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Choosing a Siberian

By: J. Anne Helgren

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For a breed that began his journey to America 15 short years ago, the Siberian has purred his way into the hearts of North American cat lovers in record time. These cat comrades, known for their size, luxurious fur, and almost dog-like devotion, have achieved recognition in seven of the ten North American cat associations since their arrival in 1990; an amazing feat, and an indication of their appeal.

History and Origin

Exactly when and how the Siberian made his way to Russia isn't known. However, it's theorized that the breed arrived with immigrants, explorers, or traders, and has existed in Russia for hundreds of years. The cats developed into a hardy, robust, longhaired breed able to withstand the unforgiving conditions of the region. In fact, according to some experts, the mutation governing long hair in cats originated in Russia, where it spread to Turkey and Iran to give long, luxurious tresses to the Angora and Persian breeds. Russian longhairs, along with Persians and Angoras, were exhibited at the first modern-day cat show at London's Crystal Palace in 1871.

Breeder Elizabeth Terrell of Starpoint Cattery is credited with bringing the first Siberians to the United States. A Himalayan breeder, Terrell responded to a 1988 article in a cat publication asking for breeders willing to donate or trade Himalayans to help establish the breed in Russia. Until 1987, Russian citizens were prohibited from owning household pets because of food and housing shortages. It wasn't until 1987 that the laws were changed, cat clubs were formed, and fanciers began keeping breeding records. The first cat show in Moscow was held in 1988.

Elizabeth Terrell contacted Nelli Sachuk, a member of the Kotofei Cat Club, which is part of the international division of American Cat Fanciers' Association and one of the few Russian cat clubs that provide official pedigrees. Terrell sent four Himalayans to Sachuk, and in exchange received three Siberians on June 28, 1990; one male, Kaliostro Vasenjkovich, and two females, Ofelia Romanova and Naina Romanova. These and other imported cats became the foundation for the Siberian in North America.

Since the ACFA was affiliated with the Kotofei Cat Club, they were the first to accept the breed for registration in July of 1990. Other associations soon followed. In 1991 Terrell formed the Taiga Siberian Breed Club (named after the Taiga forests of Siberia) to bring together American Siberian breeders and to promote and preserve the breed. Other breed clubs have been formed since. While still rare, the Siberian is gaining fans and has earned championship status in many North American cat associations.

Appearance

The Siberian is a large, strong cat that takes approximately 5 years to develop his full weight and coat length. Males generally range from 12 to 15 pounds and females from 8 to 11 pounds. At maturity, these cats are powerfully built with an overall appearance of strength and power, with excellent physical condition and alertness. The back legs are powerful and slightly longer than the front. They are extremely agile and great leapers.

One of the largest breeds of domestic cat, the Siberian rivals the Maine coon and the Norwegian forest cat in size. In fact, the three breeds are occasionally mistaken for one another because of their similar sizes and long, all-weather coats. The easiest way to define the differences is to think in terms of shape. The Siberian has a rounded barrel-shaped torso and a broad, modified wedge-shaped head with rounded contours, rounded ears and round eyes. The Maine coon, on the other hand, is more rectangular with his long body, tail and legs. The Norwegian forest cat has a triangular head, slanted eyes and pointed ears, and a medium-length body.

As befits a cat that developed in a cold climate, the Siberian possesses a thick, semi-long to long coat with a full ruff and a tight undercoat that becomes thicker in cold weather. The coat's long oily guard hairs give the coat water resistance. The full coat increases the impression of size. All colors and most patterns are accepted. The colorpoint pattern is not accepted in all associations but is making progress; AACE, ACFA, CFF and UFO accept the pattern for championship. However, tabbies and tabbies with white are the most numerous and popular.

Personality

Siberians have big hearts to match their size. They are devoted, smart, loving cats with a generous dose of curiosity and playfulness. Siberians are very intelligent, and fanciers say they problem-solve to get what they want. They readily learn their names and come when called – when it suits them – and enjoy fetch and other games in which their humans take an active role. They are generally sweet, devoted, and amenable to handling, but their temperament depends upon early socialization. For best results, find a breeder who raises his or her kittens underfoot. For advice on selecting a reputable breeder, see Finding and Choosing a Purebred Cat Breeder.

Despite their size, Siberians are very agile, able to leap tall bookcases in a single bound. Fanciers note that Siberians have a fascination with water, often dropping toys into their water dishes or investigating bathtubs before they're dry.

Grooming

While Siberians don't require the grooming Persians do, their thick fur still needs regular grooming or matting can occur. A thorough combing (not brushing) with a good steel comb once or twice a week should do the trick. Be sure to comb down to the hair roots (be gentle) or the comb may slide over forming mats.

In spring, the Siberian sheds his longer, heavier winter coat to make way for his summer coat, and in fall the cat sheds his lighter, shorter summer coat to prepare for winter. During these seasons additional grooming is needed if you don't want tufts of fur on everything you own.

Siberians are rare, so they can be pricey. Kittens are in high demand and the supply is limited, so expect a wait. Pricing depends upon the breeder, bloodline, location, gender, and color and pattern.

Association Acceptance

The Siberian is accepted for championship by the following North American cat associations:

  • American Association of Cat Enthusiasts (AACE)
  • American Cat Association (ACA)
  • American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Federation (CFF)
  • National Cat Fanciers' Association (NCFA)
  • The International Cat Association (TICA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    The Siberian is accepted in the provisional cats class by

  • Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)

    Special Notes

    Many breeders claim that people with cat allergies can tolerate Siberians. Various reasons are given for this, the most popular being that Siberians produce little or none of the allergenic protein Fel d1. This protein, which causes allergic reactions in humans, is secreted via saliva and sebaceous glands and is spread onto the fur during grooming. However, little testing has been done to confirm this so it would be unwise to buy a Siberian solely on the basis of these claims. If you're allergic to cats, plan to spend time in close contact with Siberians, preferably over an extended period, to make sure you can tolerate them before agreeing to buy. However, spending time with a Siberian (or any cat) is no guarantee against future problems with allergies.

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