Origin and History
An ancient breed, the Turkish Van is thought to have origins in the Lake Van region in southeastern Turkey. This cold, rough mountain region likely caused the breed to naturally develop its large muscular body and thick waterproof coat.
The Turkish Van remained unknown to the west until 1955. The Turkish government asked two British photographers, Sonia Halliday and Laura Lushington, to come photograph Turkey and promote tourism. The women were gifted two Turkish Van kittens that accompanied them on their travels throughout the country.
Captivated by the kittens’ appearance, personality and love of swimming, Halliday and Lushington brought them back to England when their assignment was completed. When the kittens matured, they were bred to each other. The resulting kittens looked just like their parents, indicating very stable genetics.
Lushington in particular took an interest in developing the breed. For 14 years she worked to standardize and popularize it enough to be recognized by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF). Finally the breed was accepted in 1969. The GCCF originally called it the “Turkish cat” but changed the name to “Turkish Van” in 1979 to avoid confusion with the Turkish Angora.
The breed did not reach the United States until 1982. The Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) awarded it championship status in 1994. Today the Turkish Van is recognized by all major western cat registries.
An uncommon but extremely sought-after breed, every registered Turkish Van can have its origins traced back to Laura Lushington’s original cats. The CFA reports fewer than 100 new Turkish Van registrations per year, making it one of the rarest breeds.
Coat, Colors & Appearance
Though at first glance the Turkish Van appears to be a white cat with colored patches, the reverse is actually true. The Turkish Van’s head and tail color is its main color, but most of the body is covered in a large white patch.
This striking coloration is known as “van patterning” and is the result of the piebald white spotting gene. Though other breeds can sometimes show van patterning, it is the trademark feature of the Turkish Van.
All standard-conforming Turkish Vans have a white body with a colored head and tail. Small colored patches are permitted elsewhere as long as they are sized and shaped so as not to distract from the overall appearance of the cat. Symmetrical head patterns are most desirable.
Acceptable colors vary by organization but typically include blue, black, cream and red solid varieties. Tabby varieties include brown, red, blue and cream. Tortie and tortie-tabby colors may also occur. Though some registries recognize all-white Turkish Vans without head or tail color, the CFA and the Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) do not.
The Turkish Van’s fur is often compared to cashmere. Soft and smooth, the coat is single-layered and water-repellent. It lies close to the body, giving a sleek appearance. The plumed tail is long and fluffy.
In terms of size, the Turkish Van is one of the largest breeds. The long, muscular body is top-heavy with long back legs and large paws, causing the cat’s center of gravity to shift forward and making it a highly adept jumper and climber. The head is a broad wedge with prominent cheekbones and large feathered ears.
The eyes of the Turkish Van are large, round and expressive. They can be blue, amber or heterochromic/odd-colored (each eye is a different color). Though blue eyes, white fur and deafness are linked in cats, blue-eyed Turkish Vans are not predisposed to deafness. This is owed to the fact that their white fur is actually a piebald patch, not a true allover body color.
The Turkish Van’s nose is normally pink, but owners report that it turns red when the cat is upset or not feeling social. This can be helpful to gauge the mood of the cat.
Due to high muscle density and long length (sometimes reaching 3 feet from head to tip of tail), the Turkish Van can be quite a hefty cat. Females weigh between 7 and 12 pounds, while males average 14 to 18 pounds. However, it is not unheard of for a male Turkish Van to tip the scales at 20 pounds or more!
Not one to be content with sitting on your lap all day, the Turkish Van shows high levels of energy and athleticism. Playtime with a Turkish Van is likely to tire you out before the cat is even halfway done! Many owners report that their cats love playing fetch and will bring their favorite toys to their owners whenever they feel like playing.
One of the Turkish Van’s most fascinating traits is its love of water. Your Turkish Van will probably try to join you in the shower, or at least roll around in it after you’re done. She may be fixated on faucets, toilets and water bowls. She may even teach herself to turn on your sinks so she can play in the stream of water! Thankfully, the Turkish Van’s water-repelling coat allows her to dry off easily should she decide to splash around.
We don’t generally think of cats as clumsy but the Turkish Van proves that not all cats are masters of agility. Don’t be surprised if your Turkish Van seems like he has four left feet! His big paws and expressive tail should be kept away from anything fragile lest he accidentally knock it to the ground.
Though they have a strong independent streak, Turkish Vans show an undeniable loyalty to their owners. Your Turkish Van won’t want to be picked up or cuddle with you all the time, but she’ll sleep next to you at night and enjoy pettings, as long as they’re on her terms.
Turkish Vans tend to get along best with other members of their breed. They can warm up to other cats with time and proper socialization but may be standoffish at first. Cat-friendly dogs can coexist with the Turkish Van so long as they do not try to show dominance over the cat.
Children and Turkish Vans often end up being best friends. With equally high energy levels, they play for hours and tire each other out. Children need to be instructed to respect the cat’s strict boundaries, especially since the Turkish Van is so large and powerful.
Grooming and Care
The Turkish Van’s love of water doesn’t make him any easier to bathe. He hates being restrained and his water-resistant coat can make him difficult to lather up. Thankfully, the coat is also quite dirt-resistant, so bathing should be a rare occurrence.
The Turkish Van sheds mainly in spring and fall, with very little shedding in between. Weekly brushing should be sufficient to keep the coat healthy. Older cats may require more frequent brushing if they have difficulty reaching all the necessary areas.
Teeth should be brushed at least once a week to prevent painful gum disease. Ears should also be cleaned once a week with a damp cotton ball.
The Turkish Van’s health is generally very good compared to other purebred cats. They do not typically have any breed-specific health problems, with two exceptions.
Sacrocaudal dysgenesis is known to affect Turkish Van kittens. This is a malformation of the lower spine, near the tail. This condition develops in utero and there is no treatment or cure. Turkish Vans with this condition may have problems with gait and incontinence, though they can still live fulfilling, happy lives.
Heart disease is also reported in a higher-than-average percentage of Turkish Vans, though no genetic link between the breed and heart disease has been discovered. All Turkish Vans should receive yearly vet checkups that include heart health to ensure that any disease is caught early.
Purebred Turkish Vans may have different blood types than most cats. It is recommended to get your Turkish Van’s blood tested so the blood type can be recorded and readily available in the event of an emergency.
What Makes the Turkish Van Different?
Though visually striking, the Turkish Van’s uniqueness isn’t limited to its looks. It is as skilled at swimming as it is at hunting. Its intelligence makes it highly adept at learning tricks – or even teaching itself! With a long lifespan and a taste for adventure, this is a great breed for those who appreciate a cat with an independent nature.
Buying a Turkish Van
Turkish Vans are a rare breed. There are very few breeders out there; this list of breeders shows five Turkish Van catteries in the United States. Because availability is so limited, there may be long wait lists for these cats. Prices vary but generally start at around $600 for a Turkish Van kitten.
Adopting a Turkish Van
If you’re in love with the Turkish Van breed but would rather adopt than buy, a good place to start is the RescueMe Turkish Van page. This page shows adoptable Turkish Vans across the United States. Finding a true Turkish Van in a typical shelter is highly unlikely due to the rarity of the breed.