Ancient cat breeds

Abyssinian

By Sandie Lee

Have you ever wondered where all the different cat breeds come from?

There’s the Russian Blue and the Norwegian Forest Cat, the Himalayan and the Siamese, and the Domestic Short and Long-haired felines.  Although there are over 70 specific cat breeds recognized today, they can all trace their lineage back to the Felis Sylvestris or the Middle Eastern Wildcat.

It was in the Middle East, some 12,000 years ago, that people began to recognize cats’ usefulness in keeping vermin under control. The ancient Egyptians even elevated the feline to the status of a god, a trait which seems to have followed this independent creature throughout time.

Let’s claw back the curtain of history to uncover some fascinating facts about our feline friends.

Nature or Nurture?

Did you know 95% of cats in the U.S. are randomly bred and are called American Domestics, while the other 5% are pedigreed? That’s a whole lot of nature being responsible for the majority of our cat population. Nature has also done some amazing things to help the feline species cope with and adapt to its surroundings.

For example, Maine Coon cats often have extra toes, a completely harmless condition known as polydactylism. These extra digits not only look adorable, but gives the cat greater abilities while hunting and over snowy terrain.

As cats became more and more popular, man took it upon himself to encourage traits in our felines that were naturally occurring in some litters.

A completely hairless kitten sparked the idea of a cat that would be more suitable for those who suffer with allergies and later became known as the Sphynx, while half a litter of kittens born with super-short legs inspired the Munchkin breed.

These are relatively new breeds to the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), but there are ancient breeds that have been around for hundreds and even thousands of years.

Ancient Cat Breeds

There’s a catalogue of cats that have been known throughout history. See if your favorite breed can count itself as “ancient.”

Turkish angoraTurkish Angora –  This fluffy breed can trace its documented lineage back as far as the 1600s in France. However, it is quite possible that the Turkish Angora originated in the mountainous regions of Turkey, where it developed an unusually soft, medium-long coat for protection against the harsh winters.

In addition, long-haired cats were also present as far back as the 1400s in Europe. In the early 1900s, this breed was used indiscriminately in breeding programs with the Persian cat to improve on the quality of the coats in the offspring. This almost lead to the demise of the entire Turkish Angora breed; fortunately, a breeding program was set up in Turkey to preserve the cat.

Today, all purebred Turkish Angoras must be able to trace their lineage back to Turkey to be registered with the CFA.

persian cats

Persian –  Another long haired feline, the Persian, also makes the list for being one of the oldest cat breeds known today.

Way back in the 1600s this cat was smuggled out of Persia (modern day Iran) by European explorers, along with spices and jewels. It then went on to grace the castles and courtyards of royalty in France, Italy, and England.

In fact, this breed was favored by Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale. Experts believe the Persian can trace its lineage all the way back to the wild cat, Felis Libyca, which are still found in Africa and Asia today.

siamese catSiamese –  The elegance of the Siamese breed can trace its roots back to Thailand (formerly Siam); in fact, a detailed description of a cat resembling the Siamese was found in a book that was believed to be written between 1350 and 1767.

As this breed gained popularity, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) and his wife Lucy were the recipients of a Siamese cat shipped to them in 1878 by David B. Sickels, a U.S. diplomat stationed at the consulate in Thailand. The letter detailing the feline gift is still on file at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio.

korat

Korat –  Thought to bring good luck to those that own one, the Korat can also trace its ancestry back to Thailand and was documented in The Cat-Book of Poems or Smud Khoi in the 1300s.

Its piercing green eyes and silver coat were highly valued and were the qualities that were believed to bring prosperity to its owners, both hundreds of years ago and even today to newlyweds and farmers in Thailand.

Siberian forestSiberian Forest – This centuries-old breed dates back hundreds of years to Russia. It was fondly mentioned in children’s fairy tales and books, as well as officially named in 1889 in a book by Harrison Wier called Our Cats and All About Them.

Not only was the Siberian Forest cat talked and written about, it was also highly prized for its natural hunting abilities, which helped keep the rodent population under control on the local farms.

After the Cold War, the Siberian cat was imported into other countries and finally made its way into the United States in the early 90s.

norwegian forestNorwegian Forest – Another long-haired breed makes the ancient list as the Norwegian Forest cat can trace its furry roots back centuries to the area of Norway. It was featured in their folk tales and mythology and was referred to as the “Skogkatt” (which means “forest cat”.)

It is thought this cat was most likely used on the ships of Vikings to keep the rodent population under control, the same role they played on the Norwegian farms.

Abyssinian (see photo at the top of the article) –  Although researchers are not entirely sure just how far back the Abyssinian breed dates, there are depictions of cats resembling the Abyssinian in Near Eastern art and sculptures. However, recent genetic testing now suggests the breed most likely originated in Southeast Asia on the coast of the Indian Ocean.

According to the CFA, the first mention of the Abyssinian was in the Harper’s Weekly (January 27, 1872 issue) where the 3rd prize in the December 1871 Crystal Palace show was taken by the Abyssinian Cat “captured in the late Abyssinian War.”

egyptian-mau-sink

Egyptian Mau – Perhaps the most “ancient” of them all, the Egyptian Mau was found mummified in the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs and Kings.

In addition, papyri and frescoes dating back as far as 1550 B.C. depict spotted cats. Many documents found from the dawn of the New Kingdom make it well know that this breed was an integral part of daily life.

This cat is thought to have been used to aid hunters. It still retains the skill of being the fastest cat alive, reaching speeds of up to 30 mph!

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sandie-lee-writerSandie Lee has been in the writing industry for over 20 years. She hails from a small city in Ontario, Canada where there are two seasons; winter and not winter! Her husband and two furbabies, Milo and Harry, make sure she is diligently writing each day.

 

Feline monsters!

by Emily Bruer

Do you know about the Norwegian Forest Cat, the Siberian Forest Cat, or the Maine Coon?Each of these breeds is larger than life and full of personality!

Norwegian Forest Cat

This majestic feline has a history shrouded in myth and mystery. It’s said that the Norwegian traveled on ships with the Vikings and even appeared in Norse mythology and legends.

Other names you may hear in reference to these Viking cats are Skogkatt or Norsk Skogkatt. This beloved cat was even made the official cat of Norway by King Olaf in the 1970s.

norwegian-forest-cat

Early in the 20th century the Norwegian was facing possible extinction. Special breeding programs were founded with the intent of preserving the breed, but WWI and WWII halted their progress. The program started back up in the 1970s and is still going strong today.

The first breeding pair of Norwegians was imported to the U.S. in 1979 and it was granted championship status with The International Cat Association (TICA) in 1984. The breed has grown to be very popular in the states and with fanciers across the globe.  

The Norwegian has a beautiful thick coat that it developed during the harsh winters in Norway. Its undercoat is dense and topcoat is water resistant. Grooming is surprisingly easy, as it only requires brushing once or twice a week.

Also notable is the Norwegian’s stocky, yet athletic body. These cats are very athletic and capable hunters that can adapt to almost any situation with ease.

Most fanciers would describe the Forest cat as mild mannered and loving. They enjoy cuddling with their owners, but like to maintain their independence. They are very intelligent and are great at learning tricks and playing games. They are great around other pets and children, and make great additions to just about any cat loving home.

Siberian Forest Cat

The origin of this ancient breed predates written records, though the earliest references to them were made in 1000AD. Russian fanciers began keeping records of the breed in 1980, and it was officially recognized by TICA in 1992.

The Siberian is a large cat with heavy bones and powerful muscles. His back legs are slightly longer than his front, making him a powerful jumper.  

siberian-forest-cat

In the winter, these fancy felines have a dense triple layer coat, but in the summer it sheds for one much lighter and easier to manage. Daily brushings are required year round to keep their gorgeous coats tangle free and beautiful.

With a personality as big as they are, the Siberian is known for her loving personality and dedication to her owner. She loves playing games and is intelligent enough to learn just about anything you want to teach her.

If you are looking for the perfect family cat, the Siberian is as perfect as it gets.  She does well with children and other animals and bonds closely to her family. Be ready for her to greet you with chirps when you walk through the door after a day away from the house.

Maine Coon Cat

This legendary cat breed has a mysterious background, with one myth even stating that it is a mix between raccoons and feral cats. While this is biologically impossible, the actual origins are unknown.

Though many believe they are descendants of cats brought to the states by the Vikings —most likely Norwegian Forest Cats — that mixed with the native cats of the land.

maine-coon

These felines have a thick coat that is water resistant and heavy. It is easy to maintain, requiring only weekly brushings. They come in all colors and patterns, with the most prominent being the brown tabby. Their tails are bushy and long, and are a great indicator of their moods.

Maine Coons are extremely people-oriented and intelligent. They love nothing more than accompanying their owners through the house and curling up with them for snuggle time. These kitties are great with kids and other pets and are a relatively quiet cat breed.

The Maine Coon, Siberian, and Norwegian are all highly intelligent cats that pick up on toilet training and other endeavors rather quickly. If you’d like to adopt a cat that needs a home, check out the listings on a national adoption databases like Petfinder or Adopt-a-pet, or breed-specific rescue websites or social media groups. 

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emily-bruer-pawedinEmily Bruer has been penning the adventures of her imagination since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Working at animal shelters for the last five years, she learned an incredible amount about animal care and behavior. She is currently employed at a vet clinic where she continues her animal education. Emily’s love of animals is evident when you step into her home, which she shares with six dogs and six cats, all of whom were rescues.