Turkish Van Cat breed: one of the few breeds that specifically likes water

László Enikő

2023. November 7 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Perhaps it is due to its place of origin, around Lake Van, that this special cat especially likes water, even though cats usually can't stand it when their fur gets wet.


The Turkish Van cat is also known as a swimming cat because of its tendency to play in water – or at least enjoy splashing its paws in it. It is extremely energetic, mobile and sometimes mischievous, so it is ideal if its owner has a good sense of humor.


The Turkish Van is an ancient breed, the exact date of its origin is unknown, although it is assumed to be a few thousand years old. As with other cat breeds, there are some legends about its origin. According to one story, the Turkish Van sailed with Noah on the ark. When the ship reached Mount Ararat, the cats are jumped off the boat and swam until they found land. Coincidentally, Mount Ararat is not far from Lake Van, which is believed to be the origin of the breed. It is likely that the extreme weather of the area affected its unique cashmere-like coat.

Turkish Van cats were often completely white in color, but sometimes other colored markings appeared on them. Jewish and Islamic tradition says that cats received a divine touch that gave color to their formerly white fur. A door on Noah’s ark slammed into the cat’s tail, turning it red, and God reached out and touched the animal’s head, leaving a place where his hand rested. In the Islamic version, Allah touched the cat’s back. The spot sometimes seen on the back of the Turkish Van is known as the thumb print of Allah.

Although they have been around for quite some time, this breed has only recently been introduced to other regions. Some Turkish Vans were brought to Britain around the 1950s when two girlfriends on holiday fell in love with the special kitties. Upon returning home, Laura Lushington began a breeding program with the help of some specimens brought from abroad.

It is not very common, but the majority of the population of this breed can still be found in its native land. However, their number is still not as high as that of other felines. Exports of the breed are quite rare these days, so if you want to see a Turkish Van, you may have to travel to Turkey to find one. Breeders from other countries also often visit the kitties’s homeland to update their stock in such a way as to maintain the purity of the breed.

For a while it was believed that the Turkish Van and the Turkish Angora were representatives of the same breed. However, they were formed in separate areas, so this theory was discarded. The Turkish Van cat originates from a particularly isolated region, it developed naturally, which is why it has unique characteristics.

Breed standard

The Turkish Van cat is medium-sized with a body weight of about 5-8 kg. Its head is triangular, robust and wide. Its cheekbones are defined and its chin is firm. The close-set ears are large and covered with fur. The eyes are large and oval, in Turkey, unmatched eyed individuals are preferred. However, the eye color of most individuals is amber. The neck is relatively long and graceful. Its limbs are of medium length, its paws are round, shaped and covered with abundant fur. The fur is semi-long, soft and delicate to the touch; waterproof. Its base color is chalk white, often with reddish spots on the head, back and tail. Nowadays, tortoiseshell, tabby, black or cream patterns are also accepted. Expected lifespan is 12-17 years.


Although it is often compared to the Turkish Angora due to its appearance, the Turkish Van’s character is quite unique. It is extremely lively and, thanks to this, also mischievous. So if you live with such a cat, you should safely lock away fragile, valuable ornaments. There is no escape from it, it is a very mobile, clever and intelligent cat. Its most outstanding feature is that it loves to swim. It is well known about cats that most of them cannot stand water. However the Turkish Van especially likes to play in it and does not hesitate to jump into a lake after its prey. Because of this characteristic, it is also referred to as a swimming cat. Some have also observed that cats living around Lake Van swim in the lake, so their love of water is probably due to the geographical features of their place of origin.

Since it is a very playful and mobile creature, it is worth keeping busy with different games. It likes fetching, chasing and doesn’t disdain intelligence games. The Turkish Van is a loving and affectionate companion of the whole family, but typically chooses one person for whom it gives special attention.

Ideal environment

The Turkish Van gets along well with other cats and dogs. Due to its playful nature, it easily finds common ground with children. Since it is mischievous, it’s important to keep its sharp mind occupied. It is precisely for this reason that it is not worth leaving it alone for an extended period of time. It will easily invent something to occupy itself that the owner will not reward.

The Van likes to hunt, but it must do so in a garden where it cannot escape (which is particularly difficult to prevent). Due to its high energy, it is not a typical lap cat. So it is not the most suitable companion for those who want one. However, it also likes to cuddle and enjoys being cared for. Because of its love of water, it often drinks from the tap and may even explore the toilet, so it is definitely worth keeping the lid closed.


Since the Turkish Van cat has semi-long hair, it does not require much grooming. In general, you need to brush its coat once a week, but it is worth doing it daily during shedding. Its claws should be trimmed every few weeks. The cleanliness of the ears should be checked weekly. If they look dirty, wipe them with a cotton ball or a soft, damp cloth moistened with a 50-50 mixture of apple cider vinegar and warm water.

You should also occasionally wash its eyes with a soft, wet cloth. To avoid possible infections, use a separate area of the cloth for each eye. In order for it to get used to the necessary grooming routine and feel comfortable during it, it can be helpful to acclimate it to such operations at a young age. Since all kittens are sensitive to the cleanliness of their litter, so in the case of Turkish Van cats, make sure that their tray is always spotless.

Common health problems

The breed is generally healthy, although hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease, has been reported in some individuals. In some breeds, such as the Maine Coon, HCM is inherited, but this has not been proven in the Turkish Van. Overall, there are no typical diseases of the breed. But it is important that this does not rule out the possibility that your kitten may have some health problem, so you should usually visit a veterinarian with it.

(Literature used: János Szinák – István Veress: Cat Guide, Jean-Luc Renck: The Cat, Laura Aceti – Viola Autieri: Our Best Friend, the Cat)

breed description semi-long-haired cat turkish van

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