The Turkish Van is a rare natural breed which developed over millennia in southeast Turkey and neighboring countries. These gorgeous cats are known for their unique coat pattern: a white body with colored markings confined to the head and tail. Let’s take a look at this special cat breed, its history and characteristics, and uncover five fascinating facts you may not know about Turkish Van cats.
Turkish Van: Breed History
This breed developed naturally in a remote geographic area encompassing southeast Turkey and parts of what today are Iran, Iraq and Russia. Nobody knows exactly when these cats showed up, but there are reports of them being brought over to Europe by the Crusaders, indicating that the breed had already been established by that time.
Turkish Van cats were first brought to the UK in 1955 and received official recognition by the GCCF – the UK-based Governing Council of the Cat Fancy – in 1969. The first time Turkish Vans arrived in the US was much later, in the year 1982. The breed was recognized by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) in 1994.
Turkish Van: Breed Description
The most prominent and easily recognizable feature of this breed is its coat pattern. All Turkish Van cats have a glistening chalk-white body, with color patches limited to the tail and head. Additional color markings on the body are allowed, as long as they make up no more than 15% of the total area (minus the head and tail).
The head patches should ideally be symmetrical and divided by white up to at least the level of the front edge of the ears. This is also called an inverted V pattern.
The head patches and tail can be in one of several colors: red, cream, black or blue. Tabby patterns within the colored areas are allowed, as are combinations of more than one color.
The coat should be semi-longhair, soft and “cashmere-like”. The soft texture is created by the total lack of a thick undercoat. The tail must have “a brush appearance” to match the cat’s coat. The Turkish Van has a moderately long body that is also sturdy. The shoulders must be at least as broad as the head.
Eye colors in Turkish Van cats can be either amber or blue, or a combination of both (odd-eyed cats).
5 Fascinating Facts about Turkish Van Cats
Now that we know the basics about Turkish Van cats, their origins and their appearance, here are some lesser-known facts about the breed.
1. There’s a special gene that’s responsible for this coat pattern
A special gene causes the Turkish Van’s unique mix of white fur with patches of color on the head and tail. This gene is called the piebald gene, after the black and white magpie that bears the name. It’s believed that this breed was the first in the cat world to carry the mutation which later spread to other cat breeds.
The piebald pattern can be seen in other animals as well, including horses, dogs, pigs and rabbits.
2. Turkish Van cats don’t necessarily like swimming
Laura Lushington, one of the two women who first imported Turkish Van cats into the UK in 1955, wrote about how much her cats loved swimming. She described a specific event that she experienced with her newly acquired cats while still in Turkey. Traveling in her car on a hot day, she stopped to cool off in a nearby river and to her surprise the cats joined her in the water. Based on that incident, she provided her cats with water containers where they could sit for a few minutes and enjoy a self-initiated bath.
However, many owners suggest that this isn’t the case with their own resident Turkish Vans. While the story is lovely, it’s fair to say that not all Turkish Van cats enjoy being in the water.
3. The Turkish Van is an entirely separate breed from the Turkish Angora
Some people think that Turkish Van cats are essentially Turkish Angora cats with a specific color pattern. That is not the case. Genetic evidence as well as the breed’s history prove that the two breeds are entirely separate from one another.
Read more: Turkish Angora Cats
4. A cat can be a van without being a Turkish Van
The piebald gene that’s responsible for the Turkish Van’s unique coat pattern can now be found in other cat breeds. “Van” (without the “Turkish” prefix) has become a term used to describe a bicolor pattern where the tail and top of the head are the only places showing color on an otherwise white cat.
Breeds that can have a Van pattern include the Scottish Fold and many others. Non-purebred cats can also have this coat pattern.
5. Real Turkish Van cats are extremely rare
If you come across a Turkish Van cat at a local cat show, consider yourself lucky. These cats are very rare. The CFA published a list of cat breeds by popularity, based on its registries. Out of the 42 breeds recognized by the CFA, Turkish Van was number 40!
“Is my cat a Turkish Van?”
Clearly, with a breed this rare, you’re unlikely to come across a purebred Turkish Van in a shelter or on the streets. Unless your cat is a registered Turkish Van purchased from an ethical breeder, he or she is not a purebred. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a Turkish Van lookalike! The coat pattern itself isn’t rare, and you certainly can find cats with a white body and colored tail and head patch who are looking for good homes!
Read more: What Breed Is My Cat?
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