Called Wegies (Wee-jees) by those who know and love them, Norwegian forest cats have been found in their native land of Norway for hundreds of years, perhaps thousands. Large, longhaired and lovable, Wegies are one of the biggest purebreds, so it’s a good thing that they have gentle temperaments. According to some accounts, Norwegian forest cats were companions to the Vikings and traveled the world with Leif Erickson to keep his ships free of rodents.
History and Origin of a Norwegian Forest Cat
Despite its large size and feral appearance, the Wegie is not a descendant or a hybrid of any wild cat species. Called the Norsk Skogkatt (Norwegian forest cat) in Norway, Wegies probably arrived in northern Europe hundreds of years ago, descendants of domestic cats introduced to Europe by the Romans. Mentions of large, longhaired cats exist in Norse mythology. Since the Norse myths were passed down by oral tradition for hundreds of years before being recorded in the Edda Poems sometime between 800 A.D. and 1100 A.D., it’s clear that longhaired domestic cats have existed in Norway for a very long time.
The climate of Northern Norway proved a harsh test for these cats. Only the largest and most hardy survived, and over the centuries the cats developed long, water resistant coats, hardy constitutions, quick wits and well-honed instincts.
The first Norwegian cat club was founded in 1934, and in 1938 the first forest cat was exhibited at a show in Oslo, Norway. During World War II, however, the breed came close to extinction, and crossbreeding with Norway’s shorthaired domestic cat (called the hauskatt), threatened the Wegie’s existence as a pure breed. After the war, Norway’s cat fanciers began a breeding program to save the breed from extinction. Their efforts were successful, and the breed was named the official cat of Norway by the late King Olaf.
Norwegian forest cats arrived in the United States in November 1979. In 1980, a small group of American fanciers began working to get the breed recognized by the North American cat registries. Today, the Wegie is recognized by all major associations and is the fourth most popular longhair, according to CFA’s registration totals.
Appearance of a Norwegian Forest
Although the Wegie does bear some resemblance to the Maine coon, they are separate breeds. Maine coons are larger than Norwegians (adult male MCs weigh 13 to 20 pounds while adult male Wegies weigh 10 to 16 pounds), and the breeds’ body and head types are distinctly different.
The Wegie is a powerful cat with long, strong back legs and a solidly muscled, well-balanced, moderately long body with a broad chest and substantial bone structure. The head shape resembles an equilateral triangle. The large, expressive eyes positively glow with intelligence and personality; the Wegie’s sweet expression is particularly prized by Wegie lovers. Medium large, rounded ears follow the line of the triangle from chin tip to base of ear.
The feature that really sets the Wegie apart from other breeds, however, is its magnificent fur. The heavy, double coat and regal mane make the Wegie appear larger than it actually is. The coat’s naturally oily, water-resistant guard hairs protect the insulating downy undercoat. Lavish furnishings and tufts decorate the ears, and heavily tufted paws protect the feet from ice and snow. Wegies are slow to develop, reaching full size and weight at about five years.
Although tabby with white is the most common pattern, Wegies come in every conceivable pattern and color except those that would indicate hybridization such as the Siamese pattern or the colors chocolate and lilac. Eye colors include shades of green, gold, and green-gold, although white cats may have blue or odd eyes.
Norwegian Forest Cat’s Personality
Don’t be fooled by the breed’s impressive muscles and rugged exterior. Despite their wild years in Norwegian forests – or perhaps because of it – Wegies would rather cuddle than carouse. Sweet, friendly and family-oriented, they form close bonds of affection with their human companions. Nothing fazes them much, either. They take new people and situations in stride and adapt to most situations with philosophical ease. Not vocal cats, Wegies prefer to get their thoughts across through body language. They will speak up only if something is terribly wrong, like an empty food bowl. They do, however, have loud rumbling purrs you can hear across the room. They are not lap cats, preferring to perch beside their favorite humans rather than on them. Since the average Wegie is a hefty cat, this is not such a bad thing.
Wegies are active and playful and retain their fun-loving spirit well into adulthood. Natural athletes, Wegies love to investigate counters, the tops of bookcases, and the loftiest peaks of their cat trees. They make very good indoor-only pets as long as they are provided with enough room, climbing equipment, and lots of love and attention.