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About this cat

Welcome to the Turkish Van cat microsite. This page contains detailed information on the breed. From this point you can use the above tabs to navigate to the other Turkish Van pages.

- Kitt Killion

Turkish Van Breed Information

Common Nickname - Van, Swimming Cat

Country of origin - Turkey

Breed standards - AACE, CFA, ACFA, TICA, ACF, GCCF, FIFe


Occurs naturally in the Lake Van region of Turkey

The Turkish Van (Turkish: Van Kedisi) is a rare, naturally occurring breed of cat from the Lake Van region of present-day Turkey. For Turkish Vans, the word van refers to their color pattern, where the color is restricted to the head and the tail, and the rest of the cat is white. It is the maximum expression of the piebald white spotting gene that makes the van pattern. [1] The spotting gene (Leucism) appears in many different species (like the horse and ball python). It also shows up in the common house cat, so a cat that shows this color pattern but is not registered or from the Van region, is called a "Vanalike".

1. Characteristics

The coat on a Van is considered semi-longhaired. While many cats have three distinct hair types in their coat - guard hairs, awn hairs and down hairs - the Turkish Van only has one. This makes their coat feel like cashmere or rabbit fur, and the coat dries quickly when wet. Lake Van is surrounded by a region of temperature extremes and the cats have an environmentally-appropriate coat that grows thick in the winter with a large ruff and bottle brush tail for the harsh winters and then sheds out short in the body for the warm summers. The full tail is kept year round.

The Van is one of the larger cat breeds. The males can reach 20 lb (9 kg) and the females weigh about half of that. They have massive paws and rippling hard muscle structure which allows them to be very strong jumpers. Vans can easily hit the top of a refrigerator from a cold start on the floor. They are slow to mature and this process can take 3-5 years. Also, their fetching skills are quite good and they are quick to learn.

Perhaps the most interesting trait of the breed is its fascination with water; most cat breeds dislike being immersed in water and staying in the open when it is raining. Vans have been nicknamed the "Swimming Cats" for this most unusual trait.

2. Breed standards

Breed standards allow for one or more body spots as long as there is no more than 20% color and the cat does not give the appearance of a bicolor. Although red tabby and white is the classic van color, the color on a van's head and tail can be one of the following: Red, Cream, Black, Blue, Red Tabby, Cream Tabby, Brown Tabby, Blue Tabby, Tortoiseshell, Dilute Tortoiseshell (also known as blue-cream), Brown Patched Tabby, Blue patched Tabby and any other color not showing evidence of hybridization with the pointed cats (Siamese, Himalayan, etc).

3. Preservation

Turkish Vans are a naturally occurring breed of cat. They can still be found in east Turkey, near Lake Van. Their numbers have diminished, but both the Vans and the Turkish Angora, (which is a separate breed with different characteristics originating in central Turkey) are under the protection of the Turkish government and are bred at the Ankara Zoo. The genetic traits of the cats have not been modified from their originals and breeding programs seek to preserve their unique combination of athleticism and loyalty.

Vans are sometimes confused with Turkish Angoras, although a side-by-side comparison reveals vastly different characteristics. Angoras are named after Ankara (Angora) and descended separately from the Vans. Angoras also carry the W gene associated with white fur, blue eyes and deafness while Vans do not. Van eye color can be amber, blue or odd (one each, amber and blue) but Vans with two blue eyes are not deaf like Angoras. The breed should be thin and nimble and should be very independent to each other.

4. Origins

In the Complete Cat Encyclopedia, edited by Grace Pond and published in 1972, Laura Lushington wrote that:

"One of the two accepted breeds in Turkey, the Van Cat is now known in Britain as the Turkish Cat. Originating in the Lake Van area of southeastern Turkey, these cats have been domesticated for centuries (in fact for as long as the famous Saluki Hound); they are much loved and prized by the Turks for their exceptional character and unique colouring. Apart from their great capacity for affection and alert intelligence, their outstanding characteristic is their liking for water, not normally regarded as a feline attribute. They not only dabble in water and play with it, but have been known to enter ponds and even horse-troughs for a swim - they soon became famous as the 'swimming cats.' I was first given a pair of Van kittens in 1955 while traveling in Turkey, and decided to bring them back to England, although touring by car and mainly camping at the time - the fact that they survived in good condition showed up the great adaptability and intelligence of their breed in trying circumstances. Experience showed that they bred absolutely true. They were not known in Britain at that time and, because they make such intelligent and charming pets, I decided to try to establish the breed, and to have it recognized officially in Britain by the GCCF."

The first Vans were brought to the United States in 1982 and accepted into championship for showing in the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in 1994. Since then, CFA has registered approximately 100 Vans born each year in the US, making them one of the rarest cat breeds. However, the gene pool thrives because it still uses Vans imported from Turkey. Imported Vans have no human breeding intervention and are quite robust.

5. Vans as pets

Turkish Vans are very intelligent, and will easily take over their home and owners. Vans are people cats that want to be with people wherever they go. They like to play and jump and explore anything in their reach, which is quite large. They are energetic; they play hard and sleep hard. Many Vans are dedicated to fetching their particular object of interest, and many owners describe them as "dogs in a cat suit" because of their unusual personalities.

Copyright (c) 2008 Kitt Killion Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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