Believed to be a breed of true antiquity, the Turkish Van is thought to have been introduced to Europe with the return of the Crusaders in the 13th century. The Van has adopted many names over its existence, including the ‘Russian Longhair’ and the ‘White Ringtail,’ finally settling on ‘Turkish Van’ in the mid-1950s when it was discovered by Sonia Halliday and Laura Lushington. This name comes from the region of the cat’s discovery – Lake Van, in the mountains of eastern Anatolia, Turkey. It is likely the cat existed here for centuries without being recognised by the western world. The Turkish Van was eventually introduced to Great Britain in 1955 although global numbers remain low, despite efforts being made to preserve the breed. In native Turkey, the Van is considered a national treasure and is highly revered throughout its homeland. Officially recognised by the International Cat Association in 1979.
A relatively large and robust breed of cat, the Turkish Van is a keen hunter and climber and is very distinctive in appearance and structure. Boasting a long body, nimble legs (the hind being slightly longer than the front), a wedge-shaped head and striking eyes (it is common to observe the cat with odd-coloured eyes, usually one blue and one amber), the Van is handsome and highly sought as a domestic cat. The coat is semi-longhaired and the tail is plush and plumed. Colour pointing is usual in the Turkish Van, with colour being seen on the head and tail. Having been historically associated with the Lake Van region of Turkey, the cat has evolved as a capable and enthusiastic swimmer that will want to share your bathtub and will find endless fun in your garden pond. This attribute is unusual for cats who typically hate coming into contact with water.
Whilst the Van is described by enthusiasts and breeders as an affectionate and mild-mannered cat, it is not especially demanding of attention and can be aloof with strangers. By no means a lap cat, the Turkish Van is highly active, acrobatic and intelligent and needs both physical and mental enrichment to stay occupied and stimulated. Typically, the Van is both a friendly and affectionate cat towards its people and forms strong attachments to a special few. Larger than most breeds, a Turkish Van can weigh between 12-16 pounds depending on its gender, with a typical life expectancy of 12-15 years.
The Turkish Van is rare so determining any genetic or breed-specific health complaints is difficult. Generally speaking, the Van is a very healthy and resilient breed with few health conditions documented. Deafness can occur in cats with two blue eyes, so this is something to bear in mind. The Van is also prone to easy weight gain so try to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, avoiding scraps of human foods or too many commercial cat treats.