Turkish Van: The Swimming Cat

Turkish Van cat in a studio
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

A cat that loves water? Is there even such a thing? Many prospective pet owners ask this question when they are trying to figure out which cat breed they should go for. The fact that cats hate water is common knowledge these days. One of the reasons why new cat owners may feel apprehensive about their decision to adopt a cat is because they are scared that bath times will be literal hell. Looking for a cat that won’t tear you into ribbons at the notion of a bath? Try the Turkish Van.

The Turkish Van is nicknamed “the swimming cat” because you will probably see them splashing in pools, ponds, and other bodies of water. It is perhaps their water-loving nature that makes them initially attractive to cat lovers, but that’s not all they have to offer. They can be a bit bossy, but at the same time, very loyal and affectionate. If you’re looking for an intelligent and active pet, look no further.

Turkish van having calico coat

We know that owning a pet is a lot of responsibility. Luckily, you needn’t worry about biting off more than you can chew since this article is all about owning a cat—more particularly, a Turkish Van. After reading this, you can decide if this type of cat suits your lifestyle or not. We will tackle everything you need to know about this breed such as Turkish Van cats characteristics, temperament, care, and grooming.

Breed Characteristics

  • Adaptability: High

  • Grooming: Low Maintenance

  • Health: Very Good

  • All Around Friendliness: Good; can be bossy

  • Exercise Needs: High; active and requires daily exercise

Cat Breed GroupSemi Long-Haired, Natural Breed
SizeSmall to Medium
WeightMales: 10 - 18 lbs

Females: 7 - 12 lbs
Lifespan12 - 17 years

The Turkish Van are generally active, fun, and playful both as adults and kittens. The Van tend to have an independent nature from kittenhood. They are more playful compared to other cat breeds and like to have a variety of toys and objects to prey on. Feather teasers are perhaps their favorite toys.

They are also highly intelligent, and they have a good understanding of what’s going on around them at all times. These cats will learn how to play with toys and other objects easily, and they can even be taught tricks. They are smart enough to figure out how to open cabinet doors and windows, so owners should be alert and make sure to lock cabinets with dangerous contents around the house.

totally white Turkish van with different eyes

The Turkish Van is a very loyal breed with some adopted adults remembering their original owner. In some cases, they will only bond with one member of the family and become close to this person. Vans will follow their favorite person around the house and can even sense when they are about to arrive. In some cases, they are like dogs and will greet you as soon as you step into your home.

Turkish Vans also get along well with other pets—even large dogs. They are generally friendly towards other cats. However, this breed is also assertive and knows how to defend themselves when somebody is attacking them or tries to hurt them. They are not much of a lap cat, but they love cuddles and will even sleep in your bed.

Main Highlights

  • Turkish Vans are a rare breed and distinguishable by their van-patterned coloring, hence the name.

  • Vans can have blue or amber-colored eyes, although in some cats they are odd-colored (one blue and one amber).

  • This breed was originally called the Turkish cat but was renamed to its present name to distinguish it from the Turkish Angora breed.

  • Unlike many other cats, the Vans do not have an undercoat. They only have one coat that feels like cashmere or rabbit fur. The lack of undercoat gives them their sleek appearance, and it also makes them relatively hypoallergenic; it’s rare for people to develop Turkish Van allergies.

  • Their coat is water repellent; which is good news since this breed likes water. Their coat is also quick to dry.

  • Their body is moderately long, and they are one of the larger cat breeds. They have broad shoulders with a body that is “top-heavy.” Their back legs are slightly longer than their front legs.

  • This breed is big and muscular with males reaching 16 lbs. and females 14 lbs. Their muscular physique allows them to be high jumpers, so it is not uncommon for Vans to leap from the floor to the top of your fridge in a single bound.

  • They are excellent hunters and are generally social. They are friendly towards people and form strong bonds with their owners.

  • This breed is slow to mature. This process can take at least 3 years, sometimes longer.

Breed History

This is an ancient breed that originated in Southwest Asia somewhere around the regions of modern-day Iran, Iraq, southwest Russia, and eastern Turkey. Van is a common term in this region and has been given to a number of towns and villages, including Lake Van. This is probably the reason why this breed was referred to as vancat by residents.

Turkish Van cats were originally brought to England by two English women, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, in 1955. They were first named Turkish cats, but that name was later changed to Turkish Van to avoid confusing them with the Turkish Angora.

Turkish van sitting on window sill

According to Lushington, she was given a pair of kittens while traveling in Turkey and decided to bring them to England. They travelled by car and camped a lot along the way. Upon arrival, she found the kittens in good condition, showing the adaptability and intelligence of this breed despite the conditions. The cats did not exist in Britain at that time, and Lushington decided to establish the breed and have it recognized officially by the GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy).

In 1982, Turkish Vans made their debut in the US. It took a bit longer than ten years for them to be granted the right to participate in championships by the CFA. Van cats have no breeding intervention, and no other breed is allowed to be mixed into the breeding program. All registered Turkish Vans can trace their ancestry to the imported kittens brought to England by Lushington.


The Van is a large and muscular cat with females weighing between 7 to 12 lbs. and males weighing from 10 to 20 pounds. These cats are slow to mature and do not reach full size until they are around 3 to 5 years old. These cats are long and can measure up to 3 feet measured from the nose to the tip of their tail. Their back legs are slightly longer than their front legs, and they have large paws. They are large but very agile. Despite their muscular physique, the Van is also well balanced with broad shoulders and a high center of gravity.

Personality and Character

Turkish Van personality is loving, loyal, and they have a healthy constitution. Their slightly longer hind legs and muscular physique make them strong jumpers, so you can expect them to be on top of the bookshelf or the fridge in one single leap. They are very affectionate if sometimes amusingly mischievous.

Turkish Van temperament is something to be admired, since these cats are very active and energetic. They will retrieve items, catch toys in mid-air, launch into somersaults, and do seemingly acrobatic moves just because they can. Once they start running, expect them to keep on running for quite a long while.

They get along well with other animals, but their authority needs to be respected. They are independent and don’t need to be picked up and cuddled. However, their affectionate nature makes them want to be with you and participate in whatever you’re doing.

Turkish Van Cats And Kittens

Van cats don’t like to be alone for long periods. They do well in families, but will generally single out one person as their “favorite.” They will form a strong bond with this person and will even take to following them around the house, cuddling and even greeting them when they come home.

Many people fall in love with Van cats due to their love of water and swimming. The Van’s love of water can lead them into all sorts of trouble if they are allowed outdoors, so it is recommended that you keep this cat indoors. Even indoors, you’ll have to be watchful. Van cats easily learn to turn the taps on so they can drink from them or play in the sink.

They are also a vocal breed of cat that will “talk” to you when they are hungry or need attention. They are also curious and excitable and will even play catch with you. In fact, Turkish Vans share many personality traits with dogs. Turkish Vans play hard and sleep hard. Their owners sometimes call their cats “dogs in a cat suit” because of these characteristics.

Health and Potential Problems

This cat breed is generally healthy; although, some are known to develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—a form of heart disease. There is no genetic health problems associated with the Turkish Van. This breed is regularly imported from Turkey in order to maintain genetic diversity. This helps to prevent heritable medical problems among the breed. Overall, Van cats, in general, are healthy and hardy.

close-up of a white and orange Turkish Van Cat lying down

Another common health problem among cats that you might want to watch out for with your Turkish Van is obesity. It is always important for cat owners to remember to avoid over-feeding their pets to prevent obesity-related health problems such as diabetes and heart diseases.

Care Features

Here are some things to remember when caring for a Turkish Van cat:

  • The breed’s coat is water-resistant, so baths are rarely necessary.

  • It would be best if you could provide everyday dental care, but if you can’t, weekly brushing is better than nothing. Brush the teeth to prevent periodontal disease.

  • The nails should be trimmed every couple of weeks. Use a pet nail trimmer for this.

  • To remove discharge, wipe the corners of the eyes with a soft damp cloth. Use a separate area of the cloth to remove discharge from each eye to prevent any infection from spreading.

  • Check the ears weekly. For ear hygiene, wipe them with a cotton ball or a soft damp cloth if they look dirty. Moisten it with a 50-50 mixture of cider vinegar and warm water.

Feeding Schedule

The Turkish Van does not have any dietary requirements and has a hearty appetite. This breed is active and will require approximately 80 Kcals of food per two pounds of body weight per day. These cats like to eat a little at a time, so it’s probably best to leave the food out so that they can eat whenever they like. You can leave out half in the morning before going to work and then give the rest once you return home.

turkish van kittens sitting on suitcase

Turkish Vans need to eat a high percentage of meat for fat and protein. Don’t go overboard with treats or their food portioning. It’s better to have a cat with a healthy weight than an obese cat with health problems. Generally, these cats are not picky but check with your vet for precise food recommendations for your Van.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

The Turkish Van is a colored cat with very large patches of white on their coat—a pattern caused by a piebald white spotting gene. The Turkish Van only looks high maintenance—their single coat is actually very easy to care for. Run a comb through it every week or so, and you’re done. Grooming with a brush and a comb should be introduced early so that they can get used to the idea.

Daily grooming is ideal since it will eliminate potential problems like tangling and matting. During winter, comb your cat’s hair more often since it is usually heavier during this time of year.

Turkish van lying on red cloth

Regular baths are not necessary. Vans like playing in the water, but like most cats, a bath is not always their idea of a good time. If you plan to bathe your Van regularly, make them get used to the idea by acclimatizing them from an early age. Trim the nails and clean the ears regularly too. Daily brushing of the teeth is ideal but once a week is good enough (better than none).

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

If you live with kids, it is best to acclimatize Vans to children first before leaving the two of them to their own devices. Although they are inherently friendly, this breed likes to be in charge and might not like kids that are too assertive.

Vans that are well-socialized are comfortable with kids. This makes the breed a good choice for families with children who like to play, throw balls for fetching, or running around. Kids will also have a good time teaching Vans tricks. However, always remind the kids not to pick them up or pull their fur or tail.

Side view of a black and white Turkish Van cat lying down

Cat-friendly dogs are not a problem with the Turkish Van as they are happy to live with them—as long as they know who’s in charge. Vans generally prefer the company of other Vans, but they will accept other cats especially if they were brought up together. If you need to introduce new pets, do it slowly and in a controlled circumstance to ensure that they learn to get along with each other.

Wrap Up

The Turkish Van is considered to be one of rarest cat breeds today, especially in the US. This is why there is a high demand for Turkish Vans in the United States. Many people are attracted to their love of water, their affectionate but independent nature, and their playfulness. They are curious and intelligent by nature. They also do well with children, dogs, and other pets.

Close-up of a beautiful Turkish-Van-cat

Overall, this is a good breed if you’re looking for a loyal cat with the characteristics of a dog. It also helps that they are low maintenance. This breed is well-suited in a home where they are allowed to be in charge. They are mischievous and entertaining; you will wonder how you ever lived without them.

What do you think of the Turkish Van? Do you think that the Turkish Van’s personality is suited for your lifestyle? If you have another pet that’s dominant, and you don’t think a Turkish Van will be happy in your home because of that, you might want to consider this docile breed instead. Tell us what you think by leaving comments below.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.