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Alan Robinson, Animal Photography
Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
The national cat of Russia may have been the inspiration for the Beatles’ lyric “Come and keep your comrade warm.” The Siberian has a thick double coat with a neck ruff, perfect for surviving those cold northern Russia winters. He’s a sweetheart with an adventurous spirit and an agile, muscular body.
You may hear that the Siberian is a hypoallergenic breed, but that is not correct. Allergies are not caused by a particular coat type but by dander, the dead skin cells that are shed by all cats (and people, for that matter). There is no scientific evidence that any breed or cross breed is more or less allergenic than any other cat.
As befits a cat from northern Russia, the Siberian wears a magnificent fur coat that not only protects him from the elements but also gives him a glamorous appearance that belies his gentle good nature. The semilonghair is the national cat of Russia and only made his way to North America in the past 20 years, one of the benefits of the fall of communism.
At first glance the Siberian resembles the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest Cat, but he is differentiated by having a more rounded body and head. He also stands out for his large yellow-green eyes, tufted ears and neck ruff. The Siberian coat comes in many colors and patterns, but brown tabbies seem to be most popular.
The Siberian is well suited to any home with people who will love him and comb his gorgeous coat 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.
Siberians are native to Russia and come from the harsh climate of Siberia, which accounts for their triple coat. They are thought to have existed for some 1,000 years, performing rodent control on farms and in shops. In Russian fairy tales, magical cats protect children and open gateways to unseen realms.
The cats were exhibited at cat shows in England and New York in the 19th century and are mentioned or pictured in cat books published in 1889, 1898 and 1900. It wasn’t until 1990, however, that Siberians were brought to the United States, part of a trade deal between the Russian breeder and breeder Elizabeth Terrell, who exchanged some Himalayans for them.
Siberians are recognized by The International Cat Association and are shown in the Miscellaneous Category at Cat Fanciers Association shows.
The Siberian is something of a madcap adventurer, climbing to great heights and leaping wide expanses as he makes his way through his home. This is the cat you will find finagling his way past a closed door or swinging from the chandelier in an attempt to get to the feather toy or laser pointer that you so carefully put out of reach. Fortunately, his well-muscled body is not only powerful but also agile, and he doesn’t usually break things. Nonetheless, you might want to put favorite breakables in an especially safe place. Purchase a ceiling-height cat tree and place it where he can watch over his domain.
He loves his family but isn’t excessively demanding of attention. This is one of those cats who tends to get along with everyone, including kids, dogs and other cats, although he can sometimes be a bit suspicious of guests until he gets used to them. He will enjoy following you around when you are at home and greet you happily after you’ve been gone. Unless he’s mad at you for leaving him behind. Then you might have to offer him a gift to get back on his good side.
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. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on kittens or who tells you that her kittens are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. Siberians have at least one hereditary health issue: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
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. Siberians that will be bred should be screened for HCM, and cats identified with HCM should be removed from breeding programs. Do not buy a kitten whose parents have not been tested for this disease.
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 Siberian 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 Siberian has a thick, water-resistant triple coat with a full collar ruff, “britches” on the hind legs, and a bushy tail. The coat, especially the ruff, is thicker in winter.
Despite its length, the Siberian’s coat is relatively easy to groom and doesn’t tend to mat or tangle. After all, there are no grooming salons in Siberian forests. A weekly brushing should keep it in good shape. The exception is during the spring and fall “molt,” when the coat mats and sheds in large clumps. Brush it daily during this time to remove the dead hair and prevent knots from forming.
Unless you plan to show your cat, baths are not needed frequently, but they can help reduce allergens if someone in the house is allergic to cats. Siberians don’t usually mind getting wet, especially if they are introduced to baths as kittens, and some even seek out water to play in. Don’t be surprised if your Siberian decides to join you in the shower or bathtub one day.
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. Start brushing, nail trimming and teeth brushing early so your kitten becomes accepting of this activity.
You want your Siberian 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 Siberian, or to find breeders, visit the websites of the Cat Fanciers Association, Cats Center Stage, 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 Siberian 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 Siberian is an 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, Adopt-a-Pet.com or the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and ask breeders if they know of a Siberian 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 can have you searching for a Siberian in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Siberians 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 Siberian. That includes vets, cat walkers, 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. You can also search online for other Siberian rescues in your area. Most people who love Siberians love all Siberians. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless cats. A Siberian rescue network can help you find a cat that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for Siberian 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 Siberian, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. 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 Siberian 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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