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Turkish Van Cat

Irena N.
Turkish Van Cat


Turkish Van cats are a rare breed. They originated in the Lake Van area of Turkey and are considered to be a national star in their homeland. The Turkish College of Agriculture and Ankara Zoo oversee their conservation.

Lake Van is in a mountainous area more than 5,600 feet above sea level. It has extreme temperatures which has led to the cats having two coat lengths, one for summer and the other for winter. The summer coat is substantially shorter, while the winter coat is semi-long and cashmere-like. Turkish Vans shed their winter coat at the beginning of summer.

There is a legend that says that a Turkish Van cat swam away from Noah’s Ark. By coincidence, Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark is supposed to have landed, is close to Lake Van.  Both the Jews and the Islamists believe that God or Allah had a hand in the coloring of the Turkish Van. They were white cats, but due to a celestial touch, they suddenly got color. The Jewish people believe that a door slammed on the cat’s tail on the Ark and the tail suddenly went red. Then God touched the cat’s head, leaving a spot. The islamists think that Allah touched the Turkish Van and left a spot on it’s back. This colored marking  is called ‘The Thumbprint of Allah’ and because of this the Turks believe that the cats are blessed.

Turkish Van cats are known as ‘swimming cats’. As we know, most cats hate water, but the Turkish Vans love it and they don’t just dip their paws in it. They go for full blown swims in pools and ponds. This could be due to the fact that the temperature around Lake Van can reach 100F in the summer so they are using the water to cool themselves down. Another theory is that they learnt to swim to catch the herring which live in Lake Van. Whatever the reason is, they love water and they have even developed a coat which repels water.

These cats are large and muscular and males can reach 18 pounds. They are one of the biggest domestic cats out there. They are very athletic and need plenty of exercise. If you have one as an indoor cat, be prepared to have ornaments knocked off your shelves.They are friendly cats if they are properly socialised as a kitten and can make a great family pets. However they don’t like to be held or sit on laps.

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It is thought that the Turkish Van cat has lived in the Lake Van area for centuries. Archeological digs have found drawings, ornaments, carvings and jewelry from 5000 years ago which bear the likeness of the the Turkish Van. This means that they could be one of the oldest breeds in existence. Only Egypt beats this record.

The Turkish Van was much admired by soldiers fighting in the Crusades and they brought them back to Europe during the 11th to 13th centuries. They were a novelty because up till then only shorthaired cats were known in Europe.They were also taken to the East by invaders and explorers. They can be found in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia and Russia.

The modern history of the Turkish Van cat began in 1955 when these cats were introduced to the UK. It was then when 2 Turkish Van cats were given to 2 British photographers, Sonia Halliday and Laura Lushington who were on an assignment for the Turkish Ministry of Tourism. Laura decided to breed these unrelated cats and when their offspring looked exactly like the parents, she realised that they were a breed. The kittens were also white with a dark tail and head markings. She went back to Turkey to get another pair of Turkish Van cats to carry on the breeding process. Her aim was to get the cats recognised by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF). However, this was a slow process. She refused to cross breeds, wanting the Turkish Van to be recognised as a breed. She was aided in this by Lydia Russell, a British cat breeder who helped to introduce the Turkish Van to the public. She helped other breeders to go to Turkey to get more Turkish Vans, though the process was very slow because of quarantine laws. Lydia’s and Laura’s hard work finally paid off in 1969 when the Turkish Van was recognised as a proper breed by the GCCF.

The first Turkish Van kittens arrived in the U.S.A. in the 1970s but it took a little while before they were accepted. First of all, in 1988, the TICA (the International Cat Association), the world’s largest registry of pedigreed and domestic cats, accepted them. In 1994 they were accepted by the CFA (Cat Fanciers Association).

In addition Turkish Vans are recognised in China by the Cat Aficionado and in Australia by the Cat Federation (ACF).

It is interesting to note that despite their revered status, Turkish Vans weren’t officially recognised in Turkey until the 1980s. It is now illegal to export them from Turkey as they are still a rare breed.

What Do Turkish Vans Look Like?

Turkish Van cats are big, muscular, well-built and deep chested. They don’t fully mature until three years of age, but once they do, the males will show significant muscular development in the neck and shoulders, with the shoulders being as broad as the head. Their hips and pelvis are also very muscular as are their legs. In fact they are the athletes of the cat world.Their feet are big and they have 5 toes on their front paws and 4 on their back. They have broad heads with protruding cheekbones. Their ears are large for their bodies and set high and far apart. The eyes are blue or amber, but there are some Turkish Vans that are odd-eyed and have one blue and one amber eye. However as they get older their eyes turn green. The tail is long with a brush-like appearance.

The coat is the most interesting feature of the Turkish Van. The normal coloring is white with a dark tail and dark spots on top of the head. Sometimes there are dark patches on the back between the shoulder blades. However, in Turkey they believe that a totally white cat is a true Turkish Van. Kittens and young adults don’t have such a long coat. It is not until they reach 2 years old that their coats achieve full-length.

The Turkish Van is semi-longhaired and has a water-resistant coat which is soft like cashmere. It doesn’t have an undercoat, but it sheds in the summer months. Although it becomes short-haired, the coat still remains soft. However, in cooler climates than Turkey the Turkish Van doesn’t shed quite as much. When the cat's mature they get a lovely winter mane. The tail, however stays bushy all the time and doesn’t shed any hair. Because there is no undercoat, there are no problems with matting, tangles or knots. In this respect they need very little grooming.

turkish van

The Temperament of Turkish Van Cats

If you socialize your Turkish Van cats as kittens they will make great family pets. They become attached to family members although they may choose one or two as their favorites, usually the people who deal with them first.They are very loyal and will follow their chosen person around the house.

Turkish Vans don’t like sitting on laps, but they will cuddle up next to you or sleep on your bed. At cat shows it is a rule that they are viewed standing on the table and not being held in the air. They don’t like being held, demand attention and are very vocal.

These cats are very active and playful, even when they get older. However, they’re not like most cats who land on their feet. They are ungainly and can miss their footing.

Turkish Van cats are very intelligent and can lean tricks and games like fetch which most cats wouldn’t be bothered about. They like toys where they can pouce on pretend prey. They take an interest in everything you’re doing so don’t expect to be left alone when you’re on the computer or just reading. They always want to know what’s going on. In these ways they are very similar to dogs.If they are kept as outdoor cats they will be great hunters.

These cats love heights and like to survey the world around them. This of course can cause problems if they knock down your ornaments so be sure to keep everything safe. They probably enjoy knocking things off shelves just to see what will happen. They love surveying the world from up high and are definitely not floor cats.

Their love of water can get a bit out of hand and they will look everywhere for it, even in the toilet, so remember to close your lid. If you aren’t there to supervise, cover your pool, spa or hot tub. However, they are very clever and many learn how to turn on the faucet so get used to dripping taps. They love fountains and can stare endlessly at them. Even Turkish Vans which don’t swim (and there aren’t many of these) will still play with dripping faucets.

Turkish Vans are clever enough to open cabinet doors so you will need to be careful where you store things. Make sure that food and chemicals are stored safe.

An interesting fact is that their noses turn from pink to crimson when they are annoyed or upset. If you see this happen, leave them alone. They don’t want your attention.

Even Turkish Van kittens are a little different from other kittens. They develop their personalities very early on. They are very active and love to play with balls and feather teasers. This carries on until adulthood.


Turkish Van cats are a very healthy breed and this is reflected in their life span of 12 - 17 years. However, some may develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is a heart disease in which the walls of the left ventricle stiffen and make it harder for the heart to pump blood.

Symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy include loss of appetite, gagging, loss of interest in exercise, weakness, depression, lethargy and labored breathing.

Turkish Vans who develop this disease are at increased risk of thromboembolism, where blood clots form. They often get heart failure as well. There is treatment, but cats tend to live just another two years after being diagnosed. There are medicines available which will make the breathing easier, help the heart to function and stabilize blood pressure. Changing their diet to one specifically formed for cats with heart disease is also a good idea. They will contain amino acids in the form of taurine and L-carnitine, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

Feeding Turkish Vans

Turkish Vans are big cats so they need more food than smaller cats. In fact they need 80 kilocalories per 0.35 oz. of weight. Smaller cats only need around 30 kilocalories.

All cats are carnivores so they need to eat meat. They can’t exist on a vegetarian or vegan diet. They need to have a diet high in protein so look for a cat food which lists protein first in the list of ingredients. They also need plenty of nutrients like omegas which can be found in fish. Taurine is essential in their diet and they can only get this from meat. It helps with heart health, eye care, brain and nervous system function and a healthy immune system. Calcium is important for the bones and B vitamins help the heart, muscles and nerves as well as the formation of red blood cells.

You can feed your Turkish Vans either homemade or commercial cat food, but you will need to have good knowledge of what the homemade food contains. Commercial food has all the right nutrients. However don’t go for the cheapest food as they can contain empty fillers like wheat, corn and soy.

You can choose to feed your Turkish Vans either wet or dry food, but a combination of both is probably best. Wet food will give them extra moisture, while dry food will help with dental health.

Caring for a Turkish Van Cat

Turkish Van cats are best kept as indoor cats because of the risk of them being stolen. There are people around who will steel pedigree cats so it is dangerous to let them out of house. It also ensures their welfare as they won’t get run over or get into fights.

These cats need little grooming as they have a single coat. Just brush or comb them once a week. Older cats may have difficulty grooming so brush them a little more often.

Because Turkish Vans have water resistant coats they don’t need to be bathed regularly, which is a bonus as have you ever tried to bathe a cat? Daily teeth cleaning is a good idea and trim their nails every couple of weeks. Check their ears every week and if they are dirty clean them with a mixture of equal measures of cider vinegar and water.

Turkish Van cats are meticulously pristine animals so keep their litter trays clean if you want them to use them. If they are immaculate, it will keep their long coats clean.

Children and Other Pets

If you socialize your Turkish Vans as kittens they will make great family pets. They get on well with children particularly as most children love to play and run around. This suits Turkish Van cats down to the ground. They will love to play with a feather teaser toy, play catch or learn tricks. Be careful though if you have young children as they might be a bit rough with your Turkish Vans. You will have to teach them not to pull their tails and to be gentle with them.

They are pet-friendly as well. Dogs are fine if they like cats, but Turkish Vans like to assert their authority and show that they are in charge and are leaders of the pack. They also get on with other cats but they do prefer other Turkish Van cats. However, if they are brought up with different breeds they will accept them easily.

If you bring in pets when you have adult Turkish Van cats, take it slow. Don’t leave them alone together until you are sure that they are getting along.

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Turkish Van cats are interesting pets to own. They are quite unlike most breeds of cat. Not only do they enjoy swimming, but they are keen to learn tricks and play fetch. In fact they are like dogs in many ways. They even like to follow their prefered person around the house in the same way a dog does.They make great family pets and have the energy to keep up with children. They take very little grooming despite having a semi-long coat. The only downside is that they eat a lot so you will be paying out more for food than with most other cats. However, their companionship and their interesting personalities will make up for that. They are rare however so it might not be so easy to find one, but persevere and you will be rewarded with a great pet.

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