The Norwegian forest cat is a domesticated cat breed that has developed special adaptations for the chilly climate of Scandinavia. Though the history of the cat is largely unknown, some experts and cat enthusiasts believe that the Norwegian forest cat has been kept as a pet for hundreds of years by Norwegians, leading to the nickname “Viking cat.” Since the 1970s, the breed has enjoyed worldwide popularity and is a frequent entrant in cat shows.
Originally a wild breed, the Norwegian forest cat is noted for its long, lush coat. To survive in the freezing climate, the cat has developed a double layered coat, with a thick underlayer for additional insulation, and a coarse, water-resistant top coat. Most cats have a magnificent, fluffy ruff, and tufts of hair growing out of the ears. In warmer climates, the Norwegian forest cat may shed its undercoat in the Spring.
Large cats, the adult male can reach over 20 lbs (9.07 kg), making the breed one of the heaviest to be domesticated. The extra bulk is an additional protection against the cold, as well as making the Norwegian forest cat a more formidable predator. The cats have a notably strong build and deep chest, relics from their former days as forest hunters.
Color in this breed may vary extensively. Patchwork coats in a rainbow of colors, striping, and tuxedo patterns are common. Single-color cats are also not unusual. According to breed experts, darker animals tend to have a thinner coat, as their bodies are naturally able to absorb more sunlight than lighter colored cats.
The Norwegian forest cat can make an excellent pet or show animal, though tracking down a breeder may be difficult. Although the cat began to be introduced around the world in the 1970s, breeders outside of Europe are still relatively rare. In terms of temperament, the cats are often quite friendly and enjoy being around people, but this may vary depending on environment. Their rarity and often spectacular show performance can often make buying a Norwegian forest cat an expensive investment.
The history of the Norwegian forest cat is a fascinating one, blending into the world of Norse myths and epics. Although written confirmation of the animal as a domesticated breed dates only to the 16th century, stories of hunting, guard, and companion cats appear frequently in Norse mythology, leading some to believe the cat played a part in domestic society for more than a thousand years. It seems certainly possible that Vikings returning from raids and expeditions were greeted by their faithful forest cats curled up by the fire.