Turkish Van

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Not to be confused with Van cat or Turkish Angora.
"Turkish Vankedisi" redirects here. For the landrace called Van kedisi in Turkish, see Van cat.
Turkish Van
Turkish Van Cat.jpg
A Turkish Van
Alternative names Turkish Cat (obsolete)
Origin Turkey Turkey (founding stock),
United Kingdom United Kingdom (initial breeding program)
Common nicknames Swimming cat
Breed standards
TICA standard
FIFe standard
CFA standard
ACF standard
GCCF standard
AACE standard
ACFA/CAA standard
Domestic cat (Felis catus)

The Turkish Van is a semi-longhaired breed of domestic cat with genetic origins in modern Turkey. The breed is claimed[by whom?] to be descended from the landrace of Van cats, mostly found near Lake Van, though one of the two original breeders has stated that none of the original cats used to found the formal breed came from the Van area.[1][2]:114 The breed is rare, and is distinguished by the Van colour pattern, where the colour is restricted to the head and the tail, and the rest of the cat is white; this is due to the expression of the piebald white spotting gene, a type of partial leucism.[3]:148 A Van may have blue or amber eyes, or be odd-eyed, having one eye of each colour. The Turkish Van has been nicknamed the swimming cat.[1] The breed was developed in Britain from a selection of Van cats obtained that came from various cities of Turkey.[2]:112 It was first recognised by a breeder/fancier organisation, the UK-based Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), in 1969.[2]:113 The term "Turkish Vankedisi" is used by some organisations as a name for all-white specimens of the formal Turkish Van breed,[4] and is easily confused with the landrace Van cat, the Turkish name of which is Van kedisi.

Breed standards[edit]

Breed standards allow for one or more body spots as long as there is no more than 20% colour and the cat does not give the appearance of a bicolour. A few random spots are acceptable, but they should not detract from the pattern. The rest of the cat is white. Although red tabby and white is the classic van colour, the colour on a Van's head and tail can be one of the following: red, cream, black, blue, red tabby, cream tabby, brown tabby, blue tabby, tortoiseshell, dilute tortoiseshell (also known as blue-cream), brown-patched tabby, blue-patched tabby and any other colour not showing evidence of hybridization with the point-coloured breeds (Siamese, Himalayan, etc.). Not all registries recognise all of these colour variations.

While a few registries recognise all-white specimens as Turkish Vans, most do not. The US-based Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA, the world's largest registry of pedigreed cats) and Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe, the largest international cat fancier organisation) recognise only van-patterned specimens, as they define the breed by both its type and pattern. The Germany-based but international World Cat Federation (WCF) considers the all-white specimens a separate breed, which it calls the Turkish Vankedisi,[4] a name that is easily confused with the landrace Van kedisi (Van cat).



Van Guzeli Iskenderun, (and her kitten Van Kehribar), the first registered Turkish Van, imported from Hatay Province in 1955 by Laura Lushington[2]:114

In 1955 two British women, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, were given some local cats on a trip to Turkey and decided to bring them home. They bred true, and were used as foundation cats for the breed. According to Lushington, her imported cats were: Van Iskenderun Guzelli, a cat that came from Hatay Province, Iskenderun, in 1955; Stambul Byzantium, a cat given by hotel manager in Istanbul in 1955; Antalya Anatolia, from Antalya in 1959, and Burdur, from Burdur in 1959. Lushington did not see Van city before 1963, and only stayed there "for two days and two nights".[1] It is unclear why the name "Turkish Van" was chosen.

"I was first given a pair of Van kittens in 1955 while traveling in Turkey, and decided to bring them back to England, although touring by car and mainly camping at the time – the fact that they survived in good condition showed up the great adaptability and intelligence of their breed in trying circumstances. Experience showed that they bred absolutely true. They were not known in Britain at that time and, because they make such intelligent and charming pets, I decided to try to establish the breed, and to have it recognised officially in Britain by the GCCF."[2]:114

The first Vans were brought to the United States in 1982 and accepted into championship for showing in the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in 1994. Since then, CFA has registered approximately 100 Vans born each year in the US, making them one of the rarest cat breeds. However, the gene pool thrives because it still uses cats imported from the Lake Van area of Turkey. Imported Vans have no human breeding intervention and are quite robust. No other breed is allowed to be mixed into the breeding schedule, and all registered Turkish Vans can trace their ancestry back to imported cats of Laura Lushington.[1]

Called the Turkish cat when first given breed recognition in 1969,[5] the name was changed in 1979 in the UK (1985 in the US) to Turkish Van[6][7] to better distance the breed from the Turkish Angora cat (originally called Angora[2]:35) which had its origins around Ankara, in central Turkey.

Physical characteristics[edit]

"Ringed" tail pattern of a Turkish Van

The coat on a Turkish Van is considered semi-longhaired. While many cats have three distinct hair types in their coat—guard hair, awn hair and down hair—the Turkish Van only has awn hair. This makes their coat feel like cashmere or rabbit fur, and the coat dries quickly when wet. Lake Van (at 5,260 ft (1,600 m). above sea level) is a region of temperature extremes and the cats have evolved a coat that grows thick in the winter with a large ruff, and bottlebrush tail for the harsh winters. The coat sheds out in the body during the warm summers. The full tail is kept year round.

The Turkish Van is one of the larger cat breeds. Ideal type should feature broad shoulders with a body that is 'top heavy', that is a cat with its center of gravity forward. The cat is moderately long and its back legs are slightly longer than its front legs, but neither the cat itself nor its legs are so long to be disproportionate. These cats are large and muscular. Males can reach 16 pounds (7 kg) and the females weigh about 12 to 14 lb (5 to 6 kg). They have massive paws and rippling hard muscle structure which allows them to be very strong jumpers. Vans can easily hit the top of a refrigerator from a cold start on the floor. They are slow to mature and this process can take 3–5 years. A Van can take up to 3 years to reach full maturity. Vans have been known to reach 3 ft (1 m) long from nose to tip of tail.


Turkish Vans are very intelligent, and will easily take over their home and owners. Vans are people cats that want to be with people wherever they go. They like to play and jump and explore anything in their reach, which is quite large. They are energetic; they play hard and sleep hard. Many Vans are dedicated to fetching their particular object of interest, and many owners describe them as "dogs in a cat suit" because of their unusual personalities.[8]</ref>[self-published source] This is a very social breed with a friendly, lively disposition and develops a great fondness for its owners. They like interactive games with their owners. They are very playful and tend to "teach" the owners. Many know how to play fetch and will drop toys at your feet until you join the game.

Turkish Vans have been nicknamed the "swimming cats". Most cats dislike getting wet, but this breed has been said to have an unusual fascination with water,[1][7] due to the breed's supposed proximity to Lake Van in their native country, which has very hot summers. The cats have uncommonly water-resistant coats that make bathing them a challenge. Most Vans in the United States are indoor cats and do not have access to large bodies of water, but their love and curiosity of water stays with them; instead of swimming, they stir their water bowls and invent fishing games in the toilet.[citation needed] However, the idea that the breed likes water more than other cats may be mistaken according to some pet writers.[9]

Laura Lushington noted the cats' affinity for water in this manner: "Originating in the Lake Van area of southeastern Turkey, these cats have been domesticated for centuries (in fact for as long as the famous Saluki Hound); they are much loved and prized by the Turks for their exceptional character and unique colouring. Apart from their great capacity for affection and alert intelligence, their outstanding characteristic is their liking for water, not normally regarded as a feline attribute. They not only dabble in water and play with it, but have been known to enter ponds and even horse-troughs for a swim – they soon became famous as the 'swimming cats.'"[2]:114


The piebald spotting gene (partial leucism) appears in other different species (like the horse and ball python). It also shows up in the common house cat, and other breeds of cat, since the van spotting pattern is merely an extreme expression of the gene.[3]:148

A Turkish Van may have blue eyes, amber eyes, or be odd-eyed, having one eye of each colour (a condition known as heterochromia iridis). The variability of eye colour is genetically caused by the white spotting factor, which is a characteristic of this breed. The white spotting factor is the variable expression of the piebald gene that varies from the minimal degree (1), as in the blue-eyed cats with white tip on the tail to the maximal degree (8–9) that results in a Van-patterned cat, as in Van cats, when coloured marks occupy at most 20% of the white background, but the white background in the breed covers about 80% of the body. Breeding two cats together with the same level of white spotting will produce cats with a similar degree of spotting.[3]:148

Van-patterned Turkish Vans are not prone to deafness, because their phenotype is associated with the van pattern (Sv) semi-dominant gene. Solid-white Turkish angoras carry the epistatic (masking) white colour (W) dominant gene associated with white fur, blue eyes and often deafness. All white Van cats may share this gene. All three types of cat may exhibit eye colours that are amber, blue or odd. Deafness is principally associated with cats having two blue eyes.[3]:191

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lushington, Laura (1963), "The Swimming Cats", Animals 1 (17): 24–27, "My photographer and I were given special permits visit Van by air, for two days and two nights(...) Now at least I have been to Van, in Eastern Turkey, and seen with my own eyes the ancient city of Van and the glorious Lake Van" 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Pond, Grace (ed.) (1972). The Complete Cat Encyclopedia. London: Walter Parrish Intl. p. 384. ISBN 0-517-50140-6. 
  3. ^ a b c d Vella, Carolyn; Shelton, Lorraine; McGonagle, John; Stanglein, Terry (1999), Robinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders and Veterinarians (4th ed.), Oxford: Butterworth Heineman, p. 253, ISBN 0-7506-4069-3 
  4. ^ a b "Recognized and Admitted Breeds in the WCF". WCF-Online.de. Essen, Germany: World Cat Federation. 2009. Archived from the original on 13 February 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  5. ^ Rex, Abyssinian and Turkish Cats, by Alison Ashford and Grace Pond, ISBN 0-668-03356-8
  6. ^ Turkish Van Cat Club newsletter, Van Cat Chat No. 5. Winter 1985/1986
  7. ^ a b "Turkish Van Cats". Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Vantasia.org
  9. ^ Hart, Robert (2010). Hart's Original Petpourri, Vol. 1. Langdon Street Pr. p. 4 isbn=9781934938621.  Hart cites a Cat Fancy magazine article as his source.

External links[edit]