Norwegian Forest Cats, The Pets Of The Vikings

The Norwegian forest cats are a very popular breed of cats in the Nordic countries. They are one of the most popular pet choices in Norway, Iceland, Sweden and also France. It is believed that these pets were brought by the Vikings to Norway from the British archipelago during the early Middle Ages. Ever since, they gradually became accustomed to the Scandinavian cold climate. This is why their fur had grown rather long compared to that of other breeds of cats.

Three Norwegian forest cats. Image source:

Three Norwegian forest cats. Image source:

The Norwegian forest cats may also be a mixture of cats brought by the Vikings from the British Isles during the Viking Age and various longhaired cats brought by the Crusaders to Norway. These longhaired cats were likely of the Turkish Angora breed. The Norwegian forest cats are also strikingly similar to their Siberian counterparts.

In Norwegian, they are referred to as ‘Norsk skogkatt’ (singular form). Several Norse legends recount their ancestors as mountain-dwelling fairy cats with an incredible climbing skill. Furthermore, it is believed that their ancestors served on the Norse longships as mousers during the Viking raids. Aside from being used on sea, these pets were tremendously prized in medieval Norway for their hunting aptitudes as well as their innate talent in regards to climbing, being almost indispensable on farms.

A young fluffy Norwegian forest cat. Image source:

A young fluffy Norwegian forest cat. Image source:

Nevertheless, the breed nearly became extinct in the mid 20th century, but thanks to the noteworthy efforts made by the Norwegian Forest Cat Club they were saved through a special breeding program. The Norwegian forest cats have also been registered at the European Fédération Internationale Féline as early as the 1970s by a cat enthusiast by the name Carl-Fredrik Nordane. They were subsequently named Norway’s national cat.

You can watch the following video briefly depicting the breed’s history:

Below you can watch a short video of a Norwegian forest cat female playing in the snow in Sweden:

You can take a look at the following Animal Planet presentation as well:

The Norwegian forest cats are known for being very affective and loyal to their owners, but unfortunately many health problems were reported, especially kidney and heart diseases.

Documentation sources and external links:

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32 Responses to Norwegian Forest Cats, The Pets Of The Vikings

  1. Anette Gulbrandsen says:

    Not sure if they actually can survive outside the whole winter. We have problems with homeless cats freezing to death and die from coldrelated illnessess here….the cat is an animal from warmer areas of this world….I wonder where that info came from, and personally, I think many of those cats must have died from the climate at some point.

    • Anette Gulbrandsen says:

      Also many of the cats in the video are probably not real forestcats, they just look similar. They miss the hair on top of their ears, whitch is a very typical feature.

      • Judy Stone says:

        Actually I can vouch for the breeding of the cats filmed inside the house with the blue iron filigree chairs and the patterned throw rugs. They are all from the home of the breeder of my cats, and her foundation male is the great great (several greats) grandson of the cat that was on the Norwegian postage stamp. Her foundation male
        was also the Science Diet cat. All those kittens are his descendants and are quite good examples of the breed.

      • Heather L Edwards says:


      • Mary S says:

        That ear tuft is actually more typical of Maine Coons.

      • Ron Gaskin DVM says:

        I have a wedgie and they can survive arctic weather perfectly. Start with the triple layered coat. They have protected paws with a lot of fur and snow shoes. The veins on their extremities are very small so less heat loss. The ears have snow filters. Their tails are thick (excellent insulated blood flow) and heavily furred. the tails cover the front paws in a snow storm. their back’s guard hairs help shed water and snow They instinctively like to stay in high places like the crook of a tree to prevent getting covered in a snow drift. She would thrive in subarctic weather that would possibly kill a short haired cat over night. (I know because I have treated them) I do not let her outside because she has to warm my foot space on our queen bed.

    • Harold Daughety says:

      Cats were found in the wilds of Scotland and in the deserts of Africa – the domestic cat is descended by these world – wide wildcats. They freely interbreed. All domestic variants have been produced by selective breeding and euthanasia of cats that did not conform to the desired standard. Google Messybeast if you want a very complete rundown on cats.

  2. Alexander says:

    “but unfortunately many health problems were reported, especially kidney and heart diseases.” Due to excessive drinking?

  3. Rachel says:

    I have a pair of cats and I truly believe it’s possible they could be this breed especially when discussing the triangular shaped head, disposition with children and hunting. Both of my cats also have the furry feet. My female has not been fixed yet. Is there a need to preserve this breed? My pair are twin orange cats except my female and male vary greatly in size. I’m actually super fascinated by this! I’m just really puzzled by the fact that they were dumped outside a horse farm and abandoned by the side of a road. There had been an entire litter and when I saw them I knew we need to have them. We traveled an hour and a half to bring them home!

  4. dali root says:

    Any genetic relationship to the Maine (USA) coon cats?
    They came off ships before the settlement of North America.

    • Rachel says:

      We are unsure. I had a previous cat that completely fit the Maine coon description to a tee. These two are very different in their looks and behavior. They share some similarities with her but not as many as they do with the Norwegian Forest Cat. Their need to hunt is out of control and has taken an extreme amount of in home adjustment to meet their needs but we are happy to do so. We have tons of birds & beauties outside that they “play hunt… From the safety of being behind glass” they have all of the things you described, also the cats 101 (which we have seen one the Maine coonns as well and they just don’t fit. They have perfectly proportioned triangle faces, blazing Amber eyes, completely almond shade and turned up into a beautiful way that is all their own and I mean that as a make up artist I look at facial features all dat and they have perfect triangles and a set of eyes on each of them unlike any others I’ve seen. The colors are the colors of fire & cream. They are the two most beautiful cats you have EVER seen! The stripes and swirls are so unusual. It’s strange because the only thing my boy cat is missing is the ear tufts BUT his SISTER has them. She doesn’t have as much fur in between her toes and is extremely tiny but our vet thought that could have been due to the lack of a mother or just that she’s tiny. Personally wise they are exactly like the cats you described. My cats are not allowed to be outside so I know their coats would be more cottony fluffy if I did let them Outside BUT their safety is much more important to me that coat length. They do definitely have that second cottony coat (this is particularly notable in our female.) It not going to make a difference to us what they “are” or where they come officially from because wherever or whatever that turns out to be we do know where they needed to end up and that was with us. I’m extremely happy to hear the breed is doing well in their home country. That gives me a sense of relief that we can go ahead and get Gemma spayed, I would never want to kill a line. I work with horses and understand how important that it’s. I also know how many others have no homes or purpose so it’s an extremely fine line. We have our beloved Chicotuegue ponies to protect and the wild horse that run free as they always have creating horse all over the world. So I understand preservation needs.
      This story was shared throughout my friends and it started quite a conversation! I have two other friend committed to the fact that they to have Norwegian forest cats and NOT Maine Coons (as they too have both looked into it at some length). I have looked at Maine Coon, rag dolls and several other breeds but they don’t fit into any of those breeds. thank you for creating the dialogue and replying to my post. Lastly, I found another friend who was in Norway and meet two Forest Cats and she said other than the extra long cottony fur she did note in the cats in Norway that my cats did resemble the ones she had met. Even that Jax is the only other cat she has meet as big & sticky he’s stocky! He’s just like a line backer he’s built wider in his bone structure than any cat I’ve seen! He’s boxy looking, his body is broad he’s at least twenty pounds, maybe twenty five pounds! He’s not fat. He’s going to the vet this month so I’ll check. . They both have longer back legs and Gemma has more of a tigers movement than any small cat I’ve ever seen so when you mention the back legs being longer I understood exactly what you meant. I appreciate your article and time so much! Thank you!

  5. […] It’s research but it’s so much fun that often it feels like skiving off and sometimes we just end up in the oddest places, like all the things you never knew about carrots and their history, Ghost Bath Houses of Paris, weasel trivia and the most adorable cats in the world. […]

  6. C.J de Groot-van Doorn says:

    Elke kat kan ziek worden. daarom is het de bedoeling om selectief te fokken. Dus een lijn waarin een ziekte geconstateerd is zou men niet meer moeten gebruiken voor de fok. Echter men gaat gewoon door want wat je niet ziet is er niet. Dit heeft dus tot gevolg dat er in veel lijnen van de katten nier (PKD), hart (HCM) of andere lichamelijke problemen zich voor doen. Zodra de kat ernstig ziek wordt gaat men zich beklagen. Dit is dus de taak van de fokker.

    Noorse Boskatten zijn een geweldig ras. Rustig intelligent, en nog mooi ook met hun langharige vacht. Een natuur-ras. Ze vinden het geweldig om buiten te zijn als het sneeuwt of regent. het doet ze niets, ze genieten er met volle teugen van. Een zeer gemakkelijk vacht die je af en toe even moet borstel wat ze heerlijk vinden. ze gaan er helemaal voor liggen. Wassen is overbodig tenzij ze helemaal onder de drek zitten (poep b.v) Ben je van plan om een Noorse Boskat aan te schaffen laat je dan vantevoren goed informeren over het ras of over de cattery.

    • Jack Clemens says:

      Jack Clemens Translation to english from above of C.J de Groot-van Doorn says:
      Every cat can get sick. therefore, the intention is to breed selectively. So a line in which a disease has been detected should no longer be used for breeding. However, one simply goes on because what you do not see is not. This means that in many lines of the cat kidney (PKD), heart (HCM) or other physical problems occur. As soon as the cat becomes seriously ill, one will complain. So this is the breeder’s job.

      Norwegian Forest cats are a great breed. Quietly intelligent, and still beautiful with their long-haired coat. A natural breed. They love being outside when it’s snowing or raining. it doesn’t matter, they enjoy it fully. A very easy coat that you should occasionally brush for what they love. they are going to be completely there. Washing is unnecessary unless they are completely covered (poop, for example).

  7. dave nicol says:

    any relation to these guys? Scottish Wildcats

  8. Isa Kocher says:

    ***The Norwegian forest cats have also been registered … in 1970 . nonstandard english. 1970 is the past not the present

    The Norwegian forest cats were registered … in 1970. in the past

  9. Isa Kocher says:

    norwegian cats have been registered since 1970 — in the present

  10. KATHY MARITH says:

    I have an Amber Norwegian Forest cat. He went blind at age 2 from macular degeneration. He was found in a tree and rescued so I do not know his breeder but definitely is a Norwegian. He is not big like the coon cats but has the furry feet and distinctive hair above the ears and a certain look about his face. When in the sun he has an exotic glow, He taught us to play fetch when he could see, so he is very smart. I know some other amber cats like the Abyssinian also have blindness issues. Despite being blind he has never missed the litter box and knows his way around the house so that no one would know except he will not chase or run away as a normal cat would do and he used to do. anyone else notice this issue in these cats?

  11. Shawn Fremgen says:

    I grew up in MN and we had a couple cats & they both went out as they wished in the winter. It would sometimes get down to -70 and usually they’d come back & want to come inside but not always. We had regular black & white house cats and they would grow thicker winter coats and shed them in the spring so maybe that helped?

  12. Julie says:

    But, can we talk about the killer instinct of cats. Domestic cats even the ones that supposedly are Viking Heritage cats, still kill birds. Let’s be real. Throughout the world there are now 3 billion less birds in North America than their were 30+ years ago. Imagine what the numbers are in the rest of the world. I love cats, but the only cats that should be in the forest are wild cats, like Bobcats, mountain lions, lynx, etc. It’s healthier for the cats (disease, predators, freezing to death, car accidents, etc., etc.

    • Ann says:

      I think this is mainly due to habitat loss. The article does not say how much damage house cats do, but house cats I believe even if they become feral, will not go far from human habitation. Also climate change will make big changes.

  13. Norwegian says:

    I got a couple of norwegian forrest cats, and they don’t look like that. I live in norway.
    Some cats can survive the whole winter outside, but they need help in the food apartment. Not easy catching mice or birds in the winter season.

  14. Susan Kelly says:


  15. Andrea Burgess says:

    I adopted a Norwegian Forest Car from the Friday Black Market in Kuwait. I knew nothing about him & now have to come he is a NFC. He is amazing. One thing he’s notorious for is climbing in every single container he can find. Large pots, small bowls, cups, boxes of course, cup cake tins, small pots, baskets, even if he is too large to make one nest, he will make it work somehow. Anyone else have a fur baby that LOVES compartments, etc. He is constantly finding a new place to snuggle in.

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