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What is a Turkish Van?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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The Turkish Van is a rare cat breed which originates from the Lake Van area of Turkey. These cats have become famous for their unusual behavior around water: unlike many cat breeds, Turkish Vans actually like water, and some of these cats even enjoy swimming. In Turkey, the Turkish Van is a protected breed, and there are several breeding programs dedicated to preservation of the Turkish Van. Outside of Turkey, Turkish Vans can sometimes be obtained from cat breeders, although they tend to be rather costly.

This cat breed is believed to be quite ancient. Certainly Turkish Vans were around during the period of the Crusades, because Crusaders actually brought some back with them to Europe. Turkish Vans are also discussed in contemporary writings and depicted in various works of art. According to legend, the breed was born when two cats abandoned Noah's Ark, deciding to swim to dry land rather than staying on the ship any longer.

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Several traits distinguish the Van breed. These cats tend to be quite large and extremely muscular, and they are known for their strength and agility. They also have a very unusual pattern of markings which is known as a Van pattern, as Turkish Vans appear to be the first cats to have developed it. Vans have markings on their heads and tails only, with white bodies, and the result is a very distinctive appearance. The colors of the markings vary; red, orange, brown, black, and “blue,” a kind of smoky gray, are very common.

The eyes of a purebred Turkish Van may be amber, blue, or odd, meaning that each eye is a different color. In Muslim countries, Turkish Vans with a small marking between their shoulders are said to have the Mark of Allah, and this mark is considered extremely lucky. Given that cats in general are already beloved in Muslim culture, these fortunate cats are lucky indeed. Many Vans are extremely intelligent, good natured, and very friendly, and they tend to be sociable cats who sometimes have a humorous streak.

The coat of the Turkish Van is also quite distinctive. Unlike other cats, Turkish Vans lack an undercoat. They have only one type of medium-length hair, causing them to be extremely soft, almost like cashmere. Their coats are also naturally water resistant, allowing the cats to dry quickly after a swim.

Because of their rarity, Turkish Vans are often highly prized. These cats were introduced to England in 1955, and to the United States even later, in 1982. Turkish Vans are recognized by several registries of cat breeds around the world, and the genetic stock of the breed is quite diverse, thanks to exchange programs with Turkey.

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