The allure of Norwegian Forest Cats goes beyond their large, fluffy appearance. These cats are enigmatic, with their ancestry sparking debates among historians and enthusiasts alike. Some argue that they are the successors of short-haired cats from the British Isles, brought to Scandinavia by Viking seafarers for pest control. Others believe they descended from long-haired cats that Crusaders introduced to the region. Whatever their roots, these cats adapted to life in Norway’s rugged forests, evolving into the magnificent, thick-furred creatures we know today.
Often referenced in Nordic folklore as the “skogkatt,” a mythical feline that resides in mountainous terrain and climbs cliffs with ease, Norwegian Forest Cats have an almost mystical aura. Their striking appearance and unique abilities have led some to speculate that these myths may have influenced the breed’s development over time.
These majestic cats are so revered in Norway that King Olaf V officially declared them the national cat of the country. Despite coming close to extinction at one point, concerted efforts by breeders have ensured their survival and global recognition. Perhaps the United States will one day recognize its own national cat breed as well.
Initially popular among farmers and seafarers for their excellent hunting skills, these cats only gained formal breed recognition in the 1930s. World War II led to decreased interest in the breed, putting it at risk of dying out through crossbreeding. However, concerted breeding initiatives saved the day. In 1977, the International Feline Federation formally recognized the breed. Two years later, the first pair was introduced to the United States, gaining recognition from the Cat Fanciers’ Association in 1987. Nicknamed “Wegies,” these cats are particularly beloved in Europe, particularly their native Scandinavia, and have also captured hearts in France.
Tipping the scales at 13 to 22 pounds for males, these cats are indeed large. Their dense, water-resistant double coat is a defining feature, specially adapted to protect them from harsh Scandinavian winters. Natural “earmuffs” and “boots” come in the form of tufts of fur on their ears and toes. Although generally robust, they are prone to specific health conditions like hereditary heart disorders, hip issues, and a particular type of glycogen storage disease. Interestingly, they share a genetic lineage with Maine Coons, distinguished by their facial structure—Norwegian Forest Cats have triangular faces, while Maine Coons feature a wedge-shaped head and noticeable cheekbones. Not to be outdone in agility, their powerful claws make them adept climbers, capable of descending trees headfirst.