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Alan Robinson, Animal Photography
The Wegie, as he’s nicknamed, is a large cat who looks as if he would be perfectly at home stalking prey in a forest or fishing out of a creek. He has a long, beautiful coat, tufted ears and a plumed tail. This is a gentle, friendly cat who loves being around people.
At first glance, the Wegie resembles the Maine Coon, and it’s certainly possible that they are related way back in the mists of time, but there are some physical differences between the two. Wegies have a more compact body and a straight profile, where as the Maine Coon has a slight concavity in profile. Norwegian Forest Cats have almond-shaped eyes while Maine Coons have eyes with an opened oval shape.
Meet the official cat of Norway. In his native country, he’s known as the “skogkatt,” which means “forest cat,” so when this cat came to North America, he was given the name Norwegian Forest Cat. That’s a mouthful, so he is affectionately referred to as the “Wegie.” He resembles the Maine Coon Cat, and there is certainly a good chance that the two are related way back when, but the Wegie is a breed in his own right with his own distinct characteristics.
This is a kind, loving, gentle cat with a strong nurturing instinct. The Wegie stands out for his double coat of many colors and patterns, tufted paws and ears, triangular head, plumed tail and sturdy, heavily muscled body. He’s on the large side, weighing 10 to 15 pounds. Independent and intelligent, he loves his family but isn’t demanding of attention. This is one of those cats who can get along with everyone, including dogs and other cats.
Wegies mature slowly and take a long time to reach full physical and emotional development. A Wegie enjoys climbing and being up high, so be sure to purchase a ceiling-height cat tree and place it where he can watch over his domain.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is well suited to any home with people who will love him and comb his gorgeous coat once or twice a week. He does have periods of heavy shedding, during which you will need to comb him more frequently. Physically, he is adapted to harsh climates, but keep him indoors to protect him from cars, diseases spread by other cats and attacks from other animals.
They pulled the goddess Freya’s chariot across the sky and figured in Norse fairy tales. They are said to have accompanied the Vikings on their journeys to keep their ships free of rats. The enchanting Norwegian Forest Cat has had an adventurous history. In his homeland he’s called skogkatt, meaning forest cat, and has been a friend to farmers for centuries, trading his services as a mouser for shelter and companionship.
The Norwegian Forest Cat originated in Norway as long as 4,000 years ago. His thick, water-resistant coat developed in response to the harsh, cold environment of the Scandinavian woods.
Although the skogkatt was known by Vikings and farmers, he didn’t receive recognition as a breed until he was exhibited at a cat show in Oslo in 1938. His development as a pedigreed cat was interrupted by World War II, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that Norwegian breeders set about preserving his bloodlines and standardizing his appearance. King Olaf V declared them the official cat of Norway.
The first Norwegian Forest Cats were imported to the United States in 1979. The International Cat Association recognized the breed in 1984, followed by the Cat Fanciers Association in 1993. They are also recognized by other cat registries.
He might have the words “forest cat” in his name, but the Wegie is far from feral. He loves people, in a low-key, cool Norwegian kind of way. He won’t harass you for attention — unless his meals are late — but he will follow you around and hang out wherever you are.
The Wegie’s mellow temperament can make him a good choice for families with children and other pets, especially if he has been raised with them. Just make sure children treat him with the gentle respect he deserves. He has an average activity level — not a couch potato but not super-active, either. Like all cats, he enjoys being up high and will appreciate having a tall cat tree on which he can perch. His strength and agility make him capable of scaling heights you might not expect. He’s not excessively loud or vocal, but he will “talk” to you in chirps and meows.
Wegies are smart and enjoy the attention that comes with being clicker-trained and taught tricks. Challenge his brain and keep him interested in life by teaching him tricks and providing him with puzzle toys that will reward him with kibble or treats when he learns how to manipulate them.
Always choose a kitten from a breeder who raises litters in the home and handles them from an early age. Meet at least one and ideally both of the parents to ensure that they have nice temperaments.
All cats have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Any breeder who claims that her breed has no health or genetic problems is either lying or is not knowledgeable about the breed. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on kittens, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her kittens are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. In Norwegian Forest Cats, health problems that have been seen include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, hip dysplasia and glycogen storage disease type IV.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common form of heart disease in cats. It causes thickening (hypertrophy) of the heart muscle. An echocardiogram can confirm whether a cat has HCM. Avoid breeders who claim to have HCM-free lines. No one can guarantee that their cats will never develop HCM. Norwegian Forest Cats that will be bred should be screened for HCM, and cats identified with HCM should be removed from breeding programs.
Hip dysplasia is a hereditary defect of the hip socket. It can be mild, causing little or no pain, or it can eventually lead to severe lameness. Norwegian Forest Cats with hip dysplasia may move slowly or avoid jumping. Depending on the severity of the condition, weight loss, medication or surgery can help to relieve pain. Norwegian Forest Cats who will be bred should have their hips x-rayed and graded at 2 years of age. Ask the breeder to show evidence that a Wegie kitten’s parents have hips that have been rated as fair, good or excellent.
Glycogen storage disease type IV is a disorder that causes a deficiency of an essential enzyme required for proper metabolism of glycogen. This disease can cause altered glycogen to accumulate in nerves and muscles. Some affected kittens die before or shortly after birth. In others, the disease is usually is apparent by 4 to 5 months of age and is fatal. Fortunately, it is rare.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new kitten into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Norwegian Forest Cat at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to protect his overall health. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier cat for life.
The Norwegian Forest Cat has a semi-long, water-resistant double coat that he puts on and takes off according to weather conditions. In winter he is protected by a dense, woolly undercoat, a full ruff, and a long, flowing tail that he can wrap around himself to stay warm. In summer, the downy undercoat disappears, giving him a completely different look, with only the ear tufts and tail retaining their full glory.
Kittens start to develop their adult coat when they are about three months old. This process can take several months, and you may begin to wonder if you have acquired a mutant Wegie with a short coat. The coat does not reach complete maturity until the cat is two years old.
The Wegie’s coat will tangle or mat if it is completely neglected, but for a longhaired breed he doesn’t need a huge amount of grooming. He can get by just fine with weekly combing or brushing, although you will find fewer dust bunnies and hairballs around the house if you groom him two or three times a week. You will definitely want to comb him more often during his spring shed.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually weekly. Check the ears every week for redness or a bad smell that could indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle ear cleanser recommended by your veterinarian. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. The Norwegian Forest Cat is prone to periodontal disease, so it’s important to brush his teeth at home and schedule veterinary cleanings as needed. Start brushing, nail trimming and teeth brushing early so your kitten becomes accepting of this activity.
You want your Norwegian Forest Cat to be happy and healthy so you can enjoy your time with him, so do your homework before you bring him home. For more information on the history, personality and looks of the Norwegian Forest Cat, or to find breeders, visit the websites of the Cat Fanciers Association, Cats Center Stage, the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and The International Cat Association.
A reputable breeder will abide by a code of ethics that prohibits sales to pet stores and wholesalers and outlines the breeder’s responsibilities to their cats and to buyers. Choose a breeder who has performed the health certifications necessary to screen out genetic health problems to the extent that is possible, as well as one who raises kittens in the home. Kittens who are isolated can become fearful and skittish and may be difficult to socialize later in life
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include kittens always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any kitten, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your feline friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and unhealthy catteries can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick kitten, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy kittens. Put at least as much effort into researching your kitten as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Be patient. Depending on what you are looking for, you may have to wait six months or more for the right kitten to be available. Many breeders won’t release kittens to new homes until they are between 12 and 16 weeks of age
Before you buy a kitten, consider whether an adult Norwegian Forest Cat might be a better choice for your lifestyle. Kittens are loads of fun, but they’re also a lot of work and can be destructive until they reach a somewhat more sedate adulthood. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. If you are interested in acquiring an adult cat instead of a kitten, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show or breeding cat or if they know of an adult cat who needs a new home.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is an unusual and uncommon breed. It is unlikely that you will find one in a shelter or through a rescue group, but it doesn’t hurt to look. Sometimes pedigreed cats end up at the shelter after losing their home to an owner’s death, divorce or change in economic situation. Check the listings on Petfinder or the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and ask breeders if they know of a Norwegian Forest Cat who is in need of a new home.
Here are some tips to help you find and adopt the right cat from a rescue group or shelter:
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Norwegian Forest Cat in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (a certain color, for example) or very general (all the Norwegian Forest Cats available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a cat. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Norwegian Forest Cat. That includes vets, cat sitters, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a cat, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a cat that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Norwegian Forest Cats love all Norwegian Forest Cats. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless cats. A Norwegian Forest Cat rescue network can help you find a cat that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for Norwegian Forest Cat rescues in your area.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a cat. These include:
Wherever you acquire your Norwegian Forest Cat, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a cat from a shelter. In states with “pet lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the cat from both understand your rights and recourses.
Kitten or adult, take your Norwegian Forest Cat to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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