Photographer's Note

The Turkish Van, or simply just Van, is a recognized cat breed that is known for its unusual love of water and swimming. They were created from the cats native to the Lake Van area. The cats of this type are named in Turkish Van Kedisi[1] (although it is used to refer solely to the all-white form), in Armenian vana katu (Armenian: վանա կատու),[2][3] and in Kurdish (Pisîka Wanê).[4] Originally called in the West the Turkish Cat,[5] the name was changed in 1979 in the U.S. (1985 in the U.K.) to Turkish Van[6] to better distance the breed from the Turkish Angora cat which had its origins around Ankara, in central Turkey. Traditionally, in the cat fancy, Turkish Vans are recognized as patterned cats with colour restricted to the head and tail with the body of the cat being white. However, in Turkey, the cat is recognised in an all-white form as well as the form with red patterning and a "fox tail", and with blue eyes, amber eyes, or one eye of each colour (Heterochromia iridis).[1]

In the Complete Cat Encyclopedia, edited by Grace Pond and published in 1972, Laura Lushington wrote that:
"One of the two accepted breeds in Turkey, the Van Cat is now known in Britain as the Turkish Cat. Originating in the Lake Van area of southeastern Turkey, these cats have been domesticated for centuries (in fact for as long as the famous Saluki Hound); they are much loved and prized by the Turks for their exceptional character and unique colouring. Apart from their great capacity for affection and alert intelligence, their outstanding characteristic is their liking for water, not normally regarded as a feline attribute. They not only dabble in water and play with it, but have been known to enter ponds and even horse-troughs for a swim — they soon became famous as the 'swimming cats.' I was first given a pair of Van kittens in 1955 while traveling in Turkey, and decided to bring them back to England, although touring by car and mainly camping at the time — the fact that they survived in good condition showed up the great adaptability and intelligence of their breed in trying circumstances. Experience showed that they bred absolutely true. They were not known in Britain at that time and, because they make such intelligent and charming pets, I decided to try to establish the breed, and to have it recognized officially in Britain by the GCCF."

Starting from the 16th century, the first long-haired cats were brought to Europe as wonders because there had been only short-haired cats in Europe at the time. Numerous Vans had been imported as Angora cats that were introduced a little earlier. At the same time, red-and-white van-patterned Van cats were usually described as whites that may be seen at the painting of French artist Antoine Jean Bail (1830–1918) named "A Young Girl With A White Cat".[7] It seems that little changed since then. If we look carefully at the people's vacation photos that are published even in the Internet, we may notice that several of the 'white' Van cats in the pictures plainly had patches of red fur. As it was noticed by the visitors of Van region, the current population of Van tended to describe cats which were nearly all white (with high degree of white spotting) as "white." And even at present, when it was confirmed by a geneticist that Vans and Angoras are definitely separate breeds, Vans are sometimes confused with Turkish Angoras, although a side-by-side comparison reveals vastly different characteristics. The Angora cats originated in the ancient Byzantine city Ankira (Ἄγκυρα (Ánkyra, meaning "Anchor") that was also known to the West as Angora (after the town was occupied by Seljuck Turks at the beginning of 11th c.) (Ankara modern capital of Turkey), and descended separately from the Vans.

The coat is the most fascinating trait on this cat. The climate change in Eastern Anatolia region throughout the year seems to have designed the cat's coat over time. Eastern Anatolia is mountainous, and Lake Van sits over 5,260 ft (1,600 m). above sea level. The area faces such extreme temperatures during the summer and winter seasons that it is almost inhospitable. The semi-long haired, water resistant single coat, is thick in winter but very soft, like rabbit fur or cashmere. At maturity, the cat will have a winter mane. During the spring and summer months when it becomes extremely hot, the long hair on the body is shed for a shorter coat that retains the cashmere feel. The hair on the tail remains long throughout the year and has the appearance of a bottle brush.
The Turkish Van is a large, semi-longhaired cat with a swimmer's body. Ideal type should feature broad shoulders with a body that is 'top heavy', that is a cat with its center of gravity forward. The cat is moderately long and its back legs are slightly longer than its front legs but, neither the cat itself nor its legs are so long to be disproportionate. These cats are large and muscular and feature short necks. Male Vans grow to about 16 pounds (7 kg), while females tend to be a bit lighter in weight, 12 to 14 lb (5 to 6 kg). A Van will take up to 3 years to reach full maturity. Vans have been known to reach 3 ft (1 m) long from nose to tip of tail.
The shoulders of the Turkish Van are broad with the ability for one to place three fingers between the legs at the chest area. It is said that large Van males are the only domestic cats that cannot follow their heads through a fence due to the broadness of their chest and shoulders. The rear end on the cat should not exceed the width of the shoulders — in other words, no bell bottomed or pear shape should be seen.
Turkish Vans are very intelligent, and will easily take over their home and owners. Vans are people cats that want to be with people wherever they go. They like to play and jump and explore anything in their reach, which is quite large. They are energetic; they play hard and sleep hard. Unusual for cat breeds, Turkish Vans love to play in the water and will join you in the tub for a dip or help you in the sink and are known as "the swimming cat." Many Vans are dedicated to fetching their particular object of interest, and many owners describe them as "dogs in a cat suit" because of their unusual personalities.[8]
Vans, because of their fine fur, create less allergic reactions than most cats. Cat dander and saliva cause most allergic responses, however the fine fur helps decrease the issues.

The coloring of the Turkish Van should be limited to the head and tail with random body spots acceptable but all color should not exceed more than 20% of the entire cat with no lower case markings (marking on the legs). The random spots should not detract from the pattern. This would be a small color cap on the head with a white blaze to at least between the front edge of the ears, and a colored tail in any of the traditional colors. The rest of the cat is chalk white. Color can extend up the rump from the tail of the cat and patterned cats often have a random spot or spots of color on the shoulder (more frequently on the left shoulder) or body.
White Turkish Vans should be solid white if that variety is accepted by their registration association.

The traditional color of a Turkish Van is Red Tabby and White; as this was the first color exported out of Turkey. Later colors added were Cream, Black, Blue, Cream Tabby, Brown Tabby, Blue Tabby, Tortoiseshell, Dilute Tortoiseshell, Brown Torbie, and Blue Torbie.
Currently, in Turkey, the Van Kedisi (English: Van cat) is recognized only as an all white cat, generally with eyes of two different colors (see Odd-eyed cat). These all-white cats may be either short or long haired. The all white Turkish Van is claimed to be genetically identical to the patterned cat with the exception of the white masking gene (W) that "covers" the pattern.[9] Offspring of a white Turkish Van mated to a patterned Van will be a 50/50 mix of white and patterned kittens. However, this can only be the case if the white is masking the van pattern. As white can mask any possible cat color and pattern, solid and bicolor kittens could be produced from a white to van-patterned mating. At present cat associations in England recognize the patterned offspring of such a mating as Turkish Vans and the white offspring as a new breed called Turkish Vankedisi. WCF and FIFe, the largest international cat fancy organizations, recognize only van-patterned TUVs. In the U.S., TICA has fully accepted the white vans as Turkish Vans as has the Government of Turkey.[1][10] CFA, the world's largest registry of pedigreed cats, does not recognize the all-white Turkish Van as they define the breed by both its type and pattern.

Many van-patterned Van cats have a small mark on the coat between the shoulder blades. This mark can also be seen in red and white van-patterned Turkish Vans, i.e. the Turkish Van cats of classical color. The spot on the left shoulder, resembles the shape of the print of a thumb due to the presence of the agouti gene, which is responsible for tabby coloration and always present in red color in cats, giving rise to lighter and darker tones in the red marks of Van cats. The mark on the left shoulder can look as if the coloration was pressed out from the center to the periphery under the pressure of a finger. The Kurds call this mark “the thumbprint of God’s right hand”, and consider it a sign of good luck. There is a local legend telling that God blessed the Van cat by putting His right hand on it as the cat left Noah's Ark. In the places on the cat’s coat where the Creator had touched it (head, shoulder and tail), the flaming marks appeared.[11][12]
Anyhow, this legend gives no explanations as to why the cat had been blessed by the Creator. The tenth century Persian historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari's, recorded a legend that may give the answer. According to this legend, Noah caused a pair of cats to come from the lion's nose to deal with rats that tried to make a hole in the bottom of the Ark.[13][14] That this story was well-known in the region is proved by the existence of a Persian proverb saying that "the lion had sneezed, and the cat appeared".[15][16]
The origin of the legends and proverb lay in the ancient cults that existed in Van lake region in pre-historic times. The felines excel in their fertility, and it looks like that, as in other Indo-Europeans, in the period of early heathendom the Armenians’ veneration for the lionesses, leopardesses and cats had some relationship to the worship of the mother deity.[17] It is also known that before AD 301, when the Armenians adopted Christianity as a state religion, there had been a temple[18] of Astghik, a pagan deity, which in the earliest prehistoric period of heathendom in Armenia had been worshiped as mother-goddess, in the ever-existed village of Artamet,[19] located on the shore of Lake Van, that later became a residential suburb of the city of Van, famous for its exclusively tasty apples.[15][20][21]

The first things that attract the eye, when one looks at a pedigreed classic Turkish Van cat are copper-brown (or sometimes the color is described as chestnut-red) spots on an otherwise white background occurring at the head, the back (in the area of the left shoulder), and the tail. The Van cat has a colored and ringed full brush tail, resembling a fox-brush with the end in the form of a paintbrush. The position of the color marks was so special that this pattern on a cat’s coat was named “van pattern” after the Van cat. Then this pattern was introduced into other breeds by means of mating with Van cats or a breeding program with strict choice and selection of partners to establish the van pattern, though the last statement is not confirmed by any records. At present we may see a van pattern in several breeds including the Turkish Angora, Persian, Siberian, Norwegian Forest, British Shorthair, Scottish Fold, Maine Coon, Ragdoll, LaPerm, and even among Sphynx. There is another supposition on the origin of van pattern in other breeds, according to which it was a separate mutation in S locus that is responsible for the white spotting. The other alleles of S locus ensure special spotting in such breed as the Sacred Birman cat, and the regular spots of bi-colors, and the van pattern in various breeds.[15][22]
The other distinguishing features of the Turkish Van cat are a broad thorax, evidence of its excellent qualities as a swimmer, and also silky dense water-repellent hairs of the coat, that dries nearly instantly even in cold season of the year. This is necessary for this excellent fisher, who may be in the water, even in winter. The texture of this semi-long haired coat is so delightful that you will probably feel joy and pleasure, and maybe a sense of calm tranquility, when you have a Van cat in your hands.[15][23]
And if we speak about the eye color of a present day purebred Van cat, the eyes may be blue or amber color or a cat may be odd-eyed: one eye may be blue, and the other — amber colored. The variability of eye color is genetically caused by the so named “white-spotting” factor, which is a characteristic of this breed. The “white-spotting” factor is the variable expression of the piebald gene that varies from the minimal degree (1), as in the blue-eyed cats with white tip on the tail like Altay and California cats, as in the cats with mitts, like Birman cat, to the maximal degree (8–9) that results in a Van-patterned cat, as in Van cats, when colored marks occupy at most 20% of the white background, but the white background in the breed covers about 80% of the body. Breeding two cats together with the same level of white spotting will produce cats with a similar degree of spotting.[15]

Only some solitary colored marks on the head between the white ears with the obligatory white “blaze” running from back of the head to the forehead and the tail ring-colored in the same color, remained of the pigmentation in Van cats. This position of markings on the head and body is determined by one of the alleles of the white spotting gene, which is named after the name of the cats of Lake Van — Sv — white piebald Spotted Van. The tortoiseshell (black and red occurring in the pattern) Vans are permitted to have the marks of other color in the named areas. The existence of other alleles of the gene of white spotting, creates coat colors with less quantity of white, (i.e., bi-colors and particolors), than the Van cat. When the white color covers more than half of the body, and the white, in general, occurs in the lower part of the body, that is the belly and paws, or when only the white gloves and socks remain of the white-colored part, as in Snowshoe or Birman, in Van cats this may serve as a sign of crossbreeding with the cats of other regions. Only the absolutely regular marks on the head and the colored tail are desired for showing and breeding of Van cats. Some colored marks on the body, on the left shoulder, in particular, are permitted. The removal of Van cats with bi-color and harlequin pattern (which can be indicative of mixed heritage) from a breeding program is necessary to maintain the uniqueness and uniformity of the gene pool. The van-patterned cats generally breed true, and a bi-color will not be produced out of a Van to Van breeding, because Van cats are homozygous for the van-pattern gene (Sv Sv). So, the pure-bred Van cat to pure-bred Van cat breeding may not produce any other pattern, unless something in the background is coming out. Breeders should place these cats as pets and not continue to use them. Van cats should be homozygous for the van-pattern gene, and the introduction of white or bicolor cats will result in the birth of the kittens heterozygous for the van-pattern gene (Sv-). And though the phenotype of the kittens may correspond to the requirements of the breed standard, the genotype will not be identical to the genotype of pedigree Van cat. This “heritage” will result in the deviation of the van pattern in the off-springs, because genetically they will have in the background other pigmentation genes and alleles of the piebald gene. The introduction of white cats in breeding programs makes the situation more dramatic, because of the effect of the white color gene (W) on all other pigmentation genes that masks all other coloration in cat coat, and it will be arguable to guess, which color genes the specific all-white cat carries. Beside the van pattern, all other patterns of the cats of this breed may only witness that the true selection of this breed is in front, and depends on the enthusiasts.[15][24]

A breed is created not only by the color and pattern, but some other constitutional traits. The Persian and Turkish Angora cats of the same white color will differ in body size and boning, its width and length, form of the head, and peculiarities of muzzle in front and profile views. The Turkish Angora or angora-kedi, as it is called in Turkey, differs from Vans not only with the coloration of hair and eyes, but greater elegance and dry falling texture of coat. The Vans have more mighty bones and solid muscular system. Because of the broad chest, the Vans’ front legs are set apart on the body. The tail of a mature Van shall resemble a bottlebrush, and shall not have as long hair, as the Turkish Angoras have. The coat of the Vans is influenced by seasonal changes, because of the great temperature difference in summer and winter at their homeland Van. The winter coat is longer and fluffier. Also there is difference between the coat of the Van cats of English and Dutch breeding programs: so named “English” and “Dutch” coats. But when the cats reach maturity at the age of 3–5 years, all the Vans have the same coat. In any case, the characteristic trait of the breed is the absence of wooly undercoat.[15][25]

The solid white Angoras carry the epistatic (masking) white color (W-) dominant gene associated with white fur, blue eyes and deafness. The same are all white Van Kedisi. As Assistant Professor of Van University, Mr Hasan Koyun explained: "We are going to research, why they (Van Kedisi) have such eyes. And also we are going to study the connection between the eye-color and deafness, because often the odd-eyed cats are deaf".[26] The problem of deafness in solid white cats is not new. In one 1997 study of deaf white cats, 72% of the animals were found to be totally deaf.
While van-patterned Vans are not deaf, because their phenotype is associated with van pattern (Sv) semidominant gene. Van cat's eye color also can be amber, blue or odd (one amber and one blue), but van-patterned Vans with two blue eyes are not deaf like Angoras and Van Kedisi. As of late, some Vans have developed green eyes, though the green shade is not rated highly with breed associations.
Another peril that shall make anxious the solid white cats owners and breeders is the fact, that due to the lack of pigmentation in the skin, all white cats are more sensitive to sunlight and are more likely to become sunburned and develop skin cancer.
The introduction of all-white color gene (W-) may cause new insidious menaces that will manifest themselves in the future, several generations later. In the Turkish Angora, mostly known as all-white, an autosomal recessive Hereditary ataxia is found. Another genetic illness known to the Turkish Angora is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which is an autosomal dominant gene that affects many other breeds (from Maine Coons to Persians).Turkish vans have orange on their tail and their ears.

Turkish Vans are a naturally occurring breed of cat.[27] They can still be found in east Turkey, near Lake Van, although their numbers have diminished, and a 1992 survey found only 92 pure Turkish Van cats in their native area.[11] All forms of Van cat are now under the protection of the Turkish government.[1] There is a breeding programme for the all-white Van Kedisi cats at the Van Cat House within the grounds of Van University.[28] Nicknames that some people call Turkish Vans include swimming vans, turkish swimming cats and swimming cats.

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