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Turkish Van Cat

By Jocelyne Ndianabo

July 12th, 2019

My plush coat feels like cashmere, but I’m not a goat. 

I like to swim but I’m not a seal. What am I? 

I am the Turkish Van cat!

The Van takes his name from Lake Van, located in the mountains of Turkey’s Eastern Anatolian region, where he was first known.

He probably existed there for centuries, protected by his isolation from the rest of the world. Turkish Van cats are considered to be a regional treasure in the Lake Van region in Turkey. Van is a city located Eastern Turkey province and more precisely on the eastern shore of Lake Van. It has always had a mainly urban vibe and lifestyle. It is filled with rich historical background and is home to a few major historical sites such as the Holy Cross Church or the Citadel of Van (Turkish: Akdamar Kilisesi or Surp Haç Kilisesi) it is the largest existing stone fortress made out of basalt, for the foundation and mud-bricks for the main areas. Though Turkey is renowned for its kebap or other traditional local foods to be representative of their cuisine, the region of Van is famous for their breakfast culture and its uniqueness. 


Akdamar Island in Van Lake, Cathedral Church of Holy Cross, Turkey


Turkish Van Cat with both gold and blue eyes

The Van was first discovered in the mid-1950s by Laura Lushington and her lifelong friend Sonia Halliday.

In 1955, Laura and her friend embarked on a trip across Europe, through Turkey to Cyprus and during this trip, they were given two kittens for companionship. Although these two kittens were from 2 different locations, Laura soon noticed that both kittens shared an unusual characteristic which was that they enjoyed swimming. When Laura and her friend would go to ponds or streams, the cats would follow them into the water and bathe with them.  Once they took them to England, breeders took a huge interest in breeding them with other species. Though at the time, it turned out the Van cat is a very rare species to find even in Turkey where the van is considered to be a national treasure. The Van did not make it to the United States until 1982 even though it was recognized by the Cat Assocation in 1979.

What are the physical characteristics of the Turkish Van cat?


The Van cat has a semi-long haired white coat with colored marking on the head and the tail. These are known as Van pattern. Fun fact! This pattern is justified by carrying a piebald gene, which is the same gene that causes the white color on cats with a tuxedo (black with a white belly) or bi color patterns. The Van cat has a large amount of white on their body. The Van cat’s body is very large, sturdy and muscular and it’s framed like a Pitbull which makes it easier for them to swim. Their fur feels soft and cashmere-like with a full bushy tail. The head is wide shaped and moderately wedged shaped. They usually have peach pit blue or gold eyes and sometimes they have both blue and gold eyes. 


Did You Know? 

Many Turkish Vans have a small mark between their shoulder blades called "the thumbprint of God." It's thought to be good luck. Yet another interesting characteristic about the Turkish Van cat.

What about the personality traits of the Turkish Van cat?


The Van has some observed aggressive tendencies due to them being excellent hunters. Though, the breed today has shown some very social and friendly disposition towards people and especially their owners. They tend to develop a very strong bond with their owners and are very protective. They are also very friendly animals as they get along with other cats and dogs. Though they are very friendly animals, they do not like to be held or cuddled for long periods of time because they remain very independent due to their hunter-like genes. They get along with children in general but with small children, this might get tricky because they may be tempted to pull on their bushy tail and the Van does not like that. 


Turkish Van Cat with with "Thumbprint of God"

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