Let's talk Norwegian Forest Cats

A gentle giant of the feline world, the Norwegian Forest Cat is friendly, easy-going and often quite playful. This makes them an ideal breed to have around children. Unlike some cats, they form strong attachments to their human families and are also known to be quite affectionate. Then there’s the Norwegian Forest Cat’s impressive stature, voluminous coat and, thanks to those tufted ears, almost lynx-like good looks. Originally from Northern Europe, as the name suggests, they are well suited to colder climes.

Official name: Norwegian Forest Cat

Other names: Norse skogkatt, Skogkatt, Wegie

Origins: Norway

Norwegian Forest Cat looking at camera in black and white
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Illustration of Norwegian Forest Cat
Male
23 cm - 31 cm Height
4 kg - 9 kg Weight
Female
23 cm - 31 cm Height
3 kg - 7 kg Weight

Baby cat Birth to 4 months
Growing kitten 4 to 12 months
Adult 1 to 7 years
Mature 7 to 12 years
Senior 12+

Norwegian Forest Cat standing over food and water bowls

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Get to know the Norwegian Forest Cat

All you need to know about the breed

With a name that’s straight out of a fairy tale, the Norwegian Forest Cat more than lives up to its billing. Known for their almond-shaped eyes, impressive size and lustrous coat, they could indeed be a character in a storybook and look more like a wild animal than a family pet.

Funnily enough, though, while it’s true that they hail from the Norwegian forests after which they are named, the Norwegian Forest Cat may descend originally from domestic cats. In fact, it is widely believed that their ancestors were household pets of the Norwegian Vikings. Later, the breed went on to become established in the wild Nordic woodlands, gradually becoming more feral and growing their longer, thicker coat to cope with the harsh Scandinavian climate.

Today, while they remain a hardy, robust and self-assured animal, the Norwegian Forest Cat also has a lovely, sociable temperament that belies their background. As such, they can get on well with children and other pets – and even with dogs sometimes.

As one of the largest breeds of domestic cat, a fully grown Norwegian Forest Cat can reach a top weight of around 20lb (9kg). A strong, powerful and agile animal, not unlike the Maine Coon, they are exceptionally good at climbing due to their muscular bodies and strong claws. The Norwegian Forest Cat is also one of the only breeds to like water, thanks to their water-shedding hair, so watch out if you have a fishpond – and they may even try to jump in your bath!

While it’s true that they are best suited to an outdoor lifestyle, they can adapt well to life indoors as long as they have plenty of toys and activities to keep them occupied. A highly intelligent breed with a playful personality, Norwegian Forest Cats are very interactive animals who also enjoy games with their owners. The Norwegian Forest Cat has a good life expectancy, too, reaching an average age of 14 to 16 years.

Increasingly popular over the years, they were designated the official cat of Norway in the 1950’s. Nowadays, Norwegian Forest Cats feature among the 20 most popular cat breeds in the world.

Norwegian Forest Cat, high in a tree, walking along a branch

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2 facts about Norwegian Forest Cats

1. Quite the climber

According to Norse folklore, the Skogkatt (to use the Norwegian Forest Cat’s native name) was a “mountain-dwelling fairy cat”. Legend has it that they had the ability to climb sheer rock faces that other breeds could never pull off.

2. One-of-a-kind colour 

The Norwegian Forest Cat has a coat of potentially many colours – from chocolate to sable and lavender. But did you know that a unique colour has been identified in the breed? Proven by DNA testing, this is an amber that appears in two different shades.

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History of the breed

Although the precise origins of the Norwegian Forest Cat are not known, it is thought that their ancestors were brought over to Norway by the Vikings around 1,000AD. While many believe that today’s breed descends from a short-haired variety in Great Britain, they may also have their roots in the Siberian and the Turkish Angora – both long-haired cats – from Russia and Turkey respectively.

In any event, over the years, colonies became established in the Norwegian forests and eventually adapted to the cold, harsh climate there. Later, they were utilised for their hunting skills by local farmers, to keep the local mouse populations in check, but didn’t become established as a domestic pet until relatively recently.

In fact, during World War Two, the Norwegian Forest Cat almost became extinct altogether. It was only thanks to the Norwegian Forest Cat Club, which had been set up in 1938, that the breed endured after they set up an official breeding programme.

The Norwegian Forest Cat was finally registered as a breed in Europe in the 1970s. However, it wasn’t until 1989 that they were accepted as a breed in the UK. Now, they are a highly popular breed of pet cat across Europe and beyond – but especially in their native Norway and in France.

Close-up of Norwegian Forest Cat in black and white

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From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Norwegian Forest Cats

Close-up of Norwegian Forest Cat in front of blue sky background

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Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Norwegian Forest Cat

It’s important to choose a reputable breeder

That way, you will significantly reduce the risk of any hereditary conditions. For example, although it happens only rarely, the Norwegian Forest Cat has a genetic predisposition to a neurological disorder known as ‘glycogen storage disease IV’ (or ‘Andersen disease’). This can occur at birth, with some kittens being stillborn, or it can also manifest at five to seven months with progressive decline. Fortunately, a DNA test can be carried out to establish if a cat is clear, so good breeders will be screening for the condition in the parents in order to reduce the risk. If buying a Norwegian Forest Cat kitten, be sure to check with your breeder about this.

Their teeth need some careful attention too

Like other breeds, the Norwegian Forest Cat can be prone to gum and dental problems. This can occur when plaque on the teeth builds up and becomes mineralised leading to what is known as ‘tartar’. This, in turn, can result in gingivitis (gum inflammation) and periodontal disease (affecting the structure around the tooth). As a result, the Norwegian Forest Cat should have their teeth brushed as often as possible. Regular dental check-ups are also recommended and the right sort of diet can help too. For example, dry food will help remove dental plaque and calcium chelators can prevent the build-up of tartar (see our nutrition section for more on the best diet for your Norwegian Forest Cat).

Be sure to check their eyes regularly for anything unusual

Another thing to be aware of is that the Norwegian Forest Cat can be susceptible to eye complaints. For example, these can include conditions such as conjunctivitis, glaucoma and retinal dysplasia – the last of which can occur when the kitten is still in the womb or newly born. The important thing is to check their eyes regularly for any sign of discomfort or irritation and, if anything doesn’t seem right, have a chat with your vet who will be able to advise on the best course of treatment. They will also be able to offer regular check-ups for your Norwegian Forest Cat in order to head off any issues.

Healthy diet, healthier cat

Kitten
Adult
Senior
  • Tailored health nutrition has a fundamental role to play in maintaining the health and beauty of the Norwegian Forest Cat. Food provides energy to help with vital functions and a complete nutritional formula for Norwegian Forest Cats should contain an adapted balance of nutrients. Feeding them in this way will offer a diet that’s neither deficient nor excessive, both of which could have adverse effects on your cat’s health. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times to support good urinary regularity. Cats are also naturally adapted to eating small servings - between 7 and 10 times a day. Giving them the recommended daily ration of kibble once a day will let your Norwegian Forest Cat regulate their own consumption. The following recommendations are for healthy animals. If your cat has health problems, please consult your veterinarian who will prescribe an exclusively veterinary diet.
  • Growth is an essential stage in a kitten’s life. It is a time of big changes, discoveries, and new encounters. When it comes to their energy, protein, minerals, and vitamin requirements, those of a Norwegian Forest Cat kitten are much greater than those of an adult cat. They need energy and nutrients to maintain their body, but also to grow and build it. A kitten’s growth comes in two phases:
  • Construction
  • From birth to 4 months
  • Weaning is the transition a kitten makes from liquid - or maternal milk - to solid food. This period naturally corresponds to the time when they cut their milk teeth, at 3 to 6 weeks old. At this stage kittens are not yet able to crunch, so a soft meal (rehydrated kibble or an adapted wet food) helps facilitate the transition between liquids and solids.
  • Between 4 and 12 weeks after birth
  • The natural immunity a kitten receives from the mother’s colostrum - or first milk - decreases while the kitten’s immune system gradually develops. This critical time, called the immunity gap, requires a complex of antioxidants, including vitamin E, to help support their natural defences. Kittens go through an intense and particularly delicate period of growth during which they’re prone to digestive upset. Their diet at this time should not only be rich in energy to meet their increasing growth needs but should also contain highly digestible protein to cater to their digestive system that’s still maturing. Prebiotics, such as fructo-oligosaccharides, can also support their digestive health by helping to balance intestinal flora. The result? Good stool quality, all around. The kitten’s food should contain omega 3 fatty acids - EPA-DHA - which helps support the proper neuro-cerebral development.
  • Consolidation and Harmonisation: from 4 months to 12 months
  • From the fourth month, a kitten’s growth slows down, so a food lower in fats is recommended. This is particularly important after a cat is sterilised. Between 4 and 7 months, a kitten’s milk teeth fall out and are replaced by permanent ones. When the adult teeth have come through, a kitten needs to eat kibble that’s big enough so they’re encouraged to crunch. Until they’re 12 months old, the immune system of a Norwegian Forest Cat kitten is still developing gradually. A complex of antioxidants, including vitamin E, can help support their natural defences during this time of big changes, discoveries and new encounters. The digestive system matures progressively, with digestive aptitudes reaching full maturity toward twelve months of age. A cat is then able to consume adult food.
  • On top of maintaining a healthy urinary function as for all cats, the main nutritional goals for adult Norwegian Forest Cats are:
  • Stimulating the elimination of hair ingested during grooming, thanks to selected fibers, to help reduce hairballs
  • Helping to preserve the health and beauty of the skin and coat with the enriched addition of targeted nutrients, such as essential fatty acids - EPA-DHA - essential amino acids, and B vitamins
  • Contributing to maintaining an ideal body weight for this large, strongly built, and powerful cat, with an adapted level of calories, to help support healthy bones and joints.
  • Supporting good oral hygiene thanks to a kibble shape adapted to their strong jaw with a texture that induces chewing.
  • A senior cat - one over the age of 12 - may sometimes have difficulties with absorption. To maintain the weight of the ageing cat and minimise the risk of deficiency, they should be given an extremely digestible food filled with essential nutrients.
  • As they get older, cats increasingly suffer from teeth problems, and in some senior cats, the sense of taste and smell may decline as well, which can lead to a lowered intake of food. To ensure they continue to eat enough, the shape, size, and hardness - meaning texture - of their kibble needs to be tailored to their now potentially more fragile jaw.
  • Note that the best energy level for any cat still depends on their lifestyle, even those who are ageing. A senior cat that continues to go out regularly will benefit from a diet with a slightly higher fat content. On the other hand, ageing does not reduce an indoor cat’s risk of obesity. Their calorie intake should still be closely monitored. A food with a moderate fat content then may be optimal.
Norwegian Forest Cat walking along the back of a white sofa

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Caring for your Norwegian Forest Cat

Grooming, training and exercise tips

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With a top weight of around 20lb (9kg), the full-size Norwegian Forest Cat needs a fair amount of physical activity to keep them in shape. As a one-time wildcat, this is a breed that will also benefit from regular access to the great outdoors. However, if this isn’t viable – for example, if you live near a busy road – a good compromise can be an enclosed area in the garden where they can get the best of both worlds in a safe space. Either way, you will want to think up as many activities as possible for them to enjoy at home. As the Norwegian Forest Cat is a consummate climber, they’ll appreciate something to clamber up and down such as an elaborate cat tree with high platforms.

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The Norwegian Forest Cat is a true stunner of the feline world, but their thick double coat of long, water-resistant fur does require a bit of care. They will need brushing at least twice a week – and daily during the moulting periods when they can shed a lot. As well as keeping the coat in good condition and avoiding tangles, this will help to prevent any foreign bodies, such as grass seeds, getting trapped in their fur and causing skin abscesses. The Norwegian Forest Cat should also have the corner of their eyes wiped daily, using a different cloth for each eye, and nails clipped as needed. Teeth should be brushed as often as possible and they should have regular dental check-ups.

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Known for being a highly intelligent breed, the Norwegian Forest Cat learns fast. They can therefore be house-trained very easily. However, as this is a breed that takes a long time to fully mature, expect kitten antics for some time to come. They are even quite playful into adulthood. As such, they will also benefit from games and activities at home, as well as plenty of interaction with their owners. Although they like to have the company of their human families, and are usually great with other pets, the Norwegian Forest Cat can be a little shy around strangers. Selecting a kitten that comes from a breeder who practises early handling and socialisation can help with this.

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All about Norwegian Forest Cats

There is actually no such thing as a “hypoallergenic” cat. The allergen that causes reaction in people is called ‘Fel d1’ and is produced in the glands. This is particularly present in their saliva, so, when cats groom themselves, they spread the allergen over their body. But it has nothing to do with the type of hair (i.e. long or absent) as such.

The temperament of the Norwegian Forest Cat is a perfect mix of affection and independence. In short, they are not clingy, but like to have attention from their human family. With a lively personality, the Norwegian Forest Cat also thrives on games and interaction.

Sources

1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/

2 - Royal Canin Cat Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book