Origin of the Norwegian Forest Cat

We don't know the origin of the Norwegian Forest Cat (NFC)! 😊 but that isn't the end of the story. We do know that this is a very old breed and that there is Norse mythology surrounding the breed and that the earliest references to cats that resemble today's NFC's are referred to in folktales gathered and written about between 1837 and 1852. However, the NFC has been in Norway for much longer than that.

NFC
NFC in Norwegian snow. Image: Pinterest.

Clearly, over centuries, what I imagine to be a fairly standard random bred cat imported into the country many hundreds of years ago developed into a much bigger and hardier cat with a thick coat because of an existence in a very cold climate. This cat has a heavy double coat and sturdy bones. It has the benefit of long hind legs and strong claws.

I'm going to stick my neck out and say the NFC has been in Norway for upwards of 2000 years (possibly). The British Shorthair has been in the UK for about 2000 years, perhaps a bit less because the Romans were in Britain about 200 A.D. and they brought domestic cats with them. That's the origin of the British Shorthair but did something similar happened with respect to the NFC in Norway?

There have been some rather extravagant ideas in this regard. Firstly, it was suggested, speculatively, that Viking ships brought Scottish wild cats to Norway where they gradually developed into today's NFCs. For this to be true the wild cats would have to become domesticated and then they would have to evolve in the Norwegian climate to become the cat they are today.

Another theory is that domestic cats from Europe reached Scandinavia on-board trading ships. Once they arrived in Norway they escaped and became feral and which point they were able to mate with imported Scottish wild cats. The bit about wild cats seems to be fanciful as well. The rest of it sounds true.

A further theory is that Angora cats were brought from the Middle East to ports in the Mediterranean and from there to Scandinavia in the 16th century. In Scandinavia they crossed with the descendants of imported wild cats and developed into the NFC.

A further theory is that Angora cats arrived by ship in Norway and gradually developed a thicker coat and became bigger in order to deal with the cold climate. There was no hybridisation with any wild cat stock from Scotland.

Another theory is that long-haired Russian cats, perhaps Siberian cats found their way to Norway on board trading ships and these cats evolved into today's NFC.

And finally, local domestic cat became feral and lived rough which allow them to become bigger and heavier.

The NFC is certainly at the top end of the scale of weight amongst all the cat breeds. They are not the largest cat breed but they are larger and heavier than most other cat breeds. And when a domestic cat lives in a cold environment they evolved to be bigger and heavier because this enables the animal to retain heat better due to the surface area being relatively smaller in relation to their size.

This is how the largest cat in the world, the Siberian tiger evolved. The Siberian tiger is much bigger than the Bengal tiger and the Sumatran tiger is the smallest because it lives in the hottest climate of these three.

It appears that the hybridisation with Scottish wildcat is too fanciful to believe and my personal choice is that standard domestic cats of various kinds were gradually imported into Norway on trading ships ultimately from the Middle East and then these gradually evolved into becoming NFCs via being semi-domesticated and then fully domesticated and then the cat fancy became involved and selectively bred random-bred cats into beautiful purebred, pedigree NFCs. This latter phase occurred between about 1930 and around the middle of 1970.

Until the 1930s this was a random bred cat.

The reason why all the theories involve the importation of cats into Norway is because the country could not have created their own domestic cat by domesticating a small wildcat because one does not exist in Norway.

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