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Get to Know the Siberian: The Folk Cat of the Great Frozen North

Born on the steppes, this loving, athletic breed is designed to survive nature's harshest conditions.

JaneA Kelley  |  Nov 6th 2014


You could certainly be forgiven for mistaking a Siberian cat for a Norwegian Forest Cat or Maine Coon, because at first glance the three breeds look very similar. But this gentle giant has its own unique heritage.

Origins

Records of the Siberian’s existence date back more than 1,000 years. Like all natural breeds, Siberians’ main role in their relationship with people was to catch rodents (and probably to keep Russian people warm on frigid tundra nights). In 1870, Siberians began appearing at cat shows and people outside of Russia discovered the breed. As the Cold War eased in the 1980s, the Russian cat fancy grew and breeders began showing and keeping records of their Siberians’ parentage. The International Cat Association accepted the Siberian for championship in 1996, and the Cat Fanciers’ Association allowed the breed championship status in 2006.

Appearance

The Siberian is a big, rugged cat, with full-grown males weighing between 15 and 20 pounds and females between ten and 15 pounds. They have a dense, water-repellent triple coat, which gets thicker in the winter and comes in every color pattern known to felines, including pointed colors. Their eyes range from gold to green in color, although some pointed-color Siberians have blue eyes.

Health and longevity

Although Siberians are generally very healthy cats, they do have a higher than average risk of developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. One other concern is the potential for leg fractures. "The young males are somewhat prone to getting fractures up around the neck of the femur," says Leslie Brown-Padilla, who shares her Seattle, Washington, home with two Siberians. "My understanding is that it’s caused by the loss of testosterone from early neutering (before six months of age). The bones don’t harden quickly enough to support the weight of these large cats." She encourages Siberian owners to consult with their veterinarian about an appropriate neutering schedule.

What it’s like to live with a Siberian

Siberians are outgoing, friendly cats, sometimes even described as dog-like in their loyalty and eagerness to please their people. Brown-Padilla has lived with cats most of her life and says that her Siberians are the smartest and most affectionate ones she’s ever met. "They’re very attached to my husband and me. My girl kitty will nestle in my arms like a baby. Both of them have loud purrs and adore having their bellies petted and kissed. They also love playing fetch."

Siberians are definitely not couch potatoes. "They are very active cats who enjoy climbing to the top of their cat tree and above our kitchen cabinets," says Brown-Padilla. But when they get bored, they can get up to some serious shenanigans. "Our biggest challenge is giving our Siberians enough exercise and space to run, since we live in a small condo. I would highly recommend devising a safe enclosed outdoor space for your Siberian," she says.

As longhaired cats go, Siberians are pretty low-maintenance. However, they do require brushing several times a week and would probably appreciate a lion shave during hot summer months.

"If you choose one of these beautiful, inquisitive cats, you are in for a lifetime of motorboat purrs and love," says Brown-Padilla.

Siberian trivia bits

  • The Siberian can take up to five years to reach full maturity.
  • Siberians produce a lower level of the saliva protein Fel d 1, which makes them a good candidate for people who love cats but are allergic to them. "I initially chose Siberian cats because they are relatively hypoallergenic and my husband is allergic to cats," says Brown-Padilla.
  • The Russian folk tale "The Cat and the Fox" features a Siberian cat named Kotofey Ivanovich.

Do you have a Siberian cat in your home? What is the cat like to live with? Please share your thoughts and photos of your Siberian in the comments.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.