Turkish Van Cat – photo copyright Helmi Flick

Introduction

This is a natural, indeed ancient, breed dating from 1600 BC perhaps (see cat history time line). Does it have the same origins as the Turkish Angora? Was it the same cat as the Angora until breeding separated it?

As the name suggests this breed originates from Turkey.The place of origin is included in the ancient area of Anatolia. The specific place is Eastern Turkey and the surrounding regions in Central and Southwest Asia, centered by Lake Van. Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey. The town of Van is on the eastern edge of the lake. The Kurdish people and Armenians consider this cat as part of their lifestyle.

The Turkish Van has been kept as a domestic pet in the region for centuries.

The first importation into England, Europe occurred when 2 people, one of whom was a Mrs Lushington, working on behalf of the Turkish Tourist Board were offered two unrelated cats which they accepted and imported. They returned for 2 more, 4 years later, and began the development of the breed in the UK. The story is vague but apparently, according to a Times newspaper report of 1964, Mrs Lushington tried for 8 years to get to the town of Van to acquire a Turkish Van cat. This doesn’t square with the above. Mrs Lushington pioneered the development of the breed in the West.

Note: I speculate as to whether the Turkish van was actually in England well before these dates: William Hogarth – The Distressed Poet and Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora.

A nice bit of religious mythology concerns this cat. Mount Ararat (the place where Noah’s Ark came to rest after the flood) is close by. The Turkish Van (this cat obviously wasn’t called that then) came out of the Ark and was blessed by Allah and where he touched the cat is where the spots are. Conveniently, it was a short walk to the town of Van nearby. This is a thoroughly blessed cat on the basis of this story. It also means that the head markings are significant for this cat breed.

Click on the photo above to see it in larger format.

History

DateEvent
1600-1200
BC
Evidence of Turkish Van type cats in carvings.
Middle
Ages-1955
This breed treated as pets to people of Central and Southwest Asia.
19552 cats Imported into UK (England).These 2 cats were brought back from Turkey by car including camping on the way3.
19592 more cats imported by same couple and breeding in the UK began in earnest it seems leading to full recognition below.
1969Full Status granted by GCCF (Major UK cat registry).
1970First Van kittens imported into the USA2.
1982Imported into USA – relatively recently in terms of some other cat breeds (this conflicts with the 1970 date above).
CurrentFully recognised by GCCF, FiFe, CFA and TICA.


Appearance and Character and More

This is a cat with a quiet voice and a large powerful frame1. There are a number of cat breeds with quiet voices (e.g. Maine Coon and British Shorthair cat to name two). Apparently this breed of cat gained a reputation of being difficult and unpleasant because they were unhappy at cat shows. This was a  misconception as they are as nice as any cat breed of random bred cat. They are not that commonly encountered1. My rare cat breeds page indicates that they are in the mid-range for rareness.

The Turkish Van in solidly built1. It is said that they are one of the largest cat breeds1. My research indicates that they are certainly heavier than average but not in the very top bracket of cat breed size.

They are also one of the cat breeds that like water more than usual (another is the Bengal cat and the Savannah cat both wild cat hybrids). This cat likes it so much that some like to swim (hence they are sometimes called “The Swimming Cat”). That is highly unusual in my experience. Most cats don’t like water that much. They are also intelligent and adaptable.

There is a report in the Times newspaper of 1964 about the Turkish Van’s liking of water. Mrs Lushington who first imported this breed into the UK said that they definitely like swimming. This lead to speculation as to why this should be the case. Mrs Lushington recounted the story of a Turkish Van who cured himself of “stomach catarrh by siting in a bath of warm water. It was thought in 1964 (according to the newspaper article) that this cats liking for water may have originated in the salty and pleasant water of Lake Van.

Apparently in Turkey the “Turkish Van” refers to a different cat, the all white Van Kedi (Van cat). In Turkish this cat is called Van Kedisi (referring to the cat in the all white form4). In Turkey the Van is recognised in all white form as well as with the classic Van pattern. Although it is said that a genetisist has confirmed that the Turkish Van is different from the Turkish Angora, I speculate whether this is actually the case.

The Turkish Van Cat Club (UK) says that the breeds markings are Auburn, Cream, Black, Blue, and in Tabbie and Tortie patterns. These colors are an extension of the classic auburn or red solid color. The markings are very distinctly Turkish Van, being restricted to around the ears and tail and contrasting with the white background.

The CFA lists allowable colours as: red, cream, blue, brown (solids); tortoiseshell, dilute tortoiseshell, brown patched tabby, blue patched tabby (parti-color and white color); Other Turkish Van Colors.

In the UK, the GCCF only accepts the original red and cream2.

The eyes are light amber, blue or one of either color.

The silky chalk-white fur is “incredibly soft”2. It feels like “mink” according to the Times article of 1964 referred to above. The white is due to an absence of color, which in turn is due to presence of the piebald or white spotting gene (see also cat coats white – new window). A number of cat breeds have the white spotting gene e.g. Japanese Bobtail. This gene affects the migration of color during gestation and restricts it moving throughout the body. Another example of it is in the Tuxedo cat (new window). The amount of white is graded from 1 (no effect of piebald gene, all black) to 10 (all white cat). Read a bit more about it and cat coats generally, here.

The Turkish Van Cat is assertive, independent, active, strong and agile. This cat breed does not have an undercoat. The fur is medium long. In order to provide better protection for the cat in winter the coat thickens and it should be silky and soft. The coat has a cashmere-like texture which makes it “water-resistant” to use the words of watch manufacturers. This may be a symptom of this breeds love of water and the wet cold winters in the part of the world the it comes from.

This cat’s coat requires less than normal grooming and, in addition, this is a healthy breed (no reported specific genetically related health issues). It is not surprising therefore that the Turkish Van cat is one of the most popular breeds based on this site’s favorite breed poll, which you can see on the different cat breeds page.

Go to a page where you can see the photos here plus some more all in a bumper slide show of large format images of the Turkish Van cat plus a résumé of the CFA breed standard and a couple of pictures of Lake Van. What more could you want? – Go the Turkish Van page……

Turkish Van Cat Breeders + Standards

Selected Turkish Van cat breeders from a Google listing (co.uk as at 2008  -things change). These links open in new windows:

Aledo Turkish Vans
Located near to Fort Worth, Texas, USA.

Pairodocs Turkish Vans
Located in USA but not clear from site where!

I understand that this cat is bred in Turkey and the North of Iraq (Kurdistan) but the cat is treasured so export is restricted.

Breed standards
CFAstandard
TICAstandard
GCCFbroken link
Cat (Felis catus)

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…

Hemingway – God’s Blessing
Eight years ago I went out for a evening walk and about a mile from my home in south Florida I heard something in the bushes. It was a tiny kitten. It’…

Turkish Van Calico
Hello – In 1981 my then 6 yr. old daughter was asked what she wanted for Christmas and her reply was ” A kitten”… After calling about a dozen pet stores …

My Cat Sam Looks Like a Van!
I found my cat in the Wal-mart parking lot as a kitten when I was in high school and took him home.

I saw a video on yahoo one day with a guy playing …

Tippy
Got “Tippy” at the Humane Society little over a year ago. I’ve seen photo of another cat that appears to be the same breed as Tippy. I am just …

My Cat Looks Like a Turkish Van
I discovered Peaches on my front door step 3 years ago one morning when I was going to work. Her fur was fairly short back then and she only really looked …

Territorial Turkish Van – A Hissing Situation?
Puddin is my Turkish Van that is very protective of her daddy, and whenever the daddy has company over, she hisses at the women, and sometimes the men….

Is Gypsy a real Turkish Van?
As long as I’ve had Gypsy, I wondered what type of cat she was. Until one night a few days ago I was watching cats 101 on Animal Planet, and I saw Gypsy …

Turkish Van cat – Sources:

  • 1. Legacy of the Cat by Gloria Stephens and Testsu.
  • 2. Encyclopedia Of The Cat by Dr Bruce Fogle.
  • 3. Source of picture: Wikipedia®. This image was used by Wikipedia under the policy of fair use. I adopt all the reasons as stated by Wikipedia in support of using it here under fair use.
  • 4. “Van Cat”. Official website of the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture & Tourism. Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism. pp. 2005.
  • Pairodocs Turkish Vans
  • CFA
  • Turkish Van Cat Club (UK)
  • Messybeast
  • Times Archive of 18th December 1964

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a 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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