Turkish Van Cat.
Turkish Van Cat. Photography © Jupiterimages | PHOTOS.com>> / Getty Images Plus.

Let’s Talk Turkish Van Cats and the Van Cat Pattern

Let’s talk Turkish Van cats and the van cat pattern — are all cats with the van pattern Turkish Van cats? Not necessarily.

Ah, van cats — they look incredibly familiar but are actually relatively rare. A cat sporting the van pattern coat possesses a pigmented tail and head with an otherwise snowy white coat. Sometimes, colored patches can be found on their bodies. The Turkish Van breed is associated with these markings. This breed boasts ancient roots, originating from cats found in the Lake Van area of Turkey. There are a lot of surprises about van cats and this striking coat!

Van cats and the van pattern

Turkish Van Cat.
Turkish Van cats have pigmentation only on their heads and tails. Photography © junial | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Cat enthusiasts are familiar with the term “van pattern.” Again, this refers to a bicolor cat with a white coat and coloration on the head and tail and sometimes some color patches on the body.

There are many breeds of cats that have bicolor coats, the most popular among them are:

  1. British, Domestic and Exotic Shorthair
  2. Cornish Rex
  3. Maine Coon
  4. Manx
  5. Persian

While all van cats are bicolor, not all bicolor cats are van cats with the van pattern. The amount of white on a piebald (a bicolor with one of the colors being white) cat is measured by a scale. When less than 40% of the body is white, it’s considered low-grade. Between 40 – 60% of the body being white is considered medium-grade. More than 60% of the body being white is high-grade. Well above high-grade is the Turkish Van cat’s calling card.

Sometimes nature does produce the van pattern within a litter of ordinary house cats or community cats. However, true Turkish Vans, from which the term was coined, are not randomly reproducing under your neighbor’s porch. Read on… 

Turkish Van cats: Old but relatively new!

Turkish Vans are somewhat new to the United States. It is believed that they arrived in 1982, but the breed’s history is lengthy and varied. The Turkish Van arrived in England in 1955 with a British photographer, Laura Lushington, who journeyed throughout the Lake Van area capturing the scenery.

More important than the images, Lushington brought back two cats. She introduced the West to the famed “swimming cats” of the Middle East (more on that below). Yes, in addition to their distinctive coats, these kitties are predisposed to taking a dip!

Here are some fascinating Turkish Van cat facts:

From their one-of-a-kind coat, to their interesting global travels, to their penchant for swimming — the cats who brought the van pattern coat into contemporary lingo are exponentially interesting.

  • While native to Turkey, van cats are even rare there!
  • They are considered to be a national treasure and are not permitted to be exported.
  • Tell that to the Crusaders! They were first brought to Europe during that era.
  • It’s believed that the Turkish Van is one of the first originators of the piebald gene (the gene which creates a bicolor cat).
  • Cats with the piebald gene are also more likely to have odd eye colors (i.e. one blue and one amber).
  • Van cats have semi-long hair lacking an undercoat.
  • They have feathers but they don’t fly! Feathering on ears, legs, feet and belly is noticeable.
  • Conformation for the breed includes no more than 15% of its body and can be any color other than white.
  • For van cats, preferred standard is exclusively pigmentation on head and tail.
  • Blue or amber eyes (or odd eyes) are the only conformation colors.

Cause for celebration and a study center

In addition to their stunning good looks and unique coat, Turkish Vans are considered a vital national treasure. So much so that there’s a Turkish Van Cat Research Center located in the Van province run by Yüzüncü Yıl University. The center is dedicated to raising awareness and interest in the special cats. Its goal is to preserve the breed and prevent it from going extinct. The center’s exalted residents receive between 500 – 600 daily visitors and it’s so successful that the demand to adopt one of the country’s “most important living cultural heritage” far exceeds the supply. It’s reported that the center can only fill 5% of the requests to receive one.

According to Hürriyet Daily News, the research center has built three pools specifically for the cats (males, females and kittens) to give them an outlet for their purported favorite type of exercise. Creating an enriched environment makes for happy cats!

Arguably there are few cat breeds that are so celebrated, so distinctive yet so relatively rare that you’ve probably never met one! But the Turkish Van, and its famed van pattern, is one of the most recognized and desirable physical traits in the world of felines, and if serendipity is on your side, you may just find yourself sharing your home with one!

Thumbnail: Photography © Jupiterimages | PHOTOS.com>> / Getty Images Plus.

About the author

Denise LeBeau is a writer, editor and photographer with almost 20 years of experience of creating content for animal-related issues, endeavors and events. She worked at Best Friends Animal Society for 12 years where she had two columns in the Best Friends Magazine, and held multiple content creation roles including web managing editor and outreach campaign editor. Denise has been an ongoing contributor to Catster since 2014, writing for the magazine and website. The self-professed poet laureate of the pet set is currently the manager of development for an animal welfare agency, where she works with a team to create content across media platforms. She lives in Hampton Bays with her two rescue Siamese mixes – Flipper and Slayer, and her LBD (little brown dog), Zephyrella.

Read more about cat colors on Catster.com:

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Turkish Van Cats and the Van Cat Pattern”

  1. I live for purrs

    My Pinky is a small, but long-legged, very smart, very affectionate, high-jumping, loud talking Van mix, I think. He has the cashmere-like coat with no undercoat, but is short-haired over his entire body including a rather thin tail. He has a gray/black tabby mask partly covering his eyes, extending over his cap and ears, a tabby tail, and mis-matched bulls-eyes of tabby on each side. All else is white. He has long, bony toes like a bunny and loves to snuggle, hence his full name of Pinky Van Snugglebunny.

    He is absolutely adorable, although often incorrigible when it comes to stealing food, jumping on the counter, or trying to kill my long-suffering, middle-aged, dumb, cranky, but very pretty male Siamese.

    I rescued him about 2.5 yrs ago, as a maybe 10 wk old kitten, from the undercarriage of a utility truck in an alley. He was bellowing his head off or I wouldn’t have heard him half a block away through a parking structure between us. I am glad every day that I was walking by just then, went back for him, and ultimately kept him.

  2. I have a male Turkish Van cat named Georgie. He is mostly white with light orange on his head and tail, (his tail also has the orange rings), the mark on his shoulder blades and his fur feels like the softest silky cashmere. It’s a good thing he loves to be petted and cuddles often.

    He hates when we shut him out of the bathroom and will meow and scratch at the door if we do so. When we let him in he will either jump into the empty bathtub and start to play with the chain on the tub stopper or stare into the toilet and watch the water go down when it’s flushed. He loves watching the toilet being flushed!

    He also loves to play and will chase us up and down the stairs, patting at our legs and feet as we walk by. He gets along with all the other animals but his favourite is our older Tonkinese cat, another male named Draco, and will literally run around sniffing him and butting his head against him whenever Draco comes back inside the house from being outside in the yard for a bit. You can tell he misses him.

    Poor Draco is such a good sport that he will let the younger cat jump and wrestle with him often, though he will let him know when enough is enough with a stern bop upside Georgie’s head which is usually more than enough to curb Georgie’s enthusiasm for a little while.

    1. I forgot to mention that when we got our little buddy he was only about 5 weeks old. We were told he was 12 weeks, but when we took him in to get his shots, about a handful of weeks later, the vet informed us that he was, at that time, approximately 12 weeks old and that the pictures we showed of him when we first got him the vet said that then he looked more likely to have been around 5 weeks.

      This is probably the reason for his clinginess and how he can’t be away from his “people”. In fact, he’s asleep in the bed between my boyfriend and I right now; stretched out with his head on our pillows like a human in cat form.

  3. Pingback: Let’s Talk Turkish Van Cats and the Van Cat Pattern – Cute funny cat kitten pictures videos

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