ALL CAT BREED PROFILES

Norwegian Forest Cat: Magnificent Gentle Giants

Beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat sitting in the yard
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

Compared to dogs, cats are smaller in size. Some people consider this an advantage since it makes them easier to take care of, but others think that this is a shame. For some people, the bigger the cat is, the better because there will be more of them to love. The Norwegian Forest cat is here to answer that yearning.

If you are looking for a cat from a very unique breed who has a gorgeous and distinguishable physique—a cat that won’t be much of a lap cat but is still very friendly and loving as well as a cat that will be an interactive, but still-independent member of your family—look no further.

siberian-forest-cat-or-norwegian-forest-cat sitting on a wood outside in the snow

As one of the oldest naturally-occurring, yet less-popular cat breeds, the Norwegian Forest cat has a lot to offer. Most people have at least heard of this breed, but adoption-wise, it hasn’t gotten the recognition it deserves because people are apprehensive about housing such a huge and wild-looking cat. But we’re here to tell you that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Below, we will go over all relevant details on these fascinating cats. We will talk about their interesting story and origins, about the key aspects of their body, coat, and fur that you need to know, as well as about their health and personality.

Breed Characteristics

  • Adaptability: High

  • Grooming: High Maintenance

  • Health: Very Good

  • All Around Friendliness: Good; calm and gentle but not lap cats

  • Exercise Needs: Moderate

Cat Breed GroupLong-Haired, Natural Breed
SizeLarge
Weight13 – 22 pounds
Lifespan12 – 16 years

The Norwegian Forest cats—or the “Wegies” as the breed’s admirers like to call them—are truly astonishing animals. In Norway, they are called “skogkatter” or “Norsk skogkatt,” which literally means “A Norwegian Forest cat.” It is one of the oldest natural breeds in the world, but for various reasons wasn’t given a lot of attention by cat breeders until the second half of the 20th century.

Grogeous Norwegian Forest Cat sitting on a wood with a tree behing her

Nowadays, the Norwegian Forest cats are one of the more famous cat breeds in the world—admired for their stunning size, beautiful and feral coat, as well as their otherwise friendly and calm nature.

While famous, the Wegie cats still aren’t bought or adopted as often as other cat breeds—both because of their price (roughly between $550 and $800) and because of their size. A lot of cat owners and want-to-be cat owners simply don’t feel ready to take care of such a big animal. And, to be fair, a cat of such size does require a fair bit of grooming, as well as a large enough space. But other than that, the Norwegian Forest cat has a calm personality and should not have any destructive impact on the house.

Main Highlights

  • The Norwegian Forest cat, or the Wegie, as it is jokingly called, is one of the biggest domesticated cat breeds in the world. Don’t be intimidated by their size, however; they are a friendly and loving breed that loves people, children, and other pets.

  • As a Nordic cat, the Wegie doesn’t mind water. This makes bath times less of an all-out war, but if you have an aquarium or koi pond denizens, your fish won’t be happy with the new feline inclusion in the family.

  • The Norwegian Forest cat is one of the oldest natural domesticated cat breeds in the world, but it wasn’t recognized as such until the 1970s – 1990s.

  • The Wegie is a great climber, so if you are going to keep your Nordic cat strictly indoors, it is best to supply them with a lot of climbing opportunities (tall floor-to-ceiling scratch posts, ladders, shelves, etc.).

Breed History

The exact point of origin of the Norwegian Forest cat isn’t exactly certain, as is the case with a lot of other old cat breeds. The breed has been a part of Scandinavia’s wildlife and domesticated life for over a millennium. Back in the 1000s AD, there weren’t a lot of written sources about cats.

It is believed, however, that the breed is a cross between various cats that came to Norway and the rest of Scandinavia around the time. The Vikings may have brought long-haired cats from Great Britain, and the crusaders may have brought long-haired cats from central Europe around the same time. The Siberian and the Turkish Angora cats—long-haired breeds from Russia and Turkey—are also ancestors of the breed.

Whatever the exact origin of the breed is, Wegie cats didn’t sit idly in Norway for all these years. They adapted to the cold, as well as to the rocky and forest-covered landscape by becoming great climbers with amazing long coats to keep them warm during the long winters. The lack of too many natural predators in the region also allowed them to become quite large in size.

Two Norwegian Forest Cats sitting outside while its snowing

For about a millennium, the Norwegian Forest cats lived together with the Scandinavian people—both patrolling the wilderness by themselves, as well as living in cities and towns as farm mousing cats or even as mousers on boats. It is believed that the Vikings traveled everywhere with their furry companions, which helped to keep their ships free of any rodents.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that the breed started to get recognition. Cat breeders based in Europe and the USA simply hadn’t thought to look towards Scandinavia before that. In 1938, the first organization devoted to the breed—the Norwegian Forest Cat Club—was formed in Oslo, Norway.

Norwegian Forest cat breeders started bringing their cats to Europe for various exhibition shows and tournaments, quickly impressing the local breeders. Unfortunately, this was also when the Second World War happened. Not only did the relations between the various breeding clubs in Europe stopped, but the Norwegian Forest cat nearly went extinct due to the excessive cross-breeding of free-roaming domestic cats during the war.

Big and Fluffy Norwegian Forest Cat lying on the floor

Thankfully, the Norwegian Forest Cat Club managed to save the breed before it was too late. However, while the breed was saved, it didn’t make a comeback across Europe and the U.S. Fortunately, it was then that a Norwegian cat fancier by the name of Carl-Fredrik Nordane joined the fight to preserve these cats.

In 1978, the Norwegian Forest cat was recognized as an official breed in Sweden. In 1989, the same thing happened in the United Kingdom. Finally, the breed made its way into the American Cat Fanciers Association in 1994.

Since then, and especially by gaining popularity through the Internet due to their peculiar physical features, the breed has been growing more and more popular among the public. A lot of people are still hesitant about buying or adopting Wegie kittens due to their size, but at least now everyone knows about this gorgeous animal from Norway.

Size

Norwegian Forest cat size is certainly the first thing that catches everyone’s attention. It may not be easily visible on photographs—especially ones without other cats for comparison—but the Wegie cat is huge compared to almost any other breed of domesticated cat.

Norwegian Forest Cat sitting in a studio

Norwegian Forest cat weight ranges from 13 to 22 pounds. The females are slightly smaller, but still very impressive in size. Simply put, these cats dwarf even some dog breeds. They are sturdy giants too; they have long, muscular legs, and a massive body.

Personality and Character

Norwegian Forest cat personality is something that a lot of people are curious about. Does the term “gentle giants” apply to these cats or are they as wild as they look? The Wegies are not exactly lap cats, and that’s not only because of their size. Norwegian Forest cat temperament is rather lively and friendly, but also independent. This is one of those breeds that quite easily adapt to any family and home they end up in. They don’t let anything hold them down.

If you allow your Norwegian Forest cat to go outside, they will quickly become skilled and adept hunters that will build a separate life of their own but will come to you for affection and love. If you keep your Wegie indoors only, they will require more attention, as well as more activities (chasing toys, playing fetch, climbing on indoor cat ladders and shelves, etc.).

adult-Norwegian-Forest-Cat in a  forest

If you frequently have guests at home, a Norwegian Forest cat can easily learn to be people-friendly and not to be afraid of strangers. If, however, you don’t have many guests, your feline friend will likely become wary of strangers and will be happier when they are alone with you and your family.

All in all, the Norwegian Forest cat breed has a very balanced personality—friendly and loving, but not too attached and capable of forming their own routine. This is also a very playful and active breed, but not destructive; a Wegie cat can spend quite a bit of their time alone in the house during your work hours and be fine as long as there are enough toys laying around and things to climb.

Long Hair Norwegian Forest Cat in a tree

As far as Norwegian cats’ vocal habits go, these forest cats are not very talkative. A Wegie is happy to communicate simply by rubbing their head and body against you and by purring.

Unlike other breeds like the Colorpoint Shorthair, for example—who love to “talk” to you at all times and for no particular reason other than to hear your voice—a Norwegian Forest cat is likely to speak only when they need something in particular, be it food, water, a clean litter box, or some play time.

Health and Potential Problems

Norwegian Forest cat lifespan is in the impressive range of 12 to 16 years. This, by itself, is a testament to their good health. Of course, like all other breeds, both pedigreed and mixed-breed cats have the potential to develop genetic health problems. Some of them that have been recorded in the breed are:

  • Glycogen Storage Disease IV. This is a rare heritable disease that has to do with the metabolism of glucose. In most cases, the diseased kittens die within hours of their birth, but on rare occasions, they can live up to 5 months without noticeable symptoms and die later. The disease is easy to find with a DNA test and fortunately isn’t very common.

  • Retinal Dysplasia. A minor eye defect that creates spots in the retina but doesn’t worsen the cat’s vision.

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. A heart disease. It is a heritable disease in breeds like the Maine Coon, but while it’s been seen in Norwegian Forest cats, it has not been proven to be heritable in the breed.

  • Polycystic kidney disease. A kidney condition that can be heritable. Unfortunately, DNA tests for this disease are not available for the Norwegian Forest cat breed. However, ultrasound can detect the disease as early as when the cats are 10 months of age.

So, as you can see, the Norwegian Forest cat is a very healthy breed, due to the fact that it hasn’t been overbred like some other European or American cats. The few genetic diseases that are typical of the breed are relatively rare and traceable.

Beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat sitting on a wood outside

Still, to avoid any problems, it is highly recommended to only get your Wegie kittens from reputable breeders that can provide proof of the cat’s heritage and a valid health certificate.

Care Features

Despite these cats’ size, they don’t require much more care than other long-haired breeds. Yes, their long fur is pretty high maintenance, but that is to be expected. Brushing or combing the coat three to four times per week should be enough for an indoor cat. Just be gentle if you find any tangles or dirt in the fur, since the long hairs can be tricky and you might cause your feline buddy some pain.

Norwegian Forest cats aren’t as afraid of water as most other cat breeds; you might think that this makes it easy to bathe them, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Their coat is significantly waterproof (as a defense against the cold winters in Norway) and bathing such a cat can be a real test for any cat owner. But think about it this way—at least you wouldn’t need to worry about getting mauled; bathing them will take some more time is all.

Norweger Waldkatze auf Brennholz

Daily dental hygiene is advisable as with other cat breeds, but if the cat’s diet is healthy enough, weekly brushing of the teeth should suffice. Keep the eyes and ears of your Norwegian feline buddy clean by wiping them with a damp cloth every once in a while if they are dirty. Make sure to use different parts of the cloth for the eyes, so you don’t transfer any possible infections.

As with all cats, you need to keep your Wegie’s litter box in a great condition by cleaning it daily or even twice per day. This is especially important for long-haired breeds such as this one because a dirty litter box can get dirt and feces in their long coats and cleaning that can be a nightmare both for you and your cat.

Feeding Schedule

When it comes to food, it should come as no surprise to you that a Norwegian Forest cat eats a lot more than smaller cat breeds. As for any specifics, there isn’t anything in particular; basically, as with other cats, avoid grain-based and soy foods.

Focus on meat-based foods and try to give your cat a mixed diet of both dry and wet food. The quality is of great importance for all cats, but it is especially important for bigger breeds like the Wegie, because they simply need more nutrition.

As for their feeding schedule, it’s best to feed your cat 3 or 4 times per day. Most cat owners feed their cats 2 times per day because they have to go to work, but cats—especially big cats like the Norwegian Forest—are best fed more often but with smaller meals. This is much better for their digestion and will help prevent puking due to overeating as well as any possible digestive health concerns.

Funny Norwegian Forest kittens sitting on a wooden table

If you are at work for more than 7-8 hours at a time, this doesn’t mean that you can’t prepare a 3 times per day feeding schedule. The fact that you are going to feed your cat 3 meals in 24 hours doesn’t mean that the meals necessarily have to be spaced exactly 8 hours.

You can feed your Wegie at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, then feed them 10 hours later when you get back from work, and then feed them again 6 hours later around midnight before you go to bed. This way, all you need to do is to make sure that the second meal (the one after work) is a bit bigger to compensate for the longer interval, and you can easily feed your cat 3 times per day.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

Norwegian Forest cat characteristics aren’t complete without a look at their beautiful coat. It is long, thick, and truly beautiful. The coat can come in almost all colors. The only ones that are excluded from the breed are chocolate, lilac, and the dilutions of fawn and cinnamon.

The tail of the Norwegian Forest cat is long and fluffy. The coat itself is not only beautiful, but it’s also pragmatic. It is a double-layered coat with a waterproof external layer which is great for keeping the cat from freezing in long and harsh winters. The coat also has a sort of “bib” that starts with a short collar around the neck and continues into “mutton chops” on the side and ends with a gorgeous full frontal ruff.

A Norwegian Forest Cat sitting in the snow and looking up to the sky

The coat thickest at the legs, chest, and the head. The Wegie’s coat is pretty much always big and long, but it does change with the seasons. During the summer, you will notice a significant decrease in their coat’s thickness as the cat tries to keep cool. Still, overheating can be a problem during those long summer months, particularly if you are living in a hot state or country.

But don’t take this to also mean that a Norwegian Forest cat is happy to live in the cold; these cats may have adapted to survive in the cold winter, but they are not masochists. A moderate temperature throughout the year is always the best solution.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

The high intellect and friendly nature of the Norwegian Forest cat make the breed great for families with children or other pets (mostly with other cats or cat-friendly dogs). The sheer size of the cat also lends an advantage towards that, although most people are afraid that the big cat may pose a danger to their children. Actually, it’s the other way around. The fact that the Norwegian Forest cat is so big means that your children will be less of a threat to the cat and things between them will be much smoother.

A Norwegian Forest Cat lying down in yard

A Wegie is happy to play fetch, to chase or be chased around your home, and even to be dressed-up. As long as you’ve taught your children to be mindful and polite with the cat and not to bug or torment them physically, everything should be perfectly fine.

As for other pets, a Norwegian Forest cat can live in harmony with all other cat breeds, as well as with all cat-friendly dog breeds, as long as they are introduced to one another in a good and careful mannerOther pets like hamsters or birds are ill-advised, however—especially aquariums and koi pond denizens. These are a big No-No since Wegie cats don’t mind water and will happily get wet for a live fish meal.

Wrap Up

Simply put, the Norwegian Forest cat is an astonishing breed. With their impressive size, a gorgeous coat, and a well-balanced, friendly, and adaptable personality, the Wegie can be a great pet for almost any family.

Norwegian Forest Cat in a forest

The size and the coat of the cat require a certain level of care, but not as much as you might think. The general healthiness of the breed pretty much makes up for that, and you can live 14 to 16 happy years with a beautiful and loving animal at home that is unique in a lot of different ways.

Do you find the Wegie’s gentle giant nature fascinating? If, after reading all that, you realize that you prefer a small cat, there’s no cat smaller than the cute, short-legged tater tots in this other article. Please share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section below!

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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