The Turkish Van is nicknamed the “swimming cat” for his love of water. It’s not unusual to find him splashing in ponds, pools or any other water he can find. This is a smart, active, loving cat with a silky, medium-length coat that is easy to groom. Most Vans are white with color on the head and tail.
My plush coat feels like cashmere, but I’m not a goat. I like to swim but I’m not a seal. What am I?
Why, a Turkish Van, of course. In his homeland, the beautiful, semilonghaired Turkish Van is considered a regional treasure, for good reason. He stands out for his distinctive “van” coloration–white with color on the tail and head–blue, gold or odd eyes, his proclivity for water, and his large, heavily built body. The Van is sometimes confused with his cousin the Turkish Angora, but the two are very different in size, coat and other characteristics. The Van is a large cat, with females weighing seven to 12 pounds, males 10 to 20 pounds. The breed doesn’t reach full maturity until three to five years of age, but it lives for 13 or more years.
Put away breakables if you have a Turkish Van in the house. This is an active, energetic cat who likes to jump to the highest point in the room. When he’s not jumping, he’s running, playing in water, retrieving his toys or attacking them with gusto, perhaps even washing them in the toilet or bathroom sink, where he has turned on the water faucet. On the rare occasions that he is sitting still, the Turkish Van is inclined to be loving and affectionate, frequently following his favorite person around the house. He enjoys being petted but isn’t necessarily fond of being held or cuddled. Small children need to understand this if they are going to be good friends with the Van. He gets along with other pets, including dogs, after making sure they know he is the one in charge. This is a mischievous and clever cat who is entertaining to live with, despite being more than a handful.
The Turkish Van’s coat does not shed much and is easy to groom with weekly combing. The only other grooming required is regular nail trimming and ear cleaning. You may want to bathe him every couple of months, especially if he is white or light-colored.
The Turkish Van is well suited to any home where he is loved, appreciated and given the care and attention he needs. Keep him indoors to protect him from cars, diseases spread by other cats and attacks from other animals.
Other Quick Facts
- Some Van cats possess a colored marking on their shoulder called the “Thumbprint of Allah.” It is considered a sign that the cat has been blessed.
- The Turkish Van has a semi-longhaired white coat with colored markings on the head and tail, known as a van pattern. Cats with a van pattern carry a piebald gene, which is the same gene that causes the white color on cats with tuxedo (black with a white belly) or bicolor (a color plus white) patterns. The gene is expressed to a greater degree in Van cats, which accounts for the large amount of white on the body. The Van pattern is seen in other pedigreed cats and in random-bred cats
- The Van’s head is wide and moderately wedge shaped. The eyes are shaped something like peach pits and can be blue, gold, or odd, meaning that one eye is blue and the other gold. The body is long, sturdy and muscular with fur that feels like cashmere and a full, brushlike tail.
- Vans are known for enjoying a nice swim. Don’t be surprised if yours wants to join you in the bathtub or swimming pool or goes fishing in your koi pond. Historically, they were known to swim in Turkey’s Lake Van.
The History of Turkish Vans
The Van takes his name from Lake Van, located in the mountains of Turkey’s eastern Anatolian region, where he was first known. He probably existed there for centuries, protected by his isolation from the rest of the world.
Westerners first discovered the Van in the mid-1950s by photographers Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday. They were given a pair of kittens during their trip and were amazed to see them take to ponds or streams for a swim any time they stopped for a rest. When they took the cats back to England with them, there was interest in the breed, but the cats were rare even in Turkey. Fortunately, breeders have taken care to preserve them. In Turkey, they are considered national treasures.
Turkish Vans were not brought to the United States until 1982, although The International Cat Association recognized them in 1979. They are also recognized by the Cat Fanciers Association and other cat registries.
Turkish Van Temperament and Personality
Don’t get the Van if you want a cat who likes to be carried around or cuddled a lot, but if a mischievous clown who is loving and affectionate appeals to you, the Van is your cat. He loves to jump and climb, play with toys, retrieve and play chase. The highly acrobatic Van catches toys in mid-air, turns fantastic somersaults in pursuit of a fishing-pole toy, and runs so much that you might question where he gets his energy. When he’s not following you around, offering to help with whatever you’re doing, the Van is likely experimenting with turning on the bathroom or kitchen faucet so he can play in the running water.
Don’t confuse the Van with the graceful Turkish Angora. He’s a bit of a klutz and frequently knocks things over. When he does, save his dignity by pretending that of course he meant to do that.
The Van’s tail seems to have a personality of its own. Most cats flick their tails when they are angry or upset, but the Van’s tail seems to be in constant motion, even when he’s in a good mood, which is most of the time.
The Van can get along fine with dogs and other pets as long as they realize he’s the one in charge. With his sturdy body, he can also be a good choice for families with children as long as they are supervised and don’t try to pull his fur or tail.
The Turkish Van is thought to be highly intelligent and a good problem-solver. 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. Other favorite toys are big peacock feathers, furlike toys on a string and small balls that they can chase and fetch. The Van is tough on toys so be prepared to replace them on a regular basis.
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.
What You Need to Know About Turkish Van Health
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. Turkish Vans are generally healthy, but it is always wise to purchase a kitten from a breeder who offers a written health guarantee.
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 Turkish Van 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 Basics of Turkish Van Grooming
The Turkish Van may look high maintenance, but his single coat, which feels like cashmere, is easy to care for. Run a comb through it every week or so and you’re done. He’ll need coat care a little more frequently in winter when his coat is heavier.
Regular baths are not necessary. Vans like playing in water, but a bath is not always their idea of a good time. If you plan to bathe your Van frequently, accustom him to it from an early age. Let him air dry in a warm room.
The rest is basic care. Trim his nails every week or so, and brush his teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Choosing a Turkish Van Breeder
You want your Turkish Van 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 Turkish Van, 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 Turkish Van 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.
Adopting a Cat from Turkish Van Rescue or a Shelter
The Turkish Van 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, Adopt-a-Pet.com or the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and ask breeders if they know of a Turkish Van who is in need of a new home.
Wherever you acquire your Turkish Van, 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 Turkish Van 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.