Categories: Van pattern

Cat Coats: The Van Pattern

Syrian Van patterned street cat. This photo comes from http://www.sobi.org/photos/Cat/Syria/. He has allowed publication for non-commercial use. PoC is charitable.

The Van pattern is named after Lake Van in eastern Turkey. It is close to Mount Ararat, the site of Noah’s Ark. Local legend says that when the Ark came to rest on the mountain after the flood receded and as the cats left the Ark they were blessed by Allah. The patch of auburn hair on the forehead and tail was were they were touched.

It is a very particular coat pattern. In summary it consists of a white body with coloured areas limited to the head and tail as seen in the photo above.

American Breed Standard

The Cat Fanciers’ Association breed standard for the Turkish Van defines what the Van pattern is. The cat’s body should be chalk white (due to the presence of the piebald gene – also called the white spotting gene) with an inverted V pattern around the ears and forehead and a coloured tail. The colours for the inverted V pattern and the tail are red (orange) black, blue (dilute black), cream (dilute red?). The colours can be solid or tabby. The association allows some dark spots on the chalk white body but prefer an all-white, clean looking body. The original colouring of the extremities was auburn (dark ginger) but breeding has added other color forms.

Turkish Van

It is the coat that adorns the Turkish Van cat according to the largest cat association in the world. The Van pattern is what distinguishes the Turkish Van from other cat breeds. Sometimes people refer to the ‘Van Cat’ which is a shortened name for the Turkish Van. In Turkey it is called the ‘Van Kedi’.

However, it is an slightly artificial breed standard. It is a Western creation probably born out of the fact that the first Van cats to make it to the West had these coat patterns. Lois Miles, an American cat breeder in 1989 felt that it was purely accidental that the original pair of Turkish Van cats brought back from Turkey to England in 1955 had the Van Pattern in auburn. These markings became enshrined as synonymous with this breed in the West but in Turkey this is far from the case.

Turkey

In Turkey, the Turkish Van is said to be the same cat as the Turkish Angora and you will see these cats in a wide range of colours and coat types. You will see the Van pattern but it is not the only coat type. Perhaps the Turkish people prefer predominantly white cats but that is not the only colour. In fact Dr Morris in Cat World tells us that when feline expert Roger Tabor visited Lake Van and discussed the breed with local people they considered an all-white animal to the the Turkish Van. Cats in Turkey with the Van Pattern were considered to be inferior.

Whenever, I see pictures of street cats, also called community cats or feral cats, in the area I have selected in the maps below, I often see the Van pattern.

Mediterranean

The location of the origin of the Van pattern does seem to be centered around eastern Turkey but it spreads out substantially over many of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea especially to the east and south.

That is my impression. It is not based on science and neither does the information come out of a book or website. It is simply what seems to be the case to me. I am happy to be corrected. Note: the pattern is not limited to this area. It just seems to be more common in this area.

I don’t think you will find any text or maps about where you are most likely to see Van patterned cats, namely: to eastern and southern Mediterranean – i.e. North Africa. The map, below, that I have made indicates where I believe you are most likely to see the Van pattern.

Area where the Van Pattern is most seen – inside the red line.

Associated: Mediterranean Cats and The Cats of Morocco.

Updated, different or better map:

Note: this was republished and added to on 16th August 2018 to bring it forward for subscribers which is why the comments have different dates. Many of the early pages (this one was written 5 years go) become semi-invisible. However, this page is found by Google search and presents on page one.



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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Dear Michael!

    The ''Van pattern'' is a simple variation of the white spotting gene is an old colour mutation that should be seen in ALL random bred cat populations. I don't know why you think it's the most common in Eastern Mediterranean cats, it's common, but most common? We don't know. On the other hand, like most of simple color mutations, it could have been originated here.

    I am so sorry we had no time to prepare the article how cat fancy made two breeds - Angora and Van out of one Anatolian moggie. I have to share with you our new article about the Turkish Van: and the older one about the Angora cats:

    If you have some time I would be more than pleased if you in your own words would write about this topic. We were unable to prepare our writing for your website. I am sorry! Too much work, not enough time! :(

    • I forget what wrote and haven't time to re-read it but I sense that the Van-type pattern or variations on it is the most common but as you say we don't know because no one is counting ;)

      Don't worry about the article. I won't do it as well you but I'll see if I can do the article and then if you have time please comment.

  • Hi Michael. The photo of the 2 guys and the Van-pattered cat was taken in Malta not N Cyprus. It was to show you than the Van pattern is found in the Mediterranean a long way to the the west of Turkey too.

  • Nice story of cat rescue, Robyn. Skinner certainly has the Van pattern and she is a calico cat as well - tortoiseshell and white. As you you know they are nearly always female.

    She probably has ancestors that come from the Mediterranean.

  • Here is a picture of my daughter's cat Skinner. She has a predominantly white body with calico markings on tail, head, and a couple of patches on her back. You can see the Van pattern on the head, but one side is covered with an eye patch. Her coat feels like rabbit's fur, incredibly soft and plush. Somebody had dumped her in a nearby orange grove along with her kittens. When we walked by she attacked our dogs--a great dane mix and a collie mix. When I told this to my daughter, she went back and got her and the kits (Fox and Dana). Skinner ruled the roost in a multi-cat household, getting along with both cats and dogs. When my daughter moved out on her own, she took Skinner, who is now 16. She enjoys her retirement as an only cat with a small backyard, patio, rose bushes, and many hours of bird watching (and occasionally catching).

    • Here is a Turkish Van show cat photographed by Helmi Flick, who has similar markings (photo copyright Helmi Flick):

  • As you say Michael. No reliable scientific survey is available to reliably inform us of the distribution of the Van pattern in domestic type cats. I think your map goes too far to the southeast which is the Negev and Sinai desert area where the human population needed to support cats is very sparse. Much of Egypt is also desert, populations being concentrated along the Nile and it's delta. Thise desert areas are home to the F s Margarita, F s Girdoni, and F s Tristami. Ut is possible that the van pattern also appears on many Mediterranean island to the west and along North African shores. Here is a perfectly good Van-pattered cat in Malta. I believe there are also a lot in China possibly as a result of the silk trade route. In all cases the source does seem to be the Eastern Mediterranean/Anatolia.

    • That is a classic Van cat with a less than white coat (filthy) in the picture. I presume this is Northern Cyprus.

    • Thanks Harvey. I hoped you'd comment and correct any mistakes I made. I want to do a new map anyway so I now have a good reason.

  • Hi Michael,

    I will try to pay attention to cats when I go out now. I think that's how cats look here. To be honest I've been here for so long that I don't remember how street cats looked in my home country. I thought they were the same.

    Maybe I can even manage to make a few photos of local street cats for you. I am not great at taking pictures though :)

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