Norwegian Forest Cat: Breed Profile, Characteristics & Care

Appearance, Personality, History, Care, & Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A Norwegian Forest Cat perching in a tree outdoors

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The Norwegian forest cat is an ancient breed that developed naturally without human assistance for hundreds of years in the forests of Norway. Called the skogkatt (Norwegian for “forest cat”) in its native country, the Norwegian forest cat is sometimes given the nickname "wegie" in the United States. This large, wild-looking cat has a dense, long coat and furry ears with lynx tips (tufts of hair growing on the tips of the ears). It will form strong bonds with its human family but usually prefers to occupy its own space rather than anyone's lap.

Breed Overview

Other Names: Wegie, skogkatt

Personality: Friendly and interactive but independent and adventurous

Weight: Up to 18 pounds

Length: Up to 36 inches, nose to tail

Coat Length: Long hair with a dense undercoat

Coat Colors: Almost any color or pattern with or without white markings; disqualifying colors are chocolate, lavender/lilac, or the Himalayan pattern

Coat Patterns: Most patterns except colorpoint; tabby is common

Eye Color: Shades of green, gold, green-gold, copper, or blue (in white or partially white cats)

Lifespan: Up to 16 years

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: Norway

Norwegian Forest Cat
The Norwegian Forest Cat's thick double coat provides warm insulation against cold weather.

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Norwegian Forest Cat Characteristics

Independent but affectionate, the Norwegian forest cat is not going to sleep on your lap all night, but it may hop up for a brief cuddle now and then. That isn’t to say the Norwegian forest cat has a standoffish personality—far from it. Norwegian forest cats are very attached to their humans and want to be involved in all aspects of family life. They just would rather be nearby rather than right on you.

Norwegian forest cats are curious, playful, and even-tempered, making them great companions for families with children. They are mellow enough to get along with respectful dogs and generally live happily with other cats, too.

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Vocalize Low
Amount of Shedding Medium
Norwegian Forest Cat
Female Norwegian Forest Cats are usually somewhat smaller than males.

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Norwegian Forest Cat orange kitten
Norwegian Forest Cat kittens are curious and bold.

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Norwegian Forest Cat
At 6 weeks old, Norwegian Forest Cat kittens begin to play and explore.

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Norwegian Forest Cat orange kittens
Norwegian Forest Cat kittens learn manners and appropriate behavior from their littermate and mother.

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History of the Norwegian Forest Cat

The Norwegian forest cat lineage is thought to date back to the time of the Vikings. Images and written descriptions of cats resembling the Norwegian forest cat exist from early as the 16th century. The breed even plays a major role in a Norwegian fairy tale about the Norse goddess Freya, who used two huge forest cats to pull her chariot.

By the turn of the 20th century, however, the breed was nearly lost due to indiscriminate cross-breeding with other types of cats. People took notice, recognizing that the breed was a national treasure. In 1938, Norway’s King Olav V deemed the Norwegian forest cat the national cat breed of Norway. It took many decades, but breed fanciers in Norway eventually managed to save the breed and bolster its numbers through careful breeding programs. 

The first Norwegian forest cats were imported into the United States in 1979. The Norwegian forest cat was accepted for championship status by The International Cat Association in 1984. The Cat Fanciers Association accepted the Norwegian forest cat for full championship status in 1993. 

Norwegian Forest Cat Care

The dense coat of the Norwegian forest cat requires a thorough weekly brushing to keep tangles and mats at bay. Once a year in the spring, the Norwegian forest cat sheds most of its undercoat for the summer season when extra insulation is not needed. Shedding can be heavy during this seasonal transition, so brush more frequently. At all other times of the year, the Norwegian forest cat sheds moderately.

In addition to brushing, bathe your Norwegian Forest Cat every few months, keep the nails trimmed short and check the ears weekly, cleaning if necessary.

Norwegian forest cats are slow to mature, achieving full growth around five years of age. They are lively and playful well into adulthood, but they are not obsessively active. Norwegian forest cats appreciate fun toys and are usually up for a play session—on their terms. Consider providing a cat tree or tower for climbing, perching, and scratching. Your cat will particularly appreciate its tree being situated near a window where it can contentedly watch squirrels and birds outside. 

Common Health Problems

Any cat can develop health issues during its lifetime, but some pedigreed cats have known congenital issues that can be passed on to kittens. The Norwegian forest cat is prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, hip dysplasia, and glycogen storage disease type IV.

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disease that causes the thickening of the heart walls. HCM is the most common form of heart disease in cats.
  • Hip dysplasia (looseness of the hip joint) is less common in cats than in dogs, but it can affect some larger, heavier breeds like the Norwegian forest cat.
  • Glycogen storage disease type IV (GSD IV) is caused by a defective enzyme and leads to organ dysfunction, muscle atrophy, and death.

Reputable breeders monitor their adult cats’ health and avoid breeding cats with potential health concerns. A genetic test is available for GSD IV to screen for cats that are carriers. Most good breeders also usually offer a health guarantee.

Appearance

The Norwegian forest cat looks as if it would be at home in the wilds of the forest. It is large yet well-balanced and solidly muscled with substantial bone structure. It has a broad chest and considerable girth, but the cat should never appear fat.

The back legs are somewhat longer than the front legs, so the Norwegian forest cat’s rump is slightly higher than its shoulders. The breed’s medium to large ears are wide at the base and rounded at the tips and heavily furred. Lynx tips (tufts at the tips of the ears) are a highly desirable characteristic of the breed.  

The Norwegian forest cat has a specialized double coat to keep the cat warm during the harsh winters in Scandinavia. The longer, coarse, water-resistant outer coat forms a ruff at the chest, a collar at the neck, britches on the rear legs, a bushy tail, and heavy tufting between the toes. A short, dense undercoat provides warm insulation from the cold. 

The cat's coat comes in a rainbow of colors, shades, and patterns, including solid, bi-color, tabby, tortoiseshell, calico, cameo, and smoke. The only colors that are disallowed by the breed standard are those that indicate hybridization—chocolate, sable, lavender, lilac, cinnamon, fawn, or Himalayan-type markings, or any of these colors with white.

Diet and Nutrition

Norwegian forest cats are sturdily built but should never become fat. Keeping your Norwegian forest cat lean is the best way to prevent weight-related health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, and hip dysplasia, which can be compounded by excess weight.

Feed your Norwegian forest cat measured amounts of food at least twice a day. Don’t leave food out all day; free-fed cats tend to snack more than necessary, which can lead to excess weight gain. Ask your veterinarian or breeder for advice about healthy food for your Norwegian forest cat.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Norwegian Forest Cat

Both the Cat Fanciers Association and The International Cat Association publish lists of active Norwegian forest cat breeders on their respective websites. A great way to meet breeders and view cats of many different breeds is by checking out a local cat show.

A Norwegian forest cat might end up in an animal shelter or with a cat private rescue group. Pedigreed cats in need of re-homing are often placed into new adoptive homes by caring breeders. 

Norwegian Forest Cat Overview

These big, beautiful cats are the perfect pets for families that love companionship but don't need constant physical contact with their cats. Norwegian forest cats are eager to be close and interact by playing or just observing, but they prefer not to be picked up all the time. Their dense coats require more care than shorter-haired breeds, and they are prone to certain health conditions, but these cats are well worth the effort.

Pros
  • Friendly with people and pets 

  • Can tolerate cold temperatures

  • Laid-back and adaptable personality

Cons
  • Not a lap cat

  • Coat needs brushing at least weekly

  • Doesn’t like being left alone for long

More Cat Breeds and Further Research

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

Otherwise, check out all of our other cat breed profiles

FAQ
  • How big do Norwegian forest cats get?

    Full-grown male Norwegian forest cats grow to be about 16 pounds; females usually weigh closer to 12 pounds.

  • How much do Norwegian forest cats cost?

    Price varies depending on availability and location, but expect to pay from $600 and $1,200 for your Norwegian forest kitten.

  • When do Norwegian forest cats stop growing?

    Norwegian forest cats don't reach their full size till they're nearly five years old.

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