Norwegian forest cats are known for their fluffy coats, large builds, and social dispositions. Here are a few other furry facts about the Scandinavian feline.
1. They're warrior cats.
The breed's origins are a source of mystery. Norwegian forest cats could be related to black-and-white short-haired cats from Great Britain, which the Vikings used as mousers on their ships. But they might also be descendants of long-haired cats brought to Scandinavia by the Crusaders.
These early relatives roamed Norway’s forests, breeding with feral felines and barn cats. Over the years, they evolved into the large, dense-coated animal we know and love today.
2. Norwegian forest cats are mythical creatures.
Norwegian forest cats aren’t just any pedestrian pet—they’re the stuff of legend. Norwegian myths tell of the skogkatt, a large, long-haired "mountain-dwelling fairy cat with an ability to climb sheer rock faces that other cats could not manage," according to Cat: The Complete Guide. Thanks to their size, coats, and tree-climbing prowess, the Norwegian forest cat may have served as the real-life inspiration for the skogkatt (which translates to “forest cat”).
The skogkatt was beloved by Freya, the Norse goddess of love and beauty, who some say traveled in a feline-drawn chariot. And in one Norwegian tale, Thor loses a contest of strength to the tricky god Jormungand, who’s disguised as a skogkatt. Thanks to these legends, some breeders today refer to the Norwegian forest cat as the “Norse skogkatt.”
3. They're Norway's national cat.
King Olaf V of Norway designated the Norwegian forest cat the country’s national cat. No word on whether America will ever gain its own national feline.
4. Norwegian forest cats nearly became extinct.
Farmers and sailors prized the norwegian Forest cat for its mousing skills. But fanciers didn’t start noticing and showing the breed until the 1930s.
During World War II, interest in the Norwegian forest cat waned, and the breed came dangerously close to becoming extinct thanks to crossbreeding. An official breeding program helped preserve the furry cat’s lineage for future generations.
In 1977, the Norwegian forest cat breed was officially accepted as a recognized breed by the Fédération Internationale Féline. Two years later, the first breeding pair of Norwegian forest cats arrived in America. And in 1987, the breed was officially accepted by the Cat Fanciers' Association.
5. The cat breed is big in Europe.
Norwegian forest cats have a lot of fans—and according to science, they're the cutest cat breed. So it's not surprising that they have a legion of loyal fans in Europe, and especially Scandinavia. (In fact, Norwegian forest cats are nicknamed “Wegies,” which is short for “Norwegians.”) They’re also popular in France.
6. Norwegian forest cats are huge.
Norwegian forest cats are way larger than most cats—and some small dogs, for that matter. Typical male Norwegian forest cats can range anywhere from 13 to 22 pounds.
7. Norwegian forest cats have built-in winter clothes.
Although Norwegian forest cats can be any color or pattern, they do have one thing in common: a long, double-layered coat that repels water. (They also have tufted ears and toes, which work like built-in earmuffs and boots.) These handy physical traits helped the breed survive snowy Scandinavian winters.
8. They're prone to health problems.
Sadly, Norwegian forest cats aren't as hardy as their ancient Viking owners. They’re prone to hereditary heart problems, hip dysplasia, and a condition called glycogen storage disease type IV, which causes a harmful build-up of a complex sugar called glycogen in the body's cells.
9. Norwegian forest cats are related to Maine coons.
With their big bodies and bushy tails, the Maine coon and the Norwegian forest cat look like cousins. Appearances aren’t deceiving. Genetic testing indicates that the Maine coon is a descendant of both the Norwegian forest cat and an unknown—and extinct—domestic breed.
Can't tell the two apart? Look at their features. Norwegian forest cats have a triangle-shaped face, whereas Maine coons have a wedge-shaped head with high cheekbones.
10. Norwegian forest cats are great at climbing trees.
Ever seen a cat run down a tree headfirst? If you have, it was most likely a Norwegian forest cat. The cats have sturdier claws than most breeds, allowing them to achieve impressive climbing feats.
This article originally ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2022.