The Siberian cat is the epitome of a native breed – a medium-sized cat with an original appearance, powerful build and semi-long fur that must have come about entirely free of human influence is its homeland Russia. It has only been specifically bred from the 1980s.
© Massimo Cattaneo / stock.adobe.com
Siberian cats are true nature lovers. The appearance and uncomplicated character of these forest cats known as “Sibirskaja koschka” in Russia, their country of origin, is what most strikes admirers of the breed. This native breed's plush fur is adapted to the bitterly cold winters and hot summers of Siberia, keeping it warm at the coldest times of the year but proving light enough for the sunny summer months.
Siberian cats evoke the flair of a wild cat in miniature format. Their semi-long fur with water-resistant, robust top hair and a thick undercoat gives the Siberian cat a resemblance to the Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest cat. However, they are much smaller than the Maine Coon and have longer legs than Norwegian Forest cats. Medium-sized Siberian cats are muscular and relatively heavy, weighing up to 9kg. As a result, they are not fully grown until they reach three years of age.
Siberian cats can't deny their origins. In winter, their fur is double-layered and water-resistant, keeping them warm with an incredibly thick, fine undercoat. The plush collar around the neck and chest is particularly prominent. In contrast, Siberian cats lose their undercoat in summer. Hence, the summer coat is significantly shorter, lighter and perfect for the warm summer months in northern Siberia. The breed's full-bodied tail should remain bushy even during the warm summer. The tufts of fur between the toes and even the ears still remain intact when the cats lose their winter coat. Siberian cats have a round head with a curved forehead, large eyes and wide medium-sized ears. Eye colour should be uniform and match the colour of the fur. All hues from yellow/gold to green are allowed, even blue or unmatching colours (odd eyed) for animals with white or bicolour fur.
As with many cat breeds, different breeding organisations have their own requirements regarding the Siberian cat's appearance. Based on organisation membership, the standard of the international breeders' association to which their organisation is affiliated applies for the breeder. This is particularly evident concerning desired fur colours. With umbrella organisation TICA, Siberian cats can be of “all traditional colours”. However, they stand alone in this, since most breeding organisations exclude the colours cinnamon, fawn, chocolate and lilac. Specific terminology from breeders' speak names reddish and brownish fur colours, as well as their “dilutions” - a weakened colour variation:
The Siberian cat's red colour is called cinnamon and the dilution fawn. Fawn-coloured Siberian cats appear red-beige. Chocolate is the breeder's term of choice for a brown base colour. When this brown colour is diluted, it appears lilac.
Apart from this, all colours, patterns and white parts are allowed. It is the only forest cat breed for which point markings are allowed. Indeed, Siberian cats with point markings have even been allocated their own breed name: Neva Masquerade. The Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) considers the Neva Masquerade its own independent breed. According to the breed standard, blue eyes are allowed for cats with point markings – the darker the better!
Siberian cats aren't just original in terms of their appearance – their most uncomplicated character and good instincts also bring great joy. Siberian cats are exceptionally good hunters and can climb and jump as if their life depended on it. Since they love to move around, they aren't ideal pets to be kept solely indoors. A secured garden better accommodates the nature of forest cats. In this respect, they are the opposite of squeamish and insist on being let outdoors come rain or shine. Siberian cats love water, so neither a rain shower nor a snow storm will put them off exploring the great outdoors.
Siberian cats are highly curious and know what they want. They are intelligent with a thirst for adventure – for instance, many learn at an early age how to operate doorbells! Siberian cats certainly have a mind of their own, so good breeding is essential to ensure that your little wild cat doesn't walk all over you (or the table)! Despite this, Siberian cats wholeheartedly connect with their people. Many lovers of this breed relate real “conversations” with their pets.
All in all, Siberian cats are sincere, unartificial and robust – in terms of both their original appearance and their character!
Siberian cats have only been systematically bred since the 1980s. Since 1990, they have also proved a hit with cat lovers in America.
In their homeland Russia, the name “Sibirskaja koschka” (“Siberian cat”) was predominantly a collective term for muscular domestic cats with abundant plush fur. Long-haired cats can be found in all regions of Russia and Siberia, albeit less often than short-haired cats.
There is no clear explanation as to when the long-hair gene started to become so widely spread in the Russian cat population. Whilst some scientists assume a separate mutation, others draw upon cross-breeding with long-haired cats from the Far East. Even the exact origin of the Siberian cat in its homeland is disputed. It had long been assumed that Caucasian wild cats were close relatives of Siberian cats. They differ from the African wildcat – the ancestress of all domestic cats – in terms of physique and fur texture. However, the latest research contradicts this theory. A research team from the University of Oxford discovered that domestic cats on all five continents descend from the wildcat.
Long-haired cats were a rarity in Europe up to the 19th century, therefore the Russian variety caught the eye of merchants and travellers from the very start. In 1864, Siberian cats were described in an issue of “Brems Tierleben” and afterwards appeared sporadically in European publications.
Long-haired Russian cats were also an integral part of the first cat show in Crystal Palace, London in 1871. Through the recessive inherited long-hair gene, kittens with long fur could unexpectedly feature in a litter produced by short-haired cats. These cats later formed the basis of the Siberian cat breed.
Nevertheless, the breed was initially forgotten after the first show in Crystal Palace. At this point, this pedigree cat breed was still very much in its infancy: long-haired cats were a rarity and were cross-bred to produce long-haired ancestors. Siberian cats thereby disappeared into the gene pool of the Persian and co, giving way to better known and more popular cat breeds. The political situation in Soviet Russia further contributed to Russia disappearing from the history of cat breeding for the time being.
The 1980s marked a new beginning. Long-haired Russian domestic cats emerged in Eastern Germany, where an experimental breed was established in 1985. The resulting cats were exhibited from 1986. After that, one thing led to another: from 1987, the breed then called the “Siberian Forest cat” was officially recognised as its own cat breed. The first litter of the new breed was born on 12 May 1988 in Eastern Germany. The first pair of Russian forest cats reached an emigrant family in Western Germany in 1987, leading to the first registered litter in 1989. From this point, the breed still known as the “Siberian Forest cat” started to gain more and more admirers.
Around the same time, systematic breeding of the “Sibirskaja Koschka” began in Russia. However, each cat breeding association supported different breeding standards, therefore the Siberian cat's appearance was still not homogenous. The first specimens were exported from Russia to the US, with the first Siberian cat moving to an American home in 1990. Nevertheless, the high cost of imports from Russia ensured that the population of Russian long-haired cats in the US remained relatively small.
Nowadays, Siberian cats are bred all over the world. The name was changed from “Siberian Forest cat” to just “Siberian cat” in 1991 – mainly to better differentiate from the “Norwegian Forest cat”. The breed was officially recognised by the World Cat Federation in 1992 and in 1998 by the Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe). The breed is known as the Siberian Forest cat, Siberian or Siberian cat.
Siberian cats are nature lovers. They love to keep on the move and run, jump and hunt as if their life depended on it, therefore are suitable to be kept alone at home only to a limited extent. Access to a secured garden is ideal: they like to use small and large trees to climb and scratch away, roam through the undergrowth and hunt mice and birds.
The Siberian cat's long fur can easily end up stuck together and knotted due to their thick undercoat. During winter and the moulting period, the cats need a bit of help in grooming their fur. If they have been used to combs and brushes from an early age, it generally shouldn't be a problem to thoroughly brush the fur every few days, remove dead hairs and loosen small tangles. When the warm season commences, Siberian long-haired cats lose the majority of their undercoat. Offering malt paste and cat grass can facilitate the natural withdrawal of hairs that have been swallowed. During the summer months, Siberian cats generally take care of their own shorter, lighter fur. Nevertheless, not just cats with outdoor access benefit from regularly using cat combs in order to remove leaves and plant parts that got stuck during time outside. This can get them used to longer grooming sessions during the winter months.
Apart from coat care, species-appropriate nutrition is essential to ensure your Siberian cat enjoys a long, healthy and active life. As a carnivore, they need food with plenty of healthy protein – they can only utilise a small amount of carbohydrates. The yearly check-up at the vet's also helps to identify potential health problems in good time and clear up questions concerning care and nutrition.
Siberian cats are primordial animals. Since the breed of robust cats is still very young, there are hardly any hereditary diseases typical of the breed. Crossing different breeds and line breeding can of course lead to the emergence of hereditary diseases in isolated cases. The best countermeasure is a well thought-out, professional breed that avoids inbreeding and emphasises a healthy breeding objective. Both Siberian cat breeders and buyers have a significant responsibility to safeguard these nature lovers from hereditary diseases in the future too!
For you as a buyer, it is extremely important that you only purchase your cats from a responsible, professional breeder. Small ads promising “low price pedigree cats” might tempt bargain hunters but often come with a catch: in most cases, the cat's wellbeing is not the priority. Cat breeding is an expensive hobby and those who want to make a profit from the sale usually scrimp on food, housing, healthcare provision and well thought-out pairing. A breeder who takes responsibility for their animals and their rearing does not shy away from costs or time commitments. Regular visits to the vet and tests for well-known hereditary diseases such as the myocardial disease HCM and renal cysts should be considered standard. They can present potential buyers with relevant test results. Sick cats are excluded from breeding and interceded if necessary. Breeding associations do more than just provide paperwork – they also monitor the breed standard. As well, serious breeders are members of one of the countless cat breeding associations.
Kittens must stay with their mother and siblings for at least 12 weeks until they are ready to move to their new home. During this vital initial phase, they learn everything that prepares them for a long and healthy life! Breeders supervise their animals around the clock and provide them with everything they need for the growth phase. They are ready to offer those who purchase their kittens advice and assistance – even after the purchase!
Of course, all this costs money... In order to cover costs, a responsible breeder must ask for a certain price for each cat. Siberian cats from a registered breed cost around 700 euros each, so future owners who want more than one cat can obviously expect huge costs. However, ideally you would receive a well socialised, healthy cat who would make a wonderful companion for many years to come. Alternatively, you can check out animal homes, which have many cats waiting for a good home – including some long-haired pedigree cats!
We wish you and your Siberian cat a wonderful life together!
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