Beloved in their native Turkey, the Turkish Angora is quite possibly the only domestic cat kept and raised in a zoo. For a time, these gorgeous, intelligent, regal cats were all thought to be deaf (more on that later) and were used so heavily in crossbreeding to build up the Persian breed, they were almost driven to extinction. While still a rare breed today, the Turkish Angora has a devoted following across the globe among people who want a soft, visually magnetic long-haired cat.
The Turkish Angora is a medium-sized cat with a slender, delicate appearance, according to the breed standard. Angoras who originate from the Ankara Zoo in Turkey have a somewhat more substantial build, but all Angoras have a dignified, regal disposition and carry themselves with grace.
The Angora coat is long, very soft, and comes in a wide variety of colors and variations. White is traditionally the most popular—and the lone color produced at the Ankara Zoo—but Turkish Angoras can also be found in black, reds, browns, and grays, as well as tabby, tortoiseshell, and bicolor variations.
Their heads are small and round, with wide-set ears and large, almond-shaped eyes that come in amber, green, blue, or in a heterochromatic blue/amber or blue/green pairing.
Deafness is a trait that runs in the Turkish Angora. This doesn't seem to affect their quality of life, however, and deaf Angoras live normal, healthy life spans, according to the Cat Fanciers' Association. They may, however, be louder than normal when vocalizing, since they can't hear their own voices and are unable to modulate.
Turkish Angoras can get along well with children if they're socialized to them well enough, though very little ones should be cautioned about pulling their long hair or tugging on tails. They're not as accepting of being handled by small kids as some other breeds, like the Himalayan, Nichols says.
"They tend to be climbers [and] like to sit up high," Nichols says.
Their long, silky coats have no undercoat, which makes grooming fairly easy for the Turkish Angora. But this doesn't mean you can skip grooming, because they need brushing one or two times a week in order to keep their coats shiny and looking good. Their hair is fine enough that it doesn't tend to clump or mat all that easily, but it will continue to grow until they are about 2 years old, so expect the brushing sessions to get more involved as your kitten grows. Turkish Angoras also shed a lot, Nichols says, so routine brushing will keep their loose fur from ending up on your furniture.
For a long period in the 19th century and earlier, it was presumed all Turkish Angoras were deaf. While that's certainly not the case, it is a bigger issue in the breed than in most. There seems to be a connection between the gene for white fur and blue eyes and the breed's hearing. As such, white cats with blue eyes have a higher than average chance of being deaf. This potential extends to the odd-eyed cats, too, with the side having the blue eye being deaf.
Hereditary ataxia is a rare but serious condition in some Turkish Angora kittens. The kittens affected by ataxia have shaking movements and do not survive to adulthood.
Another genetic illness that is rare but known to the breed is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a cardiac condition usually found between the ages of 2–6, with male cats being affected more commonly.
"Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be manageable, but at some point, a cat that has it is probably going to go into heart failure," says Michelle Beck, DVM, CCRT, CVA, of the Backlund Animal Clinic in Omaha, Neb. "When it comes to congestive heart failure, usually about a year after detection is the lifespan."
The wild ancestors of the Turkish Angora were some of the first cats domesticated in the Middle East's Fertile Crescent. An old breed, Europeans noticed them sometime around the 16th century, according to the Turkish Angora Breed Council (TABC), when their brilliant white, long-hair coats made them prized as breeding stock for the more popular Persian.
So prolific was this outbreeding process that it nearly drove the Angora to extinction by the end of the 19th century, as their own bloodlines were given a back seat to building up the Persian's. The Turkish Angora was saved from oblivion by caretakers in their home country who began collecting white Angoras for breeding and preservation in the Ankara Zoo in the early 20th century, according to the TABC. The zoo has bred and raised Angoras ever since, but didn't begin selling cats for export outside of Turkey until the 1960s when breeding pairs began making their way to Canada and the United States.
Today, Turkish Angoras are still a rare breed, but they were accepted by the Cat Fanciers' Association for championship in 1973. All registered Angoras must still be able to trace their lineage back to the Ankara Zoo.
* While Turkish Angoras share a lineage with the Turkish van, they are genetically distinct breeds.
* You can still go to the Ankara Zoo in Turkey and see the Angora.