Turkish Angora

Written by:

PetMD Editorial
Published: July 30, 2008

Physical Characteristics

The Turkish Angora is a naturally occurring breed from the "old country," with traces of its line going back several millennia. Medium in size with a long, svelte, well-balanced body, it is the very picture of grace. Long is the adjective that best typifies this cat breed. The Angora has a long body, long, slim legs, long tail, long coat, large ears and wide eyes. It is a dainty cat, with fine bones, a slim chest, and a super soft coat that belies its hardiness.

It is renowned most for its gorgeous, long, silky coat which seems to shimmer when it moves. The coat is single layered only, which makes the Angora a breeze to groom. The length of the coat is dictated by season. The hair thins out in the warm months, when the Angora takes on more of a shorthair appearance, and in the cold months the coat grows in thicker and longer, the britches and mane fluff up fully, and the tail becomes more posh. But, because it has only one coat, there is no need for worrying about matting, as happens with longhaired double coated cats.

A good example of this comparison is the Persian, which the Angora was tied to for a long time in the cat society; the tie was based primarily on coat length. The Persian is longhaired as well, but with a top coat, and a woolly undercoat that is prone to matting, it must be vigilantly groomed. That is not the only difference in the two breeds. One would need only to look at the cats to see the defining differences. The first and clearly obvious difference is the face. The Persian has a short, flat face, and the Angora has a longer nose and delicately boned face.

The Angora has also been linked with the Turkish Van cat. One reason is because of its tendency to have odd colored eyes. Like the Van, some Angora's have one blue eye and one amber eye. The other similarity is the seasonal shedding of the single layer coat, becoming shorthair in the warm months, and fuller in the cold months. The two breeds have adapted similar traits to survive the disparate seasonal climates of Turkey. Otherwise, the differences between the two breeds are enough to classify them separately. Since they do come from the same region of the world, it might merely be assumed that the cats took on their own unique characteristics needed to survive the harsh winters and hot summers in Turkey.

Traditionally, pure white has been the favored color, and for a long time the cat associations accepted only white for competition. But, Angora's are naturally a varied breed, and recently, breeders have been emphasizing the variety of colors they are born with, which can be upwards of twenty colors, in addition to tabby patterns and smoke varieties.

Personality and Temperament

This is a smart and intelligent cat which bonds well with humans. With its affectionate and playful personality the Angora is a top choice for families. It gets along well with everyone -- children, seniors, visitors. It is devoted to its human family and does not do well to be left alone. The Angora has a desire to participate in all of your activities, and is extremely persistent in getting your attention; it is a true alpha cat. This same trait plays out in relationship to other animals.

The Angora gets along great with other pets in the home, but it will make clear who is in charge, and who the house belongs to. It likes to resolve its own problem and be independent at times, and is not the best cat for someone who wants a lap cat -- it does not like to be held for more than a few minutes at a time. But, it does prefer to stay close, remaining in the room with you and occupying itself on the floor where it can supervise the action and stay up on all of the events.

This is one of the breeds of cat that loves to talk (the Tonkinese is another breed that loves to chat). The Angora can be very vocal and can carry out an animated conversation for a long time. Listen carefully, your Angora might be asking you for a dance. This one loves to dance, and is especially captivating when it does. 

History and Background

There are many theories as to the origin of the Turkish Angora. According to one theory, the long-haired Pallas, an Asian wildcat which is about the size of the domestic cat, is the Angora's ancestor. However, this is often refuted because the Pallas is wild and aggressive, while the Angora is affectionate. Another theory (and a more likely scenario) suggests the Angora, like other domestic cats, originated from the African wildcat.

These cats probably acquired the long-haired characteristic from mutations many centuries ago, thriving in the mountainous areas of Turkey. Many stories are associated with this breed. One such legend tells of Mohammed (570 to 632 A.D.), founder of the Islamic faith, and his decision to cut off his sleeve rather than disturb an Angora Muezza which was sleeping in his arms. These cats, once referred to as Ankara cats after the Turkish capital, were sent to Britain and France from Turkey, Persia, Russia, and Afghanistan during the late 1500s.

The Angoras were then introduced to America in the late 1700's, and gathered quick fanfare. Unfortunately, they began to lose popularity after the arrival of the Persian cat. The Angora was crossed with the Persian to increase the length and silkiness of its coat. Over time the crossings allowed the genes for white fur from the Angora to become a stable part of the Persian line, changing the coloring of the Persian from a static gray.

The reverse benefit was not true for the Angora. It was gradually losing its unique traits and the offspring from the pairings came to resemble the Persian more, until it was the Persian that became the dominant breed. As the Angora lost its breed purity due to the cross breeding, its popularity plummeted to an all time low in the 1900s, forcing the Turkish government to take action. The Turkish people placed a high value on their white-coated, blue-eyed and odd-eyed cats, so the government, along with the Ankara Zoo, began a careful breeding program to protect and preserve the pure white Angora cats with blue and amber eyes; a program which has continued.

The peculiarly colored odd eyes inherent in some Angoras are treasured by the people of Turkey, and are encouraged at the zoo, as they are believed to have been Allah’s favorites (Muezza, Mohammed’s beloved cat was an Angora with unusual eyes). To this day, it it near impossible to acquire a white Angora from Turkey. They can only be found at the zoo or in the homes of breeders. Even in Turkey, ownership of a white Angora is rare.

But, in 1962, Liesa F. Grant, wife of Army Colonel Walter Grant, who was posted in Turkey, was successful in importing a pair of Turkish Angoras to the U.S., along with their certificates of ancestry. Other Americans who were traveling through or had been stationed in Turkey were also taking Angoras back to the U.S., and it was this small but hardy population that provided the bedrock for a U.S. line of Angoras. With diligent work from this community of Angora fanciers, the breed grew to be numerous enough to be granted registration status with the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) in 1968, and for provisional competition status in 1970.

In 1973 the CFA gave full recognition to the Turkish Angora, but until 1978, registration was limited to white Angoras only. Since 1978, the breed has been accepted in all of its natural colors, and is now a full participating class in all of the cat associations in North America.

Registration numbers show that the white Angora is still the most sought after, but breeders have been focusing more energy on the other colors, with the realization that the white coat is no more beautiful than many of the other natural colors. In addition to that, in terms of possible health concerns the white coat is also not always best for the vitality of the breed (see care, below). Enthusiasts have also contributed to the rising popularity of the colored Angora, as they have found that it is far easier to find and transport a non-white Angora from its home country.

Because the Turkish zoo and government have only focused their attention on the preservation of the white Angora, all other colors of the breed roam freely through the rural and urban landscapes.