were probably brought to Siberia by Russians who were exiled there, or immigrated. And those cats began to adapt to the super-cold Siberian climate. Over time they developed the characteristics we now associate with the breed: thick, all-weather coats and sturdy bodies, because they needed these traits to survive in the harsh Siberian conditions.
The mutation for long hair happened in three places in the world, or so we think: Russia, Persia (now Iran), and Asia Minor (now Turkey). But it’s also possible that the mutation only happened in Russia. If so, Russian longhaired cats eventually found their way to these other places and began intermingling with the local cat populations there, adding longhaired genes to the mix.
We don’t know how long Siberian Cats have been around. There are old Russian fairy tales and folktales that include cat stories, and these cats are doubtless Siberians. In one strange tale, a cat named Baun, who possesses a magical voice that can heal disease, decides, instead, to use his vocal powers to lull travelers to sleep before eating them. Other odd stories involve a co-habitating tomcat and rooster.
The old stories and some ancient art suggest that Siberian Cats have been around a long while, possibly for 1,000 years or more. The first potential written account of Siberian Cats comes from the “Father of Cat Fancy” himself, a man named Harrison Weirs. In 1871, he wrote a book called Our Cats and All About Them, in which he mentions four longhaired varieties who were shown at the Crystal Palace in London. One of the four, whom Harrison called a “Russian Longhair,” might have been a Siberian. Unfortunately, no records of these cats were kept in Russia, so there isn't any way to know for certain.
There were no Siberians in the United States until 1990. The end of the Cold War opened the doors for export and the first Siberian arrived in Louisiana in 1990.
Interestingly, cat clubs in Russia each have their own standards, so when the first cats started showing up they all looked very different from each other, depending upon where in Russia they came from.
Russians today take their Siberian Cats very seriously. The Siberian is the national cat of Russia.
What does a Siberian Cat look like?
It’s not a matter of opinion: the Siberian Cat is a stunner.
The Siberian is a meaty cat: strong, stockily built, with powerful hindquarters and hind legs that are a bit longer than the front legs giving their backs a slightly arched look. This shape gives them agility and athleticism. They are known to be particularly agile jumpers. This handsome physique is topped off by a darling little face. The Cat Fancier’s Association said it this way: the Siberian Cat has “excellent physical condition, strength, balance, power, and alertness, modified by a sweet facial expression.”
The Siberian Cat is all fur. There are three layers of it: guard, awn, and down hair, which together make up an easy-to-care-for, weather-resistant, winter jacket. The fur is textured but glossy, which keeps matting to a minimum and makes these cats surprisingly easy to groom: a quick brushing a couple of times a week is all that’s needed.
This coat can come in any color, and there are no distinct colorations or patterns associated with the breed. The only exception is the color-pointed Siberian, which is actually classified as a breed unto itself called Neva Masquerade. In any event, a Siberian will shed this coat twice yearly: once at the end of winter (they are tuned into the change in the amount of daylight), and a “mini-molt” at the end of summer.
The Siberian Cat sports a full ruff around the neck, full britches behind, and a bushy, medium-length tail. They have large, rounded paws.
A Siberian Cat’s face is rounded with a broad forehead, topped by medium-to-large ears with rounded tips and ear tufts. The ears can have “lynx tipping,” too, which means the tops of the ears can grow hair, making them appear pointed, even though they are not.
They have large eyes that come in all shades, including blue and different-colored eyes (heterochromia iridum).
These cats are heavy for their size. Although they are almost full grown by a year and a half of age, their muscles continue to develop and strengthen and they will continue to put on weight until they are five. Most females weigh eight to 12 pounds, and most males weigh 12 to 16 pounds, but a 25-pound neutered male Siberian is not unheard of.
What is a Siberian Cat’s personality?
The Siberian Cat is an easy-going cat. A Siberian is calm, easily trained, and travels well. Siberians love their people and have an almost dog-like loyalty to them. In fact, they love the whole family. This is a great cat for households that include children and other pets, including dogs.
A Siberian Cat does not just enjoy the company of her people, she seems to be especially tuned to their needs. According to The Cat Fancier’s Association, a Siberian will seek out those in the household who really need psychological and moral support and will spend more time with them.
Siberian Cats are playful for most of their days. They love to climb to great heights, and they love leaping uncomfortably wide expanses. They turn almost anything into a toy and will play fetch with you endlessly. Some like watching the cursor on a computer screen, and will remain by your side as you’re working, enthralled while you type.
They have a particular fascination with water, often dropping toys into their water dishes or jumping into a wet bathtub.
Are Siberian Cats hypoallergenic?
This is a big topic and I’d encourage you to read this blog post first: “Is there such a thing as a hypoallergenic cat?” It explains more about allergy in general as it relates to cat ownership.
First of all, hypoallergenic means “less allergenic,” not “non-allergenic.” There is no such thing as a cat that is non-allergenic.
People who are allergic to cats are not allergic to their hair or bits of dead skin that make up dander as some people think. They are allergic to proteins produced in their saliva, tears, skin, and perianal glands. Cats produce a number of allergic proteins, but the biggest offender is a protein called Fel d 1.
That being said, Fel d 1 only accounts for about 60% of cat allergies. Even if cat produced no Fel d 1 whatsoever, a person with cat allergies might still be allergic to that cat.
All cats produce Fel d 1, but some cats produce less than others. People who are allergic to only cats and not other animals tend to be sensitive only to Fel d 1. But people with other allergies often react to even low Fel d 1 cats. It’s important to mention this because owning a Siberian Cat is not the answer to every allergic cat-lover’s dreams.
In general, Siberian Cats produce less Fel d 1 than other cat breeds. A nonprofit called Siberian Research, Inc. was founded in 2005 to study allergen levels (and genetic diseases) in the Siberian breed. Fur and saliva from 300 cats were submitted to the five-year study.
All the cats tested in the study were found to have some Fel d 1, with the highest level from cats with silver fur. About half the cats in the study were found to have Fel d 1 levels that were lower than other breeds (which means the other half were actually higher). Only less than 15% of the cats in the study were considered “very low” Fel d 1 producers. The study researchers felt that these cats could be placed in homes with severe cat allergies.
The other thing that the study revealed was that mating two low-allergen cat parents produced more offspring with reduced levels of Fel d 1, but some kittens from these still had typical Fel d 1 levels.
If you are considering a Siberian Cat for a household with cat allergies, it’s important to understand that there are no cats that are truly non-allergenic. Discuss any concerns you have with a reputable Siberian Cat breeder and your allergist.
Is the Siberian Cat healthy?
The Siberian Cat evolved on its own to survive in a very unforgiving climate, and is thus a very healthy breed in general. That being said, there are a few genetic disorders associated with this breed that potential Siberian owners should be aware of.
Note that it’s not possible to eliminate genetic diseases in any breed of cat. But they can be minimized by responsible breeding. No breeder can promise that their kittens are free of genetic disorders, and if one does promise you that, head back out the door.
The most common genetic concerns in Siberians are diseases that are common to many cat breeds, including:
How can you tell the difference between a Siberian Cat, a Maine Coon Cat, and a Norwegian Forest Cat?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell which big and fluffy cat is which.
In short, the Siberian Cat is all circles: he has round eyes, round ears, a round face, and a round barrel of a body.
A Maine Coon Cat is a larger cat with a very rectangular body shape. He also has a longer body, longer legs, and higher pointed ears than either of his fluffy comrades.
A Norwegian Forest Cat has a more angular face and a very straight profile. The Norwegian is also smaller than the Siberian and, obviously, the Maine Coon.
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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.
 RBTH, special to, and Anastasia Ananasova. “8 Compelling Cats That Changed Russian Culture.” Russia Beyond, 22 May 2017, www.rbth.com/arts/2017/05/22/8-compelling-cats-that-changed-russian-culture_767529.
 Gerber, Adolph. “The Russian Dialects; Editions, Translations, and Summaries of Animal Tales.” Great Russian Animal Tales: A Collection of Fifty Tales, vol. 6, 1891, pp. 22–23.
 Siberian Research Inc. A Not-for-Profit Corporation for the Siberian Cat Testing Allergen Levels Siberian Levels of Fel d1 Fur Testing for Fel d1 Saliva Testing for Fel d1, web.archive.org/web/20150417052108/siberianresearch.com/Levels.html.
 Siberian Research Inc.