The Turkish Van is one of the larger, more heavily-built domestic cat breeds. Males average between 10 and 20 pounds, and females weigh substantially less. They have long, strong legs, massive rounded paws and well-defined muscles, which allow them to be very strong jumpers. Their head is blunt and wedge-shaped, with a short muzzle and large, prominent tufted ears. The overall appearance of the Turkish Van is one of sturdiness wrapped up in a luxurious fur coat.
The Turkish Van is considered to be a semi-longhaired breed. Most cats have three distinct types of hair in their coats: outer guard hairs, awn hairs in the middle and downy hairs underneath. The Turkish Van lacks the guard hairs and the wooly undercoat. The plush single coat of this breed feels like cashmere or rabbit fur. The area of their origin – the Lake Van region of southeast Turkey - is a land of temperature extremes. These cats have developed an environmentally appropriate wrapping. In the winter, they have a dense, long, thick single coat that provides protection against the bitter winters of their homeland and is fairly waterproof. They also develop a substantial ruff around the neck and a long, magnificently plumed tail. When warmer weather comes around, they shed their coat and actually appear to be a much shorter-haired animal. However, the full bottle-brush tail is kept year round. As the Van matures, its coat gets increasingly lush.
The Turkish Van has a distinctive chalky white coat, which should show no signs of yellow. Ideally, the only darker markings are restricted to the head and tail, although sometimes localized thumbprints of color do appear on the body. On the head, the markings should be localized to the area above the eyes and should not extend below or behind the base of the ears. Most Vans have a white blaze. The other distinctly darker area is the fluffy, plumed tail. The most common base colors are Auburn and Cream (these are the only colors recognized in Great Britain). Each of these exists in three separate varieties based upon eye color, which can be blue, amber, or an odd-eyed combination of one of each. In all cases, the large, oval, expressive eyes of the Turkish Van are rimmed in pink. The odd-eyed variety is preferred by many fanciers of this breed.
The Turkish Van is a rare, naturally-occurring breed that originated in a remote, rugged region of southeastern Turkey, around that country's largest inland body of water, Lake Van, which spans more than 1400 square miles. These cats were originally brought to Europe from the Middle East by returning crusaders. They have been known over the centuries by various names, including the White Ringtail and the Russian Longhair. They developed in central and southwest Asia, in areas that are now Iran, Iraq, the former southeast Soviet Union and eastern Turkey. For Turkish Vans, the word "Van" refers to their color pattern, where the color is restricted to the head and the tail, and the rest of the cat is white. This name was given to them to distinguish them from the Turkish Angora.
Despite some similarity in appearance, coat and coloring, there has been no established link between the Turkish Angora and the Turkish Van. These are distinct breeds that developed in different geographical regions of Turkey and that have distinctly different body types, size, bone and coats. The Turkish Van is considered a regional treasure in Turkey and is not readily available for export to breeders outside of that country. This is a very rare breed indeed, even in its country of origin.
Blue-eyed Turkish Vans are prone to deafness. Odd-eyed cats may also have hearing deficiencies on the side of their blue eye. This breed is slow to mature and may not reach full adulthood until 3 or 4 years of age. Vans are not prolific breeders, with litters averaging only about four kittens each.
Turkish Vans are loving, loyal, curious, companionable and affectionate. They also are extremely intelligent, which can make them mischievous. Vans are very people-oriented cats. They like to play, jump and explore anything that is within their reach or range of vision. Many Vans are dedicated to fetching their particular object of interest, and many Turkish Van owners describe them as being "dogs in a cat suit" because of their charming personalities. Vans will follow their owners around the house from room to room, wanting to participate in whatever is going on in the household. They typically get along quite well with other companion animals, including both dogs and cats, as long as those animals respect the Van's position at the top of the hierarchy. While the Turkish Van loves to be with its owner, it is not particularly fond of being picked up and cuddled unless it is on its own terms.
Turkish Vans have been described as being lively, inactive, playful, nervous and/or lethargic, among many other things. Despite this disparity in descriptions, most authorities find the Turkish Van to be an energetic animal. They love to run. They also love to play with - and in – water, which is uncommon in cats. They are extremely agile despite their stocky build.
Vans are talented jumpers and climbers. Their powerful hind legs give them a tremendous ability to jump, leap and climb. They can easily land on top of the refrigerator or on top of the highest shelf or bookcase from a cold stand-still. They love to fetch and can learn to retrieve. They instinctively catch toys in mid-flight while turning somersaults and backflips in the air. One of the most interesting behavioral traits of this breed is their fascination with water. Turkish Vans are exceptionally good swimmers, which is unusual among domestic cat breeds. They actually will seek out water and swim as a form of recreation. They have been given the nickname, "The Swimming Cat," for this reason. The voice of the Turkish Van is pleasing and surprisingly melodious.