Related (but from a different part of Turkey) to the more famous Turkish Angora, the Turkish Van is said to strongly resemble a breed that is native to a wide swath of Central Asia, covering parts of the former Soviet Union, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. The name Van is quite common in that part of the country, giving its name even to a lake, so it is not a surprise that a cat endemic to this part of the world is so named. Descriptions of a cat resembling the Turkish Van have been found even in antiquity, showing that the Turkish Van has been around for many centuries.
However, when it was first imported into Britain in 1955, the Turkish Van breed was known as plain Turkish. It was with the introduction of the Turkish Angora breed some years later that the Turkish Van breed acquired its present name. What sets apart a Turkish Van is its color pattern: white everywhere but in its head and tail. It is considered by many to possess the piebald gene, thus leading to this unique coloration. Its coat is single layered, and also waterproof, and in its native country has gained a reputation for being a “swimming cat.”
Turkish Van cats are quite large, with males weighing up to 20 pounds and females weighing up to 10 pounds. They are very good jumpers because of their paw and muscle structure. Turkish Van kittens mature into adults for a much longer time than other cats, the process taking between three to five years.
Playful and easy learners, Turkish Van cats are so fascinated with water that, far from the lakes and rivers of Central Asia, they do manage to find themselves playing with water sources in most homes, such as sinks, toilets, and tubs. They are very active creatures, fond of running, so it is wise to give these cats room to go around, preferably an open space free from obstacles. They can fetch things easily, and one owner reports that a Turkish Van carried a stuffed toy larger than the cat itself! Unlike the Turkish Ankara, Turkish Van cats do not have a predisposition to deafness correlated to their eye color.
The Turkish authorities have also bred the Turkish Van in the same Ankara program as that being undertaken for the Turkish Ankara. However, the first Ankara Van cats exported to England were found not in a zoo but in their natural environment. The two Ankara Van kittens found by tourists Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were, of course, caught swimming. As the two were part of a tour organized by the Turkish Republic’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Pat Turner wrote in the Cat World magazine that this is “one of the few cat breeds in the world that came about as a result of a Ministry of Culture and Tourism.”
Incidentally, “van” refers to such a general characteristic of coloration in only the head and tail that is also found in some common household cats. One adjective sometimes used to describe domestic cats with this trait is “vanalike.”
Own an Turkish Van kitten? See our list of Turkish Van cat names.