Although there is a superficial likeness between the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest Cat or Norsk Skaukatt, which no doubt gave rise to the tale of the Maine Coon having been taken to North America by the Vikings, the Norwegian breed is natural to Scandinavia and the two breeds evolved entirely separately. But both have responded to similar climatic conditions, and they share a historical background as farm cats.

The Norwegian Forest Cat is a large, strong animal with a dense waterproof coat, even thicker than the Maine Coon’s.  The insulating undercoat is woolly, and the medium-long, glossy topcoat gives protection from rain and snow.  The Forest Cat has finely tuned climbing and hunting skills and strongly developed claws.  It is said to be capable of climbing an almost sheer rock face.

Intelligence, alertness and speed are combined with caution.  Despite these rough, tough characteristics, however, the Forest Cat has a surprisingly dainty face, unlike the more severe businesslike Maine Coon.

The Forest Cat has a long history in Norse folk tales.  It appears in a Scandinavian version of Puss in Boots in which the villain is a troll.  The Forest Cat, a female, knows that trolls die in sunlight and so, meeting the troll early in the night, she keeps him chatting until dawn comes.  Other Norse stories tell of a sweet-faced, bushy tailed ‘fairy cat’ which lives in the mountains and can perform incredible feats of climbing.

The Forest Cat came out of the woodlands and farms into Norwegian breeding catteries in the 1930’s, when a pedigree was established.  But the Second World War brought development to a halt, and when the war ended the breed was almost extinct and the pedigree had been corrupted by breeding with domestic cats.  In the early  1970’s serious efforts began in Norway, where the Forest Cat is prized as part of cultural tradition as well as for its own sake, to restore the breed, which in effect meant going back 40 years and making a fresh start.  By 1977 the European cat fancy organisation, FIFé, had accepted the Forest Cat for Championship status. The breeder who masterminded the approach to FIFé was hailed in Norway as a national hero.

The Norwegian Forest Cat made its United States debut in 1979 and was given full recognition by the Cat Fanciers’ Association in 1994.

Not all United States organisations have accepted it, however, perhaps not wanting to take attention away from the Maine Coon.  The breed has Preliminary recognition in Britain as a Semi-longhair.


Show standards require a strong, muscular well-built cat with a long body and long legs.  The hind legs should be longer than the forelegs, the feet should stand wide, with heavy paws.  The tail should be long and bushy and at least as long as the body. The head is triangular in shape and the nose is long, wide and straight with no break. The cheeks are full and the chin heavy.  The ears are long, upright and pointed, set high on the head and well-tufted.  The whiskers should be prominent and long, and the eyes large and almond shaped, set at a slight angle.  The Norwegian Forest Cat has a double coat – a water-repellent silky topcoat and a tight woolly undercoat. A ruff round the neck and chest is prominent in the autumn and winter but disappears in the summer.


All colours and patterns, except pointed colourings, are accepted by those organisations which recognise the Norwegian Forest Cat.  Many varieties have white on the chest and paws.  Eye colour should be appropriate to coat colour.


Norwegian Forest Cats are hardy, and the queens normally produce their litters with ease.  The kittens begin to grow their adult coats at three to five months.  The adult cats are playful, affectionate and extremely active.  They should have access to the outside and are happiest in a large garden, the rougher the better.  They are intelligent and easily become adept at skills such opening door latches.  Norwegian Forest Cats moult very heavily in spring and summer and need frequent brushing combing then to prevent the formation of furballs.

Although Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest Cats are easily confused at first glance, there are in fact significant differences in type.  The Forest Cat tends to have a bushier tail and its muzzle is more pointed.  Its eyes are more slanted and the ears are less far apart.   

Extracted from The Encyclopaedia of the Cat by Michael Pollard

Websites to look up:

The Norwegian Forest Cat Club:



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