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Turkish Van Cat Breed

I love animals. They fascinate me. Sometimes I just want to dig deep into something about the animal kingdom. This article is the result.

The Turkish Van Cat

The Turkish Van, a medium to long-haired breed of domestic cat, originated in the Lake Van region of Eastern Anatolia of modern Turkey. Originally the Van was called the Turkish cat, but was changed to the Turkish Van in 1979 in the United States. The same name was adopted in 1985 in the U.K. This name change was initiated to distinguish the Turkish Van from the Turkish Angora cat which originated from central Turkey.

Turkish Van Cat Slide Show with Music

Origins of the Turkish Van Cat

Legend has it that when Noah’s ark arrived at Mount Ararat approximately 5000 years ago, two white and tabby-red cats that were aboard the ark did not wait to disembark with all the other animals. Instead, they leapt into the water and swam to dry land. They then traveled approximately 75 miles to the Lake Van area south of Mount Ararat and have lived there ever since.

However it arrived to the area, the Turkish Van cat is both a rare and ancient breed that originated in central and southwest Asia – around a region dominated by Lake Van in Turkey; hence, it has been known as the Van Cat.

No one knows for sure how long the cats have been in this area, but native decorations and ornaments can be dated as far back as 5000 B.C. depicting cats very similar in appearance to the Turkish Van. This would make the Turkish Van one of the oldest surviving and genetically-pure cat breeds.

Later, the Turkish Van cat was brought into Europe by returning crusaders sometime between 1095 and 1272 A.D. It has been known by various different names: Turkish cat, Eastern Cat, Ringtail Cat, the White Ringtail, and the Russian Longhair.

At the time that the Van was first brought to England in 1955, and later when it came into breed recognition in 1969, it was known at the Turkish cat. It was later renamed to the Turkish Van cat in 1979 to differentiate it from the Turkish Angora cat.

The Turkish Van is considered to be a regional treasure in its native homeland, and has not been readily available for trade to other parts of the world. The Turkish Van was first brought to the U.S. in 1982; and, in 1994, it became a recognized breed in the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) and eligible to show.

Turkish Van cats continue to be relatively rare even in areas where they have been known to exist for centuries.

The Turkish cat brought to England became known as the Turkish Van cat to differentiate it from the Turkish Angora cat (pictured on the right) which originated from Central Turkey. Although both cats originated in Turkey, they are two very distinct breeds that developed in two different regions of Turkey. The Angora is much smaller and more delicate than the Van.

Breed Standards and Characteristics

Cat fanciers traditionally recognize the Turkish Van as a white, semi-longhaired van-patterned cat with color restricted to the head and tail, with the body of the cat being white. Breed standards permit the cat to have a body spot or spots, but no more than 20% of the cat’s coat may be colored. 80% or more must be white. And its spots should not detract from its overall appearance.

Classic Van coloration is red tabby with white; however, it is acceptable for the head and tail to contain one of several other color variations: black, red, red tabby, blue, blue tabby, blue-cream cream, cream tabby, brown tabby, tortoiseshell, plus others. Any other color should show no signs of ever having been bred with the point-colored breeds. It should be noted however that not all color variations are recognized by all registries. To see a color breeding table, click here.

A gorgeous example of the Turkish Van Cat. This van exhibits the classic "Ringed" tail pattern of a Turkish Van.

A gorgeous example of the Turkish Van Cat. This van exhibits the classic "Ringed" tail pattern of a Turkish Van.

Not all registries recognize the all-white Turkish Van – in fact, the majority do not. Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), the world’s leading registry of pedigreed cats, and Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe), the biggest international cat fancier organization, do not. Both organizations classify the breed by its type and the required van-patterned coloration. Germany’s World Cat Federation (WCF), an international organization as well, recognizes the all-white and the van-patterned cats to be two separate breeds of cat.

In Turkey, however, the Turkish Van is recognized in its all white form, as well as the form with red patterning and a striped “fox tail”. Until recently however, the Turkish Van was not officially recognized as a breed in Turkey. Today, the rare Turkish Vans are now being preserved through a breeding program conducted by the Turkish College of Agriculture in connection with the Ankara Zoo. It is no longer permissible to export Vans so most breeding stock must now be acquired in Europe.

Its eyes can be blue, amber, or one eye of each color (odd-eyed).

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In Turkey, the Van cat is recognized in its all white form as well as the form with red patterning and a "fox tail", and with blue eyes, amber eyes, or one eye of each color as shown in the images below.

This kitten exhibits the two eye colors common to the Turkish Van.

This kitten exhibits the two eye colors common to the Turkish Van.

An adult Turkish Van with eyes that are two different colors.

An adult Turkish Van with eyes that are two different colors.

This striking, naturally occurring feature (one eye blue and one eye amber) has come to be expected in the Lake Van region. Outside of this region, the breed tends to have eyes of the same color.


Outside of its native homeland, the Turkish Van was bred in Britain. It was first recognized by a breeder/fancier organization in 1969 – the UK-based Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF).

Just as is the case with many white animals, especially with blue eyes, the totally white Van cats are prone to deafness and other hearing disorders.

Slow to mature, it can take 3-5 years for the Turkish Van to reach full maturity. It is one of the larger cat breeds and has been known to reach 3 ft. (1 m) from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. Large and muscular, the males can reach 16-18 lbs. (7-8 kg); and the females weigh in at 12-14 lbs. (5-6 kg).

Because the Turkish Van is a naturally occurring breed and evolved to survive the environment in which it has lived, it is a strong, healthy, and vigorous breed. There are no known genetic issues associated with this breed.

A great breed conformation chart can be located by clicking here.

The Coat of the Turkish Van Cat - the “Swimming Cat”

A cat’s fur is generally comprised of three different types of hair: guard hairs, awn hairs and down hairs. The Turkish Van cat has only one - awn hairs. This causes their coat to feel soft like rabbit fur or cashmere even when they have shed their winter coat and sport a thinner shorter coat.

Awn hairs are critical for insulation. This characteristic allows the Turkish Van to live in the Van region which has major temperature extremes, both high and low.

At birth the kitten’s coat is short. Gradually, over 3-5 years the ruff (fur on chest) will fill out, and the tail will thicken in to the full typical brush tail. When the climate is cold, the Turkish Van’s coat will be full, providing insulation against the cold. When the climate is warm, the cat sheds leaving a short light coat. Even when they shed their coats in warmer weather, they maintain their full brush tail, and their ears continue to be feathered with fur (a breed standard), causing the cat to always appear soft and fluffy.

Turkish Van Cats are also called Swimming Cats

It is quite obvious that although this cat was placed in the water, it did not mind it at all. In fact, it even dailies at the water's edge.

The Turkish Van cat has been nicknamed the “swimming cat” because of its apparent fascination with water. Their coat does not have an undercoat like most other cats, enabling it to dry quickly giving it water-resistant characteristics! It is a strong and agile cat, making it an excellent swimmer.

Its interest with water and swimming may actually be a survival trait. The Van lake area is prone to extreme temperatures with summer temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C). The Van may have had to learn to swim in order to survive the heat.

Although most Van cats are kept indoors, and no longer have the opportunity to enjoy a swim in the local pond, their love and curiosity of water remains. They exhibit this affinity by stirring their water bowls, putting their toys in their water bowls, playing in the toilet, and playing with water running and standing in sinks and tubs. For your cats’ safety, be sure to close the toilet lids, and even taking care to keep bathroom doors closed.

Thumbprint of God

Some Turkish Vans have a color patch between their shoulder blades that is referred to as the 'Mark of Allah'. This 'thumbprint of God' is considered good luck in Muslim countries.

A beautiful Turkish Van cat begging for attention.

A beautiful Turkish Van cat begging for attention.

The Turkish Van as a Pet

The Turkish Van can be a great pet in the right home. Because of its independent nature, and its size and strength, it does not make for an ideal pet around small children.

The breed is healthy and requires little grooming although brushing its luxurious coat once a week is beneficial as well as enjoyable.

The Turkish Van is intelligent, curious, energetic, very active, likes to swim and climb, and meows a lot. Turkish Vans play hard and sleep hard. They are excellent jumpers and prefer high places to floors where they are able to oversee their kingdom. They are able to jump from the floor to the top of a refrigerator with ease. Nothing in high places and on shelves will be safe.

The Turkish Van is known to be brave and an excellent hunter. It is also known to be very protective, even growling when it hears unusual sounds in its environment.

If a Turkish Van deems you to be its person, it will follow you around the house like an ever-present shadow. Turkish Vans bond strongly with one or two humans, essentially for life, and do not readily transfer that affection to another human. This makes it very difficult to move a Van from one household to another requiring it to change its affections. Although both friendly and affectionate, the Van is not a lap kitty. They typically do not like to be picked up and held. Obviously, there will be exceptions. They like to be with you and “into” whatever you are doing.

If you want a cat that sports many of the same characteristics as that of a dog, the Turkish Van may be the ideal pet for you. The Van likes to fetch and learns obedience commands and tricks very quickly! Many Turkish Van owners describe their cat as “a dog in a cat suit” because of its extraordinary temperament.

Turkish Van Cat Clubs and Associations

Lake Van Turkey

Just for Fun

Send a Turkish Van postcard to someone you know.

Mountain Çadır Dağı seen from the island of Akdamar in Lake Van/Turkey (from northwest). This is the country where the Turkish Van originated.

Mountain Çadır Dağı seen from the island of Akdamar in Lake Van/Turkey (from northwest). This is the country where the Turkish Van originated.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Cindy Murdoch

Turkish Van Cat Breed

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on August 08, 2013:

FlourishAnyway - They really are gorgeous cats. I lost a long-haired cat a couple months ago, and he did not look well. Thanks so much for stopping by.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 15, 2013:

This wonderfully researched hub brings back fond memories of Isaiah ("Zay-zay"), a Turkish van we found at the feral cat colony that we feed. At the time we found him, the vet guessed he was already 5-8 years old. We had no trouble adopting him out because he was so beautiful -- white and black Turkish van with green eyes and so smart/dog-like. However, he was returned to us, his fosters, because his adoptive father died of cancer. Poor Zay-zay. He spent the rest of his 17 years with us. In the end he looked awful but your photos remind me of his glory days. Thank you. Voted up and awesome.

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on May 03, 2013:

teaches12345 - they are truly beautiful cats, aren't they? Thanks so much.

Dianna Mendez on May 03, 2013:

I am so tempted to go out and get another cat after reading this post. I love this animal and the photos are so endearing. This is the first I have heard of the Turksih Van breed. Thanks for the education.

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on May 01, 2013:

Thanks Glimmer! I think they are quite striking. I like the contrast between the orange tabby and the white!

Claudia Porter on April 30, 2013:

How beautiful. I've never heard of the Turkish Van breed. Love the bi-color eyes.

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 17, 2013:

He really did seem to enjoy the water. And it makes sense with it being so hot that they would have adapted to that kind of behavior to cool off and ultimately survive. The Turkish Van Cat is one cool cat!

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 17, 2013:

Thanks RTalloni! Cats really can be fun to have around. Just never know what they might do.

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 17, 2013:

MsDora - It is good to be back. I am just taking a little slower this time so I don't burn out again. And I want to create quality hubs. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 17, 2013:

alahiker28 - I agree with you. And that fur looks so soft. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

Chris Achilleos on April 17, 2013:

I know, he actually was trying to jump in by himself, just before his owner put him in the water. And when he was in the water he took his time to get to the shore, and his tale was still dry... What an excellent swimmer :)

RTalloni on April 16, 2013:

Cats are such amazingly delightful creatures that are so full of surprises and this one certainly has a big surprise with its swimming. Thanks for this look at the Turkish Van!

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 16, 2013:

Chris Achilleos - they really do. You can find all kinds of videos on youtube where they are swimming and enjoying it. I picked the video I did because it showed the cat really was not in a hurry to get out of the water. Thanks so much. Headed your way!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 16, 2013:

Glad you're back, Homestead! Thanks for sharing the facts about these interesting creatures. The two-color eyes are amazing. Thanks for the pictures also.

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 15, 2013:

Audrey - thanks so much. I so appreciate the compliment. It is good to be back .... just a little slower. Don't want to burn out again, and I want to create quality hubs as well. Thanks for stopping by. Headed your way.

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 15, 2013:

Page1articles - Thanks so much for stopping by. I am glad you enjoyed this one. I headed your way to see what goodies I can find.

Vicki Carroll from Birmingham, AL on April 15, 2013:

what a beautiful cat....

Chris Achilleos on April 15, 2013:

Homesteadbound: Excellent and interesting hub, I really enjoyed reading! I'm shocked that these cats actually like to swim.

Voted up, interesting and awesome!


Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on April 14, 2013:

Cindy - Your hubs are among the best in all of hubland and this one is no exception. I always learn from you and enjoyed this hub so much! I'm very glad you're back! Voted up and all the way and will share too. Hugs!

page1articles from California on April 14, 2013:

Cindy: What an amazing tribute to a beautiful creature. It is amazing how many cat breeds there are, and I would not have guessed that this was a specific breed if I had not just read your hub. You put a lot of detail into your hubs and that is brilliant.

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 14, 2013:

Melovy. Thanks so much for stopping by. It is good to be back. So glad you enjoyed reading about these gorgeous and unusual cats,. "a dog in a cat suit!"

Yvonne Spence from UK on April 14, 2013:

Ever since I read about Turkish Vans going swimming I've had a hankering for one. Great to read about these amazing cats again and I learned quite a bit from your hub! Glad to see you back.

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on April 14, 2013:

Thanks so much, Leslie! It's good to be back. I am glad you enjoyed the read. Thanks so much for sharing. It is interesting that this cat's eye genetics is generally displayed only in a certain region. It could be because so few breeding animals have left the region that that characteristic was not dominant in the cats that are used for breeding elsewhere.

Karen Silverman on April 14, 2013:

Cindy..i can't believe how much i enjoyed a hub about...ewwww - CATS! lol..

i love every animal - including cats, but - there's something about them - and - they feel the same about

this cat seems more like - mind you, at least in size - not in dependency! i get the feeling they need you not one little bit - a very haughty look about them - altho the kittens are adorable!

it's interesting that eyes of different colors are 'expected'...very odd in only one 'segment' of the same breed..

voting up and sharing forward, dear friend..


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