The Turkish Van cat, as the name suggests, originated in the rugged Lake Van region of Turkey and is a natural breed. It is not certain when and how this cat arrived in the region, but it has been considered as the regional treasure. In the mountainous regions around the Lake Van, ornaments depicting the images of cats that look like this breed had been spotted. These ornaments date as far back as 160 B.C.E. if they truly represent the Turkish Van cats, then this breed would be considered as one of the oldest breeds.
The environment and extreme temperatures of Lake Van are said to be the contributing factors to the development of the Turkish Van’s hardiness as well as its ability to swim. Turkish Vans that have a patch of color between their shoulder blades are highly prized as the color patch is suggested to be the ‘thumbprint of god’. Breeding of the Turkish Van started in the mid 1900s by British breeders. It was registered with the British Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) as Turkish cats and granted full championship status in 1969.
Its fist arrival in the United States happened in the 1970s. However, it started flourishing only in 1983, when breeders Barbara and Jack Reark brought in two of the breed from France. The fascination for this breed grew rapidly and resulted in its acceptance by many of the cat registries. The International Cat Association (TICA) granted it the championship status in 1985, followed by the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) in 1994. Even though the Turkish Van is still considered a rare and new breed in the U.S., it is followed by a group of spirited fanciers.
The Turkish government granted official recognition to the Turkish breed only in the mid 1990s after a 1992 survey by a Turkish university revealed that only 92 percent of the Turkish Van cat in their native region remains pure. Thus, the government implemented more breeding facilities at the Ankara zoo for the preservation of the breed. As a national treasure, the Turkish Van breed is no longer allowed to be exported from the Republic of Turkey. Thus, most breeders look to Europe, Australia and Sweden for breeding stock in order to add vigor to the existing lines.
Physical appearance and attributes
Turkish Van is a large sized breed that weighs an average of 12 – 17 pounds for males and 9 – 13 pounds for females. Its body is moderately long and muscular, especially at the neck and shoulders. It has been compared to a swimmer’s body which gives it the edge of strength over other feline. The broad shoulders and chest is as wide as its head, which gradually flows into the cat's well rounded rib cage as well as its muscular legs, hip and pelvic area. Thus, the Turkish Van's top heavy body pushes its center of gravity forward, giving this aquatic feline a bulldog like stance. It is also the feature that makes this cat such a natural in the water. The legs are moderately long and set wide apart. They taper into paws that are rounded and medium in size. Its tail is in proportion to its body, with a complementing hair length which gives it a brushlike appearance.
This breed has a head that is a substantially broad wedge with gentle contours. The nose is of a medium length and when viewed in profile a dip below the eye level is evident.
Cheekbones are also prominent and an imaginary line can be drawn from the tip of the nose down to its upper lip and firm chin. Turkish Van has moderately large ears that are widely spaced and that tapers into a slightly rounded tip. They are adorned with beautiful tufts. Eyes are large, oval and set at an oblique angle. They can come in brilliant amber or blue. Odd eye color can occur too.
There are two types of coat length, which are dependable on the seasons. The summer coat is shorter than the winter coat which is also thicker. Feathering may occur on the paws, legs, belly and ears. Facial hair is short. A frontal neck ruff and its gorgeous plum tail become more pronounce as it ages. Texture is cashmere-like and soft to the roots due to the absence of undercoat. The base color of the coat is of a glistening chalk white. The van pattern should be exclusive to the head, ears and tail. Random markings should not cover more than 20% of its entire body. Accepted colors include auburn, black, blue, cream, calico, dilute calico and tortoiseshell. A blaze, i.e., a white streak up the nose to the top of its head is desirable.
Personality and temperament
Besides its beautiful and stunning appearance, the Turkish Van is an independent, athletic and intelligent cat. Even though it is athletic, it might not have the grace to land itself properly on its paws. Thus, it is advisable to keep breakables away not just as a precaution against its clumsiness, but also against its mischievousness. Turkish van remains playful into its senior years. Its liveliness and a huge store of energy might be a challenge for the family to keep up with it. With its astuteness, tricks and games are learned quickly.
Being the cat that can swim, its love for water is undeniable. It would learn how to manipulate faucets to either drink from them or to play with the running water. Thus, it is also not unusual to see this breed around places where there are sources of water.
Highly independent, the Turkish Van does not take pleasure in being held or restrained. This does not mean that it does not show love and affection. In fact, when a strong bond is formed with the Turkish Van, it will not hesitate to show its devotion and loyalty. It is a sociable and gregarious breed that maintains its strong will and its need for space.
Care and health issues
The Turkish Van has an average lifespan of between 15 – 18 years. This is generally a hearty breed with no known genetic health issues. The only health problem that might be of concern is its susceptibility to obesity. It is important to obtain a written health guarantee from qualified breeders when purchasing the cat.
As this breed wears only a single with no undercoat that causes mats or tangles, grooming is easy with weekly brushing using a slicker brush. Baths are rarely necessary as the coat is water-resistant. Frequency of brushing may increase on older cats that might have difficulties in grooming themselves.
Include frequent teeth brushing with vet-approved toothpaste into its basic grooming care. Nail trimming and ear cleaning should also be carried out whenever necessary.
The ideal home
The Turkish Van is an ideal pet that is suited more for adults and older children. It is a sociable breed that knows how to enjoy family activities as well as the companionship of other family pets. This cat will prefer a home that has a shallow pond built in a safe, enclosed and escape-proof garden.
Most breeders would insist that the cat should be kept indoors. While apartment living is possible, make sure that there is enough space set aside with adequate toys, cat puzzles, cat trees and cat gym sets to satisfy its playfulness and incessant need to be active. This rare breed is certainly a much treasured pet to have for families that are ready to accommodate some liveliness, adventures and love into their homes.