A cat that can swim? Turns out, there really is such a thing! Unlike all other cats, the Turkish Van loves the water and will venture out into the deep when it gets the chance. Be careful not to get the Turkish Van confused with the Turkish Angora. If you look closely, you will quickly see their differences. Read on to find out more about this extraordinary cat from Turkey!
As the name suggests, the Turkish Van comes from Turkey, specifically the east of the country. “Van” is a reference to the Lake Van, the rough and isolated area in which the breed is said to have originated.
At first glance, the Turkish Van may easily be mistaken for a Turkish Angora. Even though both breeds have their ancestors in Turkey, there are several important differences.
The Turkish Van is a medium-sized, powerfully built cat with a broad chest, big head and medium length fur. In the summer, its coat is silky without an undercoat. In the winter, it boasts a dense, plush fur. A bushy tail, legs, and noticeable collar are all typical of this breed. The fur on its belly is curiously longer than on its back. Most cats have coats made up of up to three different types of hair, whereas the Turkish Van is well acclimatised to its natural environment and has just one coat for every time of year. In the winter, its fur is dense and warming, while the summer coat is silky and thin; it feels almost like cashmere or rabbit fur. Its unique feature is its water repellent coat that permits them to foray into the waters on occasion. This is why the Turkish Van is also known as the “swimming cat”.
As is common among big and strong cats, the Turkish Van is a late bloomer. It can take up to four years for this cat to be fully grown and the typically noticeable collar often only emerges in the sixth year.
The Turkish Van is mostly white, with colour around the head area and on the tail, which can only take up 20% of the fur according to breeding criteria. The unusual marking around the ears and on its tail is known as “Van marking”.
In lots of traditional breeding associations, red and cream markings are the only colours permitted. Some allow black and blue, both with and without Tabby stripes. Chocolate brown or spots are not permitted. A few smaller spots are graciously overlooked, but according to the breeding standard, the cat cannot appear to have fur of two colours.
There are also pure white or cream Turkish Van cats without any markings, which are treated as a separate breed in Turkey. In Europe, they are put in the same class as the “cream” cats. The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, one of the oldest European breeding associations, has taken to calling unmarked Turkish Van cats “Turkish Vankedisi” since 2005.
The eyes of the Turkish Van are light amber, but cats with different coloured eyes are warmly welcomed by breeders, so a Turkish Van with one amber and one blue eye are not a rare sight.
These friendly cats from Turkey are very intelligent and have a high capacity for learning. They remain playful into old age, especially if they are around water. When out and about, these good-natured cats love a quick dip and a spot of “fishing”. And when indoors, they also love the cooling water. The Turkish Van will stop before neither vase nor loo. So, it is very important that you keep toilets and aquariums locked at all times if you have a Turkish Van in the house!
The Turkish Van, is, as it happens, an accomplished hunter. This lively cat loves playing around, especially if it involves spending time with its human. Turkish Van cats are very drawn to humans and a social species, so they will form a deep bond with your family. These cats love your attention and are vocal in their purring!
Even though the origins of the cat are in the east of Turkey, its modern breeding history starts in the United Kingdom in 1955. Two British cat enthusiasts, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, came into contact with a cat that bore the Van markings and instantly grew very fond of it. With the arrival of this cat in Britain began breeding on a serious scale. In the breeding process, no other cat can be crossbred. This thoroughbred process means that all cats can trace their origins back to Turkey.
In Great Britain, the cats were originally known simply as “Turkish Cats”. To make a clear distinction to the Turkish Angora, the name was later changed to “Turkish Van”. Where the cats crossed paths with Lushington and Halliday remains a mystery. The reason for the “Van” has two explanations: either it refers to Lake Van in the cat’s home country, or it is simply a nod to the fact that the two cat lovers spent their holidays in an automobile!
Despite its name, this cat is not seen very often in Turkey, with only 92 registered cats at the beginning of the 90s. In 2006, this number was still only 100. To encourage breeding of this cat, money was pumped into breeding programmes, and exporting Turkish Van cats was met with a high penalty.
The breeding criteria are very strict: the cat must trace its ancestry back to Turkey. No other breeds can be mixed in during the breeding process. For breeds with a relatively small gene pool, professional breeding is essential to avoid any complications and ensure a robust and healthy development of the cat.
So, if your head has been turned by the lively character and silky fur of the Turkish Van, your first trip should be to visit a professional breeder. The Turkish Van is a rather rare cat, and breeders of this type are harder to find than, for example, a Maine Coon or Persian cat breeder. It is often worth asking directly at a breeder’s association. These act as quality control; gaining entry into this association requires strict standards to be met, and separates genuine breeders from scammers.
A professional breeder takes personal responsibility for the mother and its offspring. It is not all about profit. When due diligence is given to health provision, healthy food, good conditions, and a thoughtful pairing of parent cats, it becomes clear that breeding cats is an expensive passion.
The scammers, by contrast, do not have memberships to these associations, and will try to sell you cats without paperwork for a low price. They are reckless in their breeding, and often do not give kittens the four months they need with their mother after being born. Adequate recovery time for the mother is unheard of, as scammers try to exploit them for profit. This means that the offspring has a higher chance of being inbred, and despite seeming like a bargain, will turn out much more costly in the long run.
Health and care
Despite this small gene pool, the Turkish Van is known as a generally healthy and robust breed. Just like the Turkish Angora, the Turkish Van has a tendency to feline ataxia, an autosomal hereditary disease that disturbs the coordination capabilities of the cat. Ataxia is a neurological illness in most cases. There is no known cause at this point in time.
Pure white Turkish Van cats have a predisposition towards deafness. This is not due to the breed, but rather the colour; a study in the 70s found that white cats with one or two blue eyes are on average more likely to suffer from a degeneration of the inner ear and subsequent deafness.
Aside from that, a Turkish Van cat needs exactly the same type of care as any other cat. A wholesome food with high protein content, contact time with its family, potentially another cat for company, and regular visits to the vet are the kinds of things every cat needs, Especially Turkish Van cats who spend a lot of time playing outside should be on a strict immunisation protocol. Jabs against cat plague and cat flu are essential for house cats as well. Your vet will be able to advise you on a sensible protocol for your pet!
The fine, medium-length coat of the Turkish Van does not have an undercoat in summer and hardly needs additional care. The thick winter fur is perfectly suited to the cold winters of the cat’s native Turkey. During this time, brushing a few times a week will not only minimise hair swallowing, but also protect your fixings and furniture. In case your cat does swallow hair, you can ease its natural passage with the aid of cat grass and pastes.
As an active cat with well-developed hunting instincts, the Turkish Van loves being out in the wild. If do not have a garden of your own but have balcony you can, with a bit of thought and planning, make it secure and offer your cat a viable alternative. But Turkish Van cats are happy enough as indoor cats, provided their owner makes sure they have enough variety inside the home; a large cat tree takes care of climbing and scratching. There are various interactive games to keep your cat busy, and you can get involved too with dangler pole toys to let off some of that energy!
As you know by now, the Turkish Van cat loves a body of water, so do not let your cat out of sight if there is water around, since cat drownings do unfortunately occur.
Turkish Van Diet
What is a wholesome diet for a cat? What should be in the food to make sure that your cat stays healthy well into old age? There are so many brands out there these days, that it can be easy to feel lost when staring at a big shelf. Whichever one should I take?
Regardless of whether you go for wet or dry food, or which brand you prefer, make sure that it contains a high amount of natural protein. As carnivores, cats live predominantly off mice in the wild, sometimes other rodents and small birds. This natural diet is about 85% meat, and only 5% plant products, which are found in the prey intestines. This can be decomposed into about 50-60% protein, 20-30% fat, and 3-8% carbohydrates. Your Turkish Van will require a diet that is high in protein, moderate in fat content, and very sparing on the carbohydrates.
So be sure to have a good look at the ingredient list before choosing your cat’s food! Meat should be the first thing on there, and anything to do with plants should really be last! Luckily, there are no shortage of options on the market to give your Turkish Van cat everything it needs to be healthy and strong!
A lot of speciality breed food contain purposeful ingredients. For long-haired cats, the food includes ingredients that ease the natural passage of the hair. As an active cat, the Turkish Van requires food with a high energy content. The castration or aging process can lead to weight gain, though, so be careful. Keep track of your daily feeding time and amounts, and ask your vet on your next visit what you can do in terms of helping your cat lose weight.
We wish you and your Turkish Van nothing but the very best!