Breed-related disease: Norwegian Forest Cat

John K. Rosembert

The Norwegian Forest cat is a breed of domestic cat originating in Northern Europe. It is a big, strong cat, similar to the Maine Coon breed, with long legs, bushy tail, and sturdy body. The breed is very good at climbing, since they have strong claws they are one of the few domestic cats capable of descending a tree head first

With their thick coat of warm, water-resistant fur, the Norwegian Forest Cat is a truly rugged cat. In fact, most experts agree that its ancestors belonged to the Vikings and were used to catch and control vermin on Viking ships. It is also one of the oldest breeds: its ancestors were brought to Norway by Vikings over a thousand years ago and interbred with longhaired cats imported to Norway by Crusaders.  True to its name, the Norwegian Forest Cat is built to survive Norway’s cold and snow!

Over the centuries, the Norwegian Forest Cat walked Norwegian forests and farms, honing their hunting skills.

In 1938, the first Norwegian Forest Cat club was formed to preserve the breed. However, crossbreeding during WWII almost led to the breed’s extinction. Luckily, another official breeding program saved the breed, which didn’t leave Norway until the 1970s.

He might have the words “forest cat” in his name, but the Norwegian Forest cat is far from feral. He loves people, in a low-key, cool Norwegian kind of way. He won’t harass you for attention, unless his meals are late but he will follow you around and hang out wherever you are.

Their temperament can make him a good choice for families with children and other pets, especially if he has been raised with them. Just make sure children treat him with the gentle respect he deserves. He has an average activity level, not a couch potato but not super-active, either.

Below we summarized some of the most common health issues of Norwegian Forest Cat breed in order to help you prevent some predictable risks in your pet.

  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is the most common heart problem diagnosed in cats. Symptoms include laboured or rapid breathing and lethargy. Although there’s no cure, quality of life can be improved greatly by treatment to control the heart rate and reduce lung congestion.
  • Pyruvate Kinase (PK) is an enzyme deficiency that damages a cat’s red blood cells. The Norwegian Forest is one of the breeds that seems to be more predisposed to it than others. Early signs include anaemia, increased heart rate, muscle wastage and lethargy. Diagnosis involves a full biochemistry profile. Sadly, a bone marrow transplant is the only treatment.
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease can affect Norwegian Forest cats. It’s where lots of fluid-filled cysts develop in the kidneys, leading ultimately to kidney failure. Many cats affected by it won’t display symptoms until middle-age or older and although it’s not curable, supportive treatment can help to minimize the impact for as long as possible.
  • Retinal Dysplasia can affect this breed. Often, this is limited to tiny blind spots over the retina that don’t need to be treated. However, if the dysplasia covers a large area, there’s a greater chance of secondary problems such as cataracts or retinal detachment that will require treatment.
  • Hip Dysplasia is usually an inherited disease that can affect Forest cats. Treatment depends on severity, and in serious cases can involve orthopedic referral and hip surgery.


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