The national cat of Norway, the Norwegian Forest Cat – or the ‘Wegie’ for short – is a substantial looking feline that is as at home by the fire as he is out stalking for prey. Muscular, with a plush, heavy coat that adds to their physical presence, the Wegie’s outdoor look belies the fact that he is a domestic cat that’s actually a big softie. They love being part of the family but doesn’t crave constant attention and can easily fit in with a busy household. And the breed is certainly a looker – with beautiful tufted ears and a plumed tail that puts you in mind of the more widely known Maine Coon.
So, if you are looking for a physically robust kit that also loves to be loved but doesn’t demand constant attention, then the gorgeous Norwegian Forest Cat could be for you. We take a more in-depth look at the irresistible Wegie.
History of the Norwegian Forest Cat
In his native Norway, the Wegie is called the ‘Skogkatt’ which, when translated, means forest cat and was originally a feral breed that became an effective mouser on Norwegian farms. The breed’s history goes back hundreds of years and is shrouded in Norwegian myth and even magic. Legend has it that this stunning, muscular cat belonged to the Norse goddess, Freya, whose chariot was pulled by six giant cats, thought to be the ‘Skogkatt’. The Wegie also makes an appearance in many other Norwegian fairy tales although where he actually originated from remains a mystery. It is thought the Norwegian Forest Cat may be descended from longhaired cats from Turkey, brought back from the Byzantine Empire by Scandinavian warriors. Another theory is that they are descended from the Russian Siberian cat. Wherever they came from, the breed has superbly adapted to harsh weather conditions, thanks to its insulating long coat, with a dense undercoat and water repelling outer.
With such a magical heritage, it is no wonder that Norwegian breeders developed the forest cat into a show-worthy breed, that was first exhibited in Norway in 1938. Following the Second World War, which interrupted the breeding program, the Norwegian Forest Cat was declared Norway’s official cat, by the late King Olaf.
Increasingly popular in Europe, the breed eventually made its way across the Atlantic in the early 1980s, where it came to rival the US’s own native ‘forest cat’, the Maine Coon, With the Wegie steadily growing its own loyal following. In the US, the Norwegian Forest Cat was first recognized by the International Cat Association, before finally being accepted by the American Cat Association in 1995. Today, a Norwegian Forest Kitten costs between $600-$1,200 to buy.
Quick Facts About the Norwegian Forest Cat
With its robust build, striking looks and loving nature, the Norwegian Forest Cat can make the perfect feline companion. But they do need space and are not going to be your typical, lap-loving kitty. With this in mind, here are just few ‘did you know….?’ facts that show just why we are wild about the Wegie:
They traveled with the Viking warriors – the descendants of today’s Wegie were thought to have accompanied Vikings on their crusades, working as mousers on the Viking longships. Back in the Vikings’ homeland, the early relatives of the Wegie were often seen roaming the wild forests of Norway, eventually breeding with domestic and feral cats evolve into the striking Norwegian Forest Cat we know today.
They are considered ‘mythical creatures’ – as well as the legend of Freya, the Wegie features in another Scandinavian legend, this time in the story of the god Jormungand, who disguised himself as a Skogatt to beat Thor in a contest of strength. The original Skogatts also had the ability to scale sheer rock faces, which no other felines can do. Thanks to its legendary reputation, many Norwegian breeders still refer to the Wegie as the ‘Norse Skogatt’.
They nearly became extinct – the outdoor nature of the Wegie meant they didn’t become an officially recognized domestic breed until the 1930s, but their breeding program was halted by World War Two. Post war and interest in the breed started to wane, not least due to crossbreeding. Thankfully, committed breeders from the Norwegian Forest Cat Club based in Oslo eventually picked back up on the program, resulting in the Wegie being recognized as Norway’s official cat in the 1950s.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is a large animal – with adult males weighing up to 22 pounds, or more and has a muscular build designed for life outdoors. However, as a breed, they mature slowly and won’t fully reach adulthood until around five years of age, meaning you get a kitten-like pet for longer!
They are connected to the Maine Coon – at first look, the Wegie looks very much like the Maine Coon and there is the real possibility they are related. However, there are some key differences between the two. The Wegie has a much more compact body and have almond-shaped eyes, whereas the eyes of a Maine Coon are an open oval shape.
They are built for harsh climates – thanks to their sumptuously long, double-layered coat, the Wegie can survive outdoors in weather extremes, having lived in the Norwegian wilderness. This double coat effectively repels water and snow and the cat’s tufted ears, plumed tail and fur-covered toes add extra weather protection.
They have a coat of many colors – there is a wide range of color patterns found in the Wegie, with most colorings found in the breed, with the exception of the colorpoints seen in the Siamese cat breed. The most common Wegie coat color is tabby with white and their coat will lighten or darken with the seasons.
They love to climb – naturally equipped for climbing trees in the Scandinavian forest, the Wegie’s paws are large and sturdy, with tough claws to grip onto the bark. As a domestic cat, they love to find a high up perch to keep watch, so a cat tree is a good purchase if you have a Wegie of your own. And, unlike many other domestic cats, your Norwegian will have no qualms descending from trees or other heights and will actually go headfirst. It is thought the Norwegian Forest Cat has inherited its head for heights and agile climbing skills from its heritage as a wilderness cat.
They are very loving – despite their ‘tough guy’ looks, the Norwegian Forest Cat loves nothing more than being with his family. Easy going and friendly, they are happy to fit in with your domestic arrangements, including other cats and dogs.
Things You Should Know
Independent, intelligent and loving without being too needy, the Norwegian Forest Cat is a wonderful pet for the busy household. They are large and athletic, but their size hides a sweet and affectionate nature, with the Wegie happy in their own company as well as humans and other pets. But they are high on the maintenance scale when it comes to grooming due to their super-thick, long coat. To help you decide whether the Wegie is the ideal kit to welcome into your home, we give the essential lowdown on this stunning breed.
Thanks to its previous life as an outdoor cat in the wilds of Norway, the Wegie is a tough breed, physically adapted to harsh climes. Generally healthy, the breed also has a long lifespan, typically between 14 – 16 years. However, the breed can be susceptible to some health conditions you need to be aware of if you are looking to buy a Wegie:
- Glycogen Storage Disease IV – this is a rare genetic condition found in the Wegie, which affects how the cat metabolizes glucose. If born with the condition, most kittens won’t live longer than a few hours but occasionally it will show up in older kittens. Sadly, these too, will only survive a couple of months after symptoms start to show. A DNA test is available to identify carrier cats.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – this is a form of heart disease that inherited in some breeds, including the Maine Coon. While the Wegie can be affected, there is no evidence that this is an inherited condition in the breed.
- Polycystic kidney disease – another genetic condition, this disease progressively causes multiple cysts to form which eventually destroy the affected cat’s kidneys. While there is currently no DNA test for the disease available for Norwegian Forest Cats, it can be diagnosed through ultrasound.
- Retinal dysplasia – this is an eye defect that causes spots to appear on the cat’s retina but does not destroy or worsen their vision.
- Hip dysplasia – while rare in Norwegian Forest Cats, this is a condition which affects the hip joints, causing malformation in the ball and socket. Symptoms include pain and stiffness, with many cats likely to go on to develop osteoarthritis.
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The Norwegian Forest Cat is not known to be greedy or food obsessed and is actually well-equipped to naturally control their own nutrition. Depending on her exercise levels, you will most likely notice your Wegie kit will reduce their food intake or increase exercise when they feel it is necessary. That said, you will need to ensure you pet has plenty of opportunity to play and burn off those calories and ensure her meals are adequate for her needs. And, as with all cat, a high-quality animal protein-based diet is a must for her all-round wellbeing and good health.
Overall, the Wegie is easy to care for, as long as they have space. While it may be tempting to indulge her wild side and let her roam free, to keep this big, soft cat safe, they work best as indoor cats. The Wegie is a striking looking cat and you could run the risk of this beauty being stolen if he is let to wander too far. As an outdoor cat, this pedigree would also be vulnerable to attack by dogs or the dangers of the road as well as being at risk of picking up diseases spread by other cats. To compensate, a large outdoor space if possible is ideal as they are energetic cats that need daily play and exercise.
While sociable and friendly, the Norwegian can be territorial, so to ensure they settle into your home, it is important to give her some space of her own. And, as she is an active cat that loves to run, hide and play, then she should have sufficient toys and scratching posts to stimulate and stave off any boredom. They are also natural climbers so get a perch or easy to reach cat shelf if you want to protect your own furniture or drapes! And keep any home aquariums or outdoor fishponds well protected as their wild genes means they are natural fishers.
When it comes to hygiene, just like all felines, the Wegie is fussy so will expect a clean litter box as well as food and water bowl. Their personal hygiene also needs to be taken care of. Check their ears regularly as those furry tufts can trap dirt and debris and gently clean with a damp cotton ball or cloth if they prove to be mucky. Avoid using cotton swabs or buds as these can damage the delicate inner ear. Their eyes can also build up discharge, so carefully wipe their eyelids daily, using a soft, wet cloth to remove any yuck and ensuring each eye is wipes with a different side of the cloth to prevent spreading bacteria and potentially infection. And regular teeth-brushing, with a cat toothbrush or simply a soft, clean cloth, will help to prevent periodontal disease.
There’s no getting away from the Norwegian’s super-impressive long and thick coat! While it works extremely well to protect them, it will take looking after, particularly as it goes through two major molts a year, but still sheds year-round. And the length of the fur means it is prone to matting and tangling. To keep on top of your pet’s fabulous coat, regular grooming is essential, ideally 3-4 times a week to keep it clean and tangle-free. Daily grooming during the main molts will also help with the shedding and can also work to keep your own home less hairy! A simple stainless-steel toothed comb or bristle brush is sufficient and working a grooming session into a playtime session gives you both a win-win.
You may also want to look at a hairball diet or remedy to prevent that long fur causing problems with their digestion during very heavy shedding. Bath-time should be an occasional event with your Norwegian as his coat is waterproof. And when it does come to bathing your cat, you will need to work to get a decent lather as the coat has a natural and effective protective oil making it difficult for water and dog shampoo to penetrate through.
The Norwegian Forest Cat is friendly and affectionate but perhaps harking back to his wild, independent days, he does tend to like to do things his way. Not all Wegies will want to be lap cats, but they do like to get close and will show you their love, they just don’t go over the top. And while they do love human company, they are also happy to just get on doing their own thing, if no-one is home.
The key is to let your pet come to you and between you find your way to what will be a loving, caring and fun relationship. An excellent trait in the Wegie is that they are amiable, adaptable and inquisitive, meaning they are good pets for children. And with the right introductions, they will also take other family pets and animals in their stride.
With their friendly, calm and gentle natures, Norwegians have been noted for their ‘dog-like’ character and coupled with their intelligence and inquisitive nature, are fun cats to play with. However, due to their large size and athletic nature, they do need regular exercise, stimulation and play. And they reactive positively to praise.
But don’t let that gentle disposition fool you, the Wegie can be pretty vocal when he needs to be, going from a soft purr to shrill bird-like chirrups when excited or wants to get their point across. And they tend to get very vocal if they feel they are being ignored, especially when it comes to their mealtime!
These cats are fast learners and so for stimulation, there are some essentials you do need to consider in order to keep your Wegie happy. As well as perches to indulge their forest-honed desire to look down on their ‘territory’, they also need scratching posts to keep those large paws entertained. Their contented nature means they are good at being left home alone but do leave toys for him to play with and don’t forget to schedule in some daily one-on-one quality time to keep him praised, included and happily engaged. And this means you can build a lasting and loving relationship with your very own, not so wild, forest cat!