The feline pride of Russia, going back to “Catafay the Cat” in the country’s centuries-old folklore, is the Siberian cat. Alluring upturned eyes, large and round with a small point toward the top, make up one this cat’s most distinguishing features. Siberian cats, which are also sometimes called Siberian Forest cats, have often kept company with Russia’s nobility; their likely ancestors took up residence with Ivan the Terrible himself. More recently, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had a Neva Masquerade, which is a rarer variant of the Siberian breed, that he named Dorofei.
- 1 History of Siberian Cats
- 2 Standards
- 3 Size of the Siberian Cat
- 4 Siberian Personality
- 5 Siberian Kittens
- 6 Imports
- 7 Siberian Health
- 8 Care of the Siberian Cat Breed
- 9 Litter Box Training
- 10 Scratching Posts
- 11 Siberian Cat Nutrition
- 12 Coat Color and Grooming
- 13 Neva Masquerade
- 14 Siberian Cat Grooming
- 15 Children and Other Pets
History of Siberian Cats
The Siberian cat has a long genetic history, still described by many as a landrace breed despite more recent selective breeding. In cats, the term “landrace” means the breed developed in a specific geographic locale by naturally adapting to the environment and the culture. In a way, Siberian cats domesticated themselves, catching mice and other vermin for their human neighbors in exchange for some shelter and protection during the long, harsh winters of sub-arctic Russia.
Until modern breed standards started to take effect, there was still much diversity in what was considered a Siberian cat from one region to the next in Russia. The earliest known standards set by the Kotofei Cat Club in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1987 focused on the traits from two particular Siberian cats, Mars and Roman. Kotofei, whose name derives from the very same Catafay of folklore, went on to develop more specific standards two years later in collaboration with other Russian cat clubs under the banner of the Soviet Felinological Federation, or FIFe.
The next steps in this cat’s growing popularity brought it to Europe and North America. The Siberian cat breed gained acceptance in 1996 from The International Cat Association, or TICA, and then again in 1999 and 2006 by the American Cat Fanciers Association and the similarly named Cat Fanciers’ Association respectively.
Size of the Siberian Cat
Were it not for the Maine Coon cat, the Siberian cat would be the world’s largest cat breed. While considered medium in length, the neutered males of this breed can reach a maximum of 25 pounds, more than twice the weight of the average house cat. Even the smallest females weigh a few pounds more than most domestic cats. Much of that weight comes packed on as muscle, including an exceptionally strong core and backside.
Back legs that are longer than the front ones keep this breed tethered to its ancient wildcat ancestors. Surprisingly, those ancestors reside just as deep in this breed’s DNA as is the case for most other domestic cat breeds; this trait was not bred into it recently. Most likely, the Siberian cat’s longer hindquarters evolved over time in response to the need to leap through very deep snow in the wintertime.
Much like Catafay, who haplessly leapt at and scared away both a wolf and a bear in the Russian
folktale, Siberian cats love to leap and bound all over the house and the furniture in it. Placing limits on these kitties can be challenging at times, but they also tend to be intensely affectionate and social, preferring to play or just sit with their humans rather than by themselves whenever possible. In fact, these gregarious cats love to entertain guests, whether human or animal, with any number of tricks that their owners may teach them.
On the other side of the coin, Siberian cats can be docile, too. Like a four-legged therapist, this intelligent cat can easily intuit when its owner feels down and needs a good snuggle. Indeed, there is nothing quite like the unfailing devotion from a Siberian cat to make a person feel better about his or her place and importance in this world.
The look and demeanor of a Siberian kitten is unmistakable. Unlike some other cat breeds that may not show their true colors right away, Siberian kittens tend to look like tiny copies of their parents and their older selves almost from the day that they are born. Once their little eyes open up, it becomes nearly impossible for cat lovers not to fall in love with these sweet kittens.
There seems to be a law of fives when it comes to Siberian kittens. The average litter size for Siberian cats is five kittens, and they are capable of reproducing earlier in their development than other cats. Indeed, Siberian kittens reach sexual maturity as early as 5 months of age, so owners should take care to prevent unwanted breeding. Meanwhile, these cats can often take until they are 5 years old to reach their full size.
Due to the high costs of importing Siberian cats from Russia to North America, one male sometimes produces many more litters than it should. This breeding faux pas, called the “popular sire effect,” can weaken the gene pool through inadvertent inbreeding down the line. The most reputable North American breeders will always pay close attention to all the parents’ pedigrees, importing new sires whenever necessary to protect against any congenital defects that could arise.
Siberian kittens can look forward to living at least 15 years when kept indoors and up to date on their shots and vet checkups. These lively cats extend some health benefits to their owners as well, both mentally and physically. To say Siberian cats are hypoallergenic would be inaccurate, but they are known to trigger fewer allergic reactions in humans than most cats.
As long as the breed’s strong history of genetic diversity persists, the Siberian cat will likely continue to be one of the healthiest pets available. The only defect that occurs with any notable significance for this cat is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Breeders and veterinarians can run genetic tests on Siberian kittens and adults to detect related mutations in the proteins of the heart, but this disease is not entirely preventable just yet. Tachycardia, or a racing heart rate, represents one of the main symptoms of this heart condition. Other secondary signs of the illness include lethargy, labored breathing and an anxious temperament.
Care of the Siberian Cat Breed
Siberian cats can certainly hold their own in the outdoors. Indeed, these cats originally adapted to withstand harsh temperatures and hunt mice and vermin in the Siberian forests. However, many owners find that keeping their Siberian kittens indoors is much safer until they grow up.
Litter Box Training
Siberian cats tend not to have too many issues with material from their litter boxes getting stuck in their fur due to the coat’s protective, water-resistant texture. Thus, litter box training a Siberian kitten is no more difficult than it is for the average house cat.
Once Siberian kittens’ claws grow in, their scratching instincts take effect. For this formerly feral breed, scratching posts make all the difference in keeping the furnishings in the home undamaged. Rewards and enticements, rather than punishments, tend to help the most when training Siberian cats to scratch only these posts.
Siberian Cat Nutrition
Having so many layers of fur means Siberian cats need to consume plenty of water to maintain sufficient hydration levels. The most obvious solution is to ensure the water dish remains full at all times, but feeding wet cat food can also help. Some owners go a step further by preparing a cooked or even raw meat diet for their cats. Especially concerning a raw diet, the meat must be very fresh and of a high grade in order to be safe, or else the cat can contract intestinal parasites or infections from it.
Coat Color and Grooming
Siberian cats can come in many different coat colors and patterns with medium or long hair lengths. Judging by many of its “Best of Breed” winners over the years, TICA seems to favor the brown and black spotted tabby style, but red classic tabby and seal lynx point have brought home blue ribbons as well.
Most registries consider “colorpoint” markings to be just another coat variant for the Siberian breed, but FIFe is one of a few that lists this variant as the Neva Masquerade, a separate, related breed. In this coat style, the face, ears, paws and tail maintain a darker coloration than the main body, upper legs and back of the head. FIFe restricts the point colors of its Neva Masquerades to the following:
Any of these colors can have a tabby pattern, and seal or blue tortoiseshell is allowed as well. White is accepted in some, but not all, point areas. FIFe explicitly rejects chocolate, lilac, fawn and cinnamon. Conversely, TICA allows all colors in its point category for the Siberian breed.
Siberian Cat Grooming
The fullness of the Siberian cat’s fur coat comes from its adaptation to the extreme cold of the Siberian region. The coarse triple coat developed not only to keep this cat warm but also dry in the frequent rain and snow. Occasional use of a wire brush or comb can help remove loose hairs from the down, or undercoat.
The Siberian cat sheds a bit less than the average domestic cat; instead of constantly losing small amounts of fur, it has a major shedding session, called a “molt,” twice a year. The cold-season molt is often much heavier than the one that occurs in warmer weather. The glossy coat tends not to mat like fluffier fur often does, but daily brushing during these periods can still help.
Children and Other Pets
Most children love Siberian cats, and the feeling is almost always mutual. Cuddling in bed with this cat beats sleeping with a teddy bear any day. Plus, kids get a kick out of watching the cat jump from one piece of furniture to the next, and this powerful acrobat loves to show off for an audience.
Though far from needy, Siberian cats can get a bit lonely in a quiet home without other pets. Siberian kittens tend to develop strong bonds with their littermates, so it may be best to adopt them in pairs. Once they are brought home, these cats extend that intense bonding to all their family members, furry or otherwise.
There is a warm heart under all that fur. Whether they are entertaining dignitaries or watching TV with their families, Siberian cats are just happy to love and be loved.