Turkish Van

Turkish Van
The cat known in the United States as the Turkish Van is a rare and ancient breed that developed in central and southwest Asia, which today encompasses the countries of Iran, Iraq, southwest Soviet Union and eastern Turkey. "Van" is a common term in the region that has been given to a number of towns, villages and even a lake - Lake Van - so it is no surprise that the uniquely patterned cat native to the region was named the "Vancat" by the residents. They were first brought to England in 1955 as the Turkish cats, but this was later changed to Turkish Van to avoid confusion with the Turkish Angora.

It was in 1955 that Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were travelling through Turkey, and noticed that the cats particularly around the area of Van in Eastern Turkey bore a remarkable resemblence to the traditional Angora type. The most noticeable difference however was that the coat was not pure white, but had auburn head markings and a faintly ringed auburn tail. Laura brought two unrelated cats back to Britain, and when they were mated they produced kittens bearing the same auburn markings. It was at this point that Laura realised that this was a natural breed, and not man-made. She registered the Van prefix and the Turkish Van Cat had since become an established breed.

Although the breed has an ancient lineage, the Turkish Van is a relative newcomer to the United States, arriving in 1982. They are considered regional treasures in their homeland, and are not readily available for export to other countries. Even in areas where the breed has been known for centuries, they are still relatively rare.

The breed was first brought into Europe from the Middle East by returning crusaders, and has been known by a variety of names over the centuries such as the white ringtail and the Russian longhair. A common misconception is that the Turkish Van is simply a color variation of the better known Turkish Angora. In reality, the Van and the Angora are distinct breeds that developed in geographically distant regions of Turkey. When seen together, the differences in type, size, boning and coat are readily apparent.

Akin to the Turkish Angora, exhibiting the Van pattern (markings on head and tail), preferably marked with red (auburn) or its dilute (cream), though other colors may occur in Turkey and are being recognized e.g. black/white van, brown/ebony-tabby/white van, black tortie agouti/white van, black tortie/white van. Eyes may be blue, light amber or odd eyed. Fascinated by water and frequently swims.

The Turkish Van is the only cat that loves the water. It may be that this came about because of his need to catch fish but now it seems the breed just loves to swim for pleasure. The Turkish Van came from Western Turkey to England in 1955. The two women who originally took these cats to England imported two more in 1959. In1969 the Turkish Van was accepted for the championship show in Britain. The next year the breed entered the United States was registered in the U.S. in 1985.

The Turkish Van is a very solid cat with a broad chest. It has a thick body and long legs that are muscular and wide set. The coat is semi long and feels like cashmere. After swimming it dries quickly because it has no undercoat. Grooming this cat by combing twice a week will be all that is necessary. He should have extra grooming when his heavy winter coat is shedding. Hecan tolerate a cool climate.

The only color seen in the Turkish Van breed is white. The pattern you will see is called van. This is when only the head and tail have coloring. There can be no more than two spots on his body. The coloration of the Turkish Van, which is considered by many to be the original breed to carry the piebald gene, calls for a white, semi-longhaired cat with colored markings restricted primarily to the head and tail. Other piebald cats that have been selectively bred for many generations to achieve similar markings are said to be "van-patterned" after the breed that originally sported it. The coat lacks an undercoat and has a very unique cashmere-like texture that makes it water-resistant. This brings us to another interesting feature of this breed - they love water and in their native region they have been termed "the Swimming Cats."

The Turkish Van is an active cat who is very smart. He is not a lap cat but a lively companion with a very lovely voice.

The Turkish Van takes three to five years to reach full maturity and is a large and agile cat of substantial strength. They are very intelligence as well as curious and make very rewarding companions in the right home. The breed is a healthy one and the unique coat does not lend itself to matting, so they require little grooming.


When the Ark arrived at Mount Ararat some 5,000 years ago, Noah must have been a bit busy keeping the animals from stampeding in their eagerness to touch dry land. In the hustle and bustle, two white and red cats leaped into the water and swam ashore. When the flood receded, the cats set out for Lake Van, located about 75 miles (121 km) to the south of Mount Ararat, where they have lived ever since.

At least, that's one story about the appearance of the Turkish Van, a naturally occurring breed that has inhabited the Lake Van region of Turkey and the bordering areas of Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Russia for Heaven knows how long. Also called the "Swimming Cat," the Van is known for its fascination with water. The likely explanation for the Van's interest in swimming lies in the extreme temperatures in its native region. Since summer temperatures reach well above 100°F (37.8°C), the cats may have learned to swim to survive.

This also may explain the development of the Van's unique "water-repelling" coat. Most domestic cats hate getting wet, possibly because they must spend hours putting their fur back in order. The Turkish Van's cashmere-like coat is water resistant, allowing the cat to go dog-paddling and come out relatively dry.

Whatever the reason for the cat's fondness of water, no one knows for sure when the Turkish Vans arrived in the Lake Van region or where they came from. Native ornaments dating as far back as 5000 B.C. depict cats that look remarkably like the Turkish Van. If so, the Van could well be one of the oldest existing cat breeds.

Vans were reportedly first brought to Europe by soldiers returning from the Crusades some time between 1095 and 1272 A.D. Over the centuries the Vans were transported throughout the Eastern continents by invaders, traders, and explorers. The Vans have been called by a variety of names: Eastern Cat, Turkish, Ringtail Cat, Russian Longhair. Being cats, the Vans probably didn't answer to any of them.
The modern and better-known history of the Van began in 1955 when British citizens Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were given two Van kittens while touring Turkey. Since the breed was not known in Britain at the time, they decided to work with the cats and try to get them recognized by Britain's Governing Council of the Cat Fancy.

English breeder Lydia Russell was also instrumental in popularizing the breed in England and Europe and in helping new breeders obtain Turkish breeding stock. At first the going was slow. Obtaining Van cats meant numerous trips to Turkey, and the cats had to pass through lengthy quarantine periods to enter England. But Vans were found to breed true, and in 1969 the hard work paid off when the Turkish Van was given full pedigree status by the GCCF.

The first Van kittens arrived in America in the 1970s, but it was not until breeders Barbara and Jack Reark started working with the breed in 1983 that the Vans began to flourish in the United States. In 1985 TICA granted the Turkish Van Championship status. The CFA accepted the breed for registration in 1988, and in May 1993 the Van achieved Provisional status with the CFA.

Until recently the Vans were not officially recognized in Turkey although highly prized as pets. Today the Vans are being preserved by the Turkish College of Agriculture in connection with the Ankara Zoo, the longtime breeder of the Angora. Vans are no longer permitted to be exported from the country and most of our current breeding stock now comes from Europe.


While you might be drawn to the Van for its fascination with water, you'll fall in love with the breed for its other qualities. Vans are energetic, agile, and intelligent. They are extremely healthy and "get along with people swimmingly," notes one Van owner. You may need a few months of working out to keep up with them, however; Vans are famous for their "action-packed" temperament. They are talkative, demanding of attention, and show great gusto at dinnertime. Breeders also say that Vans are known for their attachment to their human companions, and sometimes that makes transferring a Van from one household to another difficult. They tend to pick out one or two people in the household-usually the ones that deal with them initially-and bond with them forever.

Character: Gentle, affectionate disposition. Enjoys water and will actively choose to bathe. Not very active, suited to indoor life.

Care: The Turkish Van cat breed has a hearty appetite, with no special dietary requirements. Daily grooming recommended. It handled regularly and gently from an early age, less prone to nervousness.


The Turkish Van is often confused with the Turkish Angora, but put them side by side and it's easy to see that they're entirely different breeds. The Angora is smaller and more delicate than the Van and does not have the classic "Van pattern," a term borrowed from the Turkish Van that is used to describe any cat that has a mainly white body and colored head and tail markings. The color should not take up more than 20 percent of the entire body. The Van pattern is governed by the dominant white spotting factor piebald gene (S), which gives them patches of white along with spots of color. This gene is hard to control and therefore makes breeding Turkish Vans with the proper color pattern difficult.
Some Vans have a color patch between the shoulder blades called the "Mark of Allah." Just as the M on the tabby's forehead is said to be a gift from the Virgin Mary, this "thumbprint of God" is considered good luck in Moslem countries.

GeneralThe Turkish Van is a natural breed from the rugged, remote and climatically varied region of the Middle East. The breed is known for its unique, distinctive pattern...the term "van" has been adopted by a variety of breeds to describe white cats with colored head and tail markings. The Turkish Van is a solidly-built, semi-longhaired cat with great breadth to the chest. The strength and power of the cat is evidenced in its substantial body and legs. This breed takes a full 3 to 5 years to reach full maturity and development, therefore allowances must be made for age and sex. Despite age and sex, as adults, individuals should convey an overall impression of a well-balanced and well-proportioned appearance in which no feature is exaggerated to foster weakness or extremes. Turkish Vans are very intelligent and alert cats, and as such feel more secure, and handle better with all four feet on a solid surface.
BodyModerately long, sturdy, broad, muscular and deep-chested. Mature males should exhibit marked muscular development in the neck and shoulders. The shoulders should be at least as broad as the head, and flow into the well-rounded ribcage and then into a muscular hip and pelvic area. Turkish Van males are substantially larger than females and exhibit much greater development.
HeadSubstantially broad wedge, with gentle contours and a medium length nose to harmonize with the large muscular body, ears are not to be included in the wedge. Prominent cheekbones. In profile, the nose has a slight dip below eye level marked by a change in the direction the hair lays. Allowances must be made for jowling in the males. Firm chin in a straight line with the nose and upper lip; rounded muzzle.
Legs and FeetModerately long, muscular legs. They are set wide apart and taper to rounded moderately large feet. Legs and feet should be in proportion to the body. Toes, five in front, four behind.
EarsModerately large, in proportion to the body, set fairly high and well apart; the inside edge of the ear is slightly angled to the outside with the outside edge fairly straight but not necessarily in line with the side of the face; wide at the base. Tips are slightly rounded. Insides should be well feathered.
EyesModerately large, a rounded aperture slightly drawn out at the corners, set at a slant, equidistant from the outside base of the ear to the tip of the nose. Eyes should be clear, alert and expressive.
TailLong, but in proportion to the body, with a brush appearance. Tail hair length is keeping with the semi-long coat length.
CoatSemi-long with a cashmere-like texture; soft to the roots with no trace of undercoat. Due to the extremes in climate of their native region, the breed carries two distinctive coat lengths and allowances must be made for the seasonal coat. The summer coat is short, conveying the appearance of a shorthair; the winter coat is substantially longer and thicker. There is feathering on the ears, legs, feet and belly. Facial fur is short. A frontal neck ruff and full brush tail become more pronounced with age. The above description is that of an adult, allowances must be made for short coats and tail hair on kittens and young adults.
ColorVan pattern only on glistening chalk-white body with colored markings confined to the head and tail desirable. One or more random markings, up to color on 20% of the entire body, are permissible. Random markings should not be of a size or number to detract from the van pattern, making a specimen appear bi-color. A symmetrical pattern of head markings, divided by white up to at least the level of the front edge of the ears, is desirable.
PenalizeAny evidence toward extremes (i.e. short cobbiness or svelte, fine-boning); greater than 20% white in the tail, flat profile.
DisqualifyTotal absence of color in the area from eye level up to the back of the head or tail; definite nose break; genetic/skeletal defects such as flattened ribcage, kinked or abnormal tail, incorrect number of toes, crossed eyes. Color in excess of 20% of the entire body.
Allowwable OutcrossesNone