What to Know About a Norwegian Forest Cat

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on July 25, 2022
7 min read

The Norwegian Forest cat is a large, long-haired cat breed native to Norway and other parts of Northern Europe. They have distinct, triangular-shaped heads and almond-shaped eyes that separate them from other longhair breeds. Despite their strength and size, Norwegian Forest cats are mild-mannered and enjoy playing with people. 

Historically, Norwegian Forest cats traveled with Vikings and worked as mousers on ships. Since then, the Norwegian Forest cat has developed into a great pet for families who are looking for a playful, sociable companion.

Before adding a Norwegian Forest cat to your family, it’s important to know more about their physical characteristics and personalities. If you’re interested in having a large, intelligent, and playful cat, then the Norwegian Forest cat may be a good choice for you.

Physical characteristics 

At full maturity, a male Norwegian Forest cat size can weigh between 12 and 16 pounds. Female Norwegian cat sizes are typically smaller at 9 to 12 pounds. This breed takes longer to mature than others, usually reaching maturity at 5 years old. At this age, you can expect a sturdy, well-muscled cat that is great at hunting and loves to climb.

Norwegian Forest cats’ coats come in a variety of colors and patterns. They're available in almost all colors and patterns, except colorpoint colors, which is where certain points of the cat — such as their legs, face, and tail — are darker than other parts of their body. Instead, you’re more likely to see Norwegian Forest cats in tabby brown or white varieties. 

Norwegian Forest cats have coarse, semi-long, waterproof coats and long, bushy tails. They have coarse double coats for extra insulation. Norwegian Forest cats’ dense undercoats originally helped them stay warm during harsh Scandinavian winters. Their coat becomes shorter and cooler after shedding during summer.

You may think Norwegian Forest cats have a rugged appearance due to their full ruff, fluffy britches, and tufted paws. But, from the side, the Norwegian Forest cat has a sleek appearance. A distinct Norwegian Forest cat characteristic is their straight profile, which slopes down at an angle from their brow bone to the tip of their nose. This characteristic is what gives Norwegian Forest cat heads their triangular appearance. 

Other distinct physical characteristics of Norwegian Forest cats include large, forward-arched ears and big, almond-shaped eyes.

If properly cared for, Norwegian Forest cat lifespans can reach 16 years.

Norwegian Forest cat personality

Norwegian Forest cats are a sociable, playful breed that enjoys playing games. They're intelligent and adapt easily to change, including different environments.

Norwegian Forest cats enjoy the company of their owners and other pets, but they may go to their own space once they’ve had enough socializing. Norwegian Forest cats are not a particularly cuddly breed. Instead, they prefer spending time with you by sitting somewhere close by.

The Norwegian Forest cat is a low-maintenance breed. Although they have long hair, their coats require little grooming. But you should increase the number of weekly combing sessions during the spring. This will help your Norwegian Forest cat with shedding.

Norwegian Forest cats typically don’t have any special dietary requirements. As with most cats, you can usually leave some  healthy food and water out for them to access throughout the day.

You should brush your Norwegian Forest cat’s teeth to make sure their teeth stay healthy. For this, you should use a vet-recommended toothpaste.

If your Norwegian Forest cat is an indoor cat, you can  trim their nails. But you should always refrain from declawing your cat. This is especially important if your cat is allowed outdoors, as they will need their claws for climbing, hunting, and protection.

Norwegian Forest cats are a moderately active breed. As with most cats, Norwegian Forest cats usually have short energetic bursts followed by longer periods of sleep. If you choose to keep your Norwegian Forest cat indoors only, make sure to provide stimulating activities for them to do. This can be as simple as providing a tall cat tree for them to climb, or a scratching post. Other necessities for indoor cats include litter trays, windows to look out of, engaging toys, and resting areas.

To keep your Norwegian Forest cat healthy both indoors and outdoors, you should regularly take them to the vet. Before treating your cat at home for ticks or fleas, you should talk to your vet first. This is because cats are sensitive to a lot of chemicals, and tick prevention products may irritate them.

Remember to keep up-to-date with vaccinations and deworming, even if your cat is an indoors-only pet. Vaccinations are important for all cats as they can help prevent health issues, such as rabies and feline immunodeficiency virus. 

The Norwegian Forest cat is a breed that originally evolved through natural selection over hundreds of years. Because of this, it has developed into a healthy, sturdy breed that has few health problems. But there are still some Norwegian Forest cat health issues that are important to look out for.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Norwegian Forest cats’ health issues can include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is the most commonly diagnosed heart disease in cats. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is when the muscle walls in the heart thicken. This eventually leads to heart failure or other complications and can be fatal. 

As hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is more common in some breeds than others, genetics are likely to determine whether or not your cat will be predisposed to this health issue.

Many cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy show no symptoms. But some may show symptoms such as heavy or rapid breathing, open-mouthed breathing, and tiredness. These symptoms usually occur once hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has progressed to congestive heart failure. 

To properly detect hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, veterinary professionals must use specialized equipment. There are also genetic tests available to see if your Norwegian Forest cat carries the mutation that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. But some cats may never develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy even when the mutation is present.

There is currently no cure for this condition. But vets can create care plans to help care for your cat and prevent worsening symptoms, such as blood clots. Vets usually use oral medication to treat this health issue or, in severe cases, will euthanize the cat. Some cats continue to live for years on medication, whereas others may suddenly pass away.

The only way to prevent this health issue from possibly appearing in Norwegian Forest cats is to genetically screen for the mutation before breeding.

Pyruvate kinase deficiency 

Studies suggest that Norwegian Forest cat health issues can also include pyruvate kinase deficiency. This is an inherited disease that causes anemia by reducing the number of red blood cells in a cat.

Cats rarely show signs of pyruvate kinase deficiency as the condition is usually mild or happens very slowly. Symptoms of pyruvate kinase, if they do show, can include tiredness and a poor appetite. Most cats with pyruvate kinase deficiency usually develop the condition when they're around 3 years old.

There's no curative treatment for pyruvate kinase deficiency. But cats with a mild case of pyruvate kinase deficiency can live full lives. Cats with more severe cases, however, may not live as long.

Glycogen storage disease type IV

Norwegian Forest cat health issues may also include glycogen storage disease type IV. This is an inherited health condition that causes glucose metabolism abnormalities in cats. Glycogen storage disease type IV affects a cat’s ability to produce energy and eventually results in death.

Symptoms include:

  • Severe weakness
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Muscle contraction
  • Inability to use their limbs

This usually affects cats from the moment of birth, resulting in a stillborn, or from the age of about 5 months. Cats with this health condition rarely live to full maturity.

Although there is no treatment for glycogen storage disease type IV, genetic screening can test for the mutation before breeding. This can help prevent the condition from being passed down to other cats.

The Norwegian Forest cat has no special considerations. They are an adaptable breed and can live happily with families that have children or other pets. But you should always take care when introducing a new pet to babies or young children.

You should also keep in mind that the Norwegian Forest cat isn’t hypoallergenic.

The Norwegian Forest cat is an old breed native to Norway that has made appearances throughout Viking legends and mythology. Its origins are likely the product of natural selection over time.

Many specific details are unknown about the Norwegian Forest cat’s history, but Vikings probably used this breed to catch mice on their ships. These Vikings likely took the Norwegian Forest cats over to North America during the late 900s. But the North American Cat Fancier’s Association didn’t fully recognize this breed until 1993.

Norwegian Forest cats experienced earlier recognition back in their homeland. They became a registered breed with the European Fédération Internationale Féline during the 1970s, after the Norwegian Forest Cat Club started extensive breeding programs. The programs aimed to increase the Norwegian Forest cat population as the breed almost went instinct during World War II.

Their efforts were successful, and the Norwegian Forest Cat remains a popular breed and the official cat of Norway today.