The Turkish Van is an intelligent, high-energy breed that likes to run, play, and—believe it or not—swim. Devoted and affectionate, these felines have a quiet voice and sound more like sheep than cats.
Turkish Van History
The Turkish Van originated in a mountainous region of Eastern Turkey in the Middle Ages. The breed got its name—and likely its swimming skills, too—from nearby Lake Van. Vans have a unique coat texture that makes their fur water-resistant, allowing them to happily splash around in the water. In fact, locals dubbed them the "swimming cats."
In 1955, two British women traveling in Turkey discovered the Van's love of water after someone gifted them a male and female pair. One hot day, they stopped at a stream for a swim and were surprised to see the two cats join them. They decided to bring the cats home to England, where they began promoting the rare breed.
The first Van arrived in the United States in 1982—when a couple traded their award-winning Balinese to a French breeder for a Turkish Van. But the breed remains extremely rare, with few cats available for export from their native land.
Turkish Van Traits
Turkish Vans are large, agile cats with a sturdy build. Their well-developed chests and substantial legs give them a strong, powerful overall appearance.
Coat and Coloring
Vans have semi-long hair with a cashmere-like texture. The length varies by season, with a shorter coat in the summer and a longer, thicker coat in the winter. These cats also have feathering on their ears, legs, feet, and belly and a ruff of fur around their necks.
The Van's coat is either solid white or van-patterned (a term used to describe white cats with colored heads and tail markings). The most common color for their markings is auburn. But they can be any traditional color.
Distinctive Physical Traits
Turkish Vans have broad, wedge-shaped heads, prominent cheekbones, and rounded muzzles. Their moderately large ears sit high and slightly rounded at the tip. Acceptable eye colors include blue, amber, or odd-eyed (one of each color). Vans often hold their long, plumed tails erect and wave them when they run.
Turkish Van Temperament
If the Turkish Van had a motto, it would be: why walk when you can run? These high-energy cats are always on the go. Favorite activities include jumping, climbing, racing around the room, and fetching toys. They also genuinely love water. Though other cat breeds know how to swim, they typically do so only when necessary (a literal "sink or swim" situation). Turkish Vans are the only cat breed known to swim simply because they want to.
Loyal cats that want to be with their humans, Vans often follow people around and rub up against their legs as a sign of affection. But they don't usually like to be picked up or cuddled for long periods. That said, they will sometimes curl up in a lap—but only when it's their idea.
Vans tend to get along well with dogs and older kids. Because they play a bit rough, these cats do best in homes without small children.
Turkish Van Care
Turkish Vans are high-energy cats that require a quality diet to meet their nutritional needs. Because those needs vary for kittens, adults, and senior cats, opt for a formula that's age-appropriate for your pet.
Even though Vans are active, they are still at risk for obesity if they overeat. To keep your cat at a healthy weight, measure out meals and reduce portions if necessary. And don't forget to account for calories from treats in their daily totals. As a guideline, treats should make up no more than 10% of a cat's calories.
Finally, all cats need access to fresh, clean water around the clock.
The Turkish Van's coat isn't prone to mats or tangles. Still, they require regular brushing to remove loose fur and help prevent hairballs.
Most cats' nails require monthly trimming to prevent them from getting too long. Long nails are more likely to snag on something and become torn or damaged. They can even grow into your cat's paw pads, leading to pain or infection. In addition to clipping, providing a scratching post will allow your cat to do some nail maintenance themselves (thanks to their instinct to scratch).
Good dental hygiene is also essential to a Van's overall health. An ideal dental routine includes daily at-home teeth brushing combined with visits to the veterinarian for professional dental cleanings and exams.
Roughly one out of every three cats in the United States is overweight or obese. And those extra pounds can contribute to other health risks—such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart problems. Your veterinarian is the best resource for tips on managing your cat's weight.
Reviewed February 23, 2021 by Laura Inman, DVM