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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.

Denise LeBeau  |  Jun 14th 2019


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.

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