15 of the Oldest Cat Breeds Still in Existence

Cats have carved out a place in artwork, literature, mythology and people’s homes for centuries. And some modern-day domestic cat breeds can trace their lineage back to those ancient times, largely unspoiled by selective breeding. Here are 15 of the oldest cat breeds still in existence.

1. Abyssinian

Abyssinian catCredit: Igor-Kardasov/Getty Images

The origin of the Abyssinian is a bit of a mystery. “In appearance, Abyssinians resemble the paintings and sculptures of ancient Egyptian cats which portray an elegant feline with a muscular body, beautiful arched neck, large ears and almond shaped eyes,” according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association. Geneticists can trace the Abyssinian’s ancestors to the coast of the Indian Ocean, as well as parts of Southeast Asia, but the first official written reference to the cat didn’t occur until the late 1800s. Still, these cats retain a wild appearance that likely came from their feral ancestors.

2. Aegean cat

Native to the Greek islands, Aegean cats can track their lineage back millennia. “Archaeologists have found evidence that early domesticated cats lived on the island of Cyprus, a neighbor of Greece, some 10,000 years ago,” according to VetStreet. “It seems reasonable that over the years, some of those cats migrated to Greece on fishing or trading vessels, where they were no doubt welcomed for their mousing ability.” Because these cats largely have been secluded on the islands and away from selective-breeding programs, they’re generally very healthy animals. And as true island cats, Aegeans don’t mind water — and sometimes even go fishing for themselves.

3. Chartreux

The Chartreux was first documented in the 16th century, but it might be able to trace its existence even farther back in time. “Recent research has proven that the origin of these cats was in ancient Persia,” according to the CFA. “They probably arrived at the French monasteries with knights returning from the Crusades.” These cats are known for their rounded heads with contours that give the illusion that they’re smiling — which fits with their incredibly affectionate and social nature.

4. Egyptian Mau

Egyptian Mau cat

Credit: Mordolff/Getty Images

It’s a mystery as to how far back in time the Egyptian Mau goes. Cats were revered in ancient Egypt, and artifacts dating back to 1550 B.C. show spotted cats similar to the Mau. “Even though domesticated, several characteristics of their early ancestors have been retained,” the CFA says. “These include the Cheetah gait and a loose skin flap that extends from flank to hind leg, which allows the Mau remarkable freedom and agility in twisting and jumping.” Plus, the Mau is the only naturally spotted domestic cat breed.

5. Japanese bobtail

Consider yourself lucky if you meet a Japanese bobtail. “A tricolored cat with a beckoning paw and a bobbed tail is a symbol of good fortune in Japan, and the Bobtail has been depicted in art and described in writing in that country for at least 1,000 years,” according to VetStreet. These cats are a smaller breed, and they sport their trademark short tail thanks to a natural genetic mutation (and not intervention from breeders). “The tail may be flexible or rigid, and no two tails are alike in this breed,” VetStreet says.

6. Korat

You’ll be truly fortunate if you happen to meet a Japanese bobtail and a Korat in the same day. In Thailand, the silvery-blue Korat is a symbol of luck and prosperity, according to VetStreet. The earliest record of this cat appeared in a book that was produced sometime between 1350 and 1767 A.D. Plus, centuries-old artwork depicts cats that look nearly identical to the breed today, with its characteristic heart-shaped head and large, rounded ears.

7. Maine coon

Maine coon lying downCredit: Frank Anschuetz/Getty Images

As the official state cat of Maine, the Maine coon has quite a storied past. “Lots of myths surround the origin of the Maine Coon, from the belief that he’s the result of a cross between a cat and a raccoon — biologically impossible — to the fanciful notion that he descends from French cats sent to Maine by Marie Antoinette in anticipation of her intended escape from France,” VetStreet says. The likely story is the Maine coon descended from domestic cats already in the country mixed with long-haired foreign cats — possibly brought over by the Vikings. The first documentation of the Maine coon wasn’t until 1861, though the cats already were known to many, especially as excellent mousers.

8. Manx

Originating on the Isle of Man, the friendly Manx is another ancient breed that naturally lacks a tail (though some can have a stump or in rare cases a full tail). “The Manx taillessness is caused by a mutation that probably originated among the island’s native shorthair cat population and, because it is a dominant gene, spread to the other cats on the island,” according to the CFA. The original island cats were shorthaired with uncertain histories, but it was likely thanks to the Vikings again that the breed also has a gene for long hair.

9. Norwegian forest cat

The Norwegian forest cat has ancient and even mythological roots in Norway, tracing its history back thousands of years. “They pulled the goddess Freya’s chariot across the sky and figured in Norse fairy tales,” VetStreet says. “They are said to have accompanied the Vikings on their journeys to keep their ships free of rats … and [the cat] has been a friend to farmers for centuries, trading his services as a mouser for shelter and companionship.” It’s potentially the Wegie — with its long, thick coat — that provided the gene for long hair to some other cat breeds.

10. Persian

White Persian catCredit: rukawajung/Getty Images

It’s suspected that ancient desert caravans traveling with spices and jewels sometimes carried a familiar longhaired cat. “They were called Persian for their ‘country of origin,’ but hieroglyphic references as early as 1684 B.C. shroud forever their exact beginnings,” according to the CFA. Persians gained popularity in Victorian Britain for their glamorous coat and sweet face, VetStreet says. Nowadays, the “show” variety has more exaggerated features due to selective breeding — a rounder head, shorter face and flatter nose. But thankfully, there still are “traditional” Persians that retain the ancient look of the breed.

11. Russian blue

Folklore regards the Russian blue as a cat with healing abilities and a bringer of good luck, which might be why Russian czars apparently favored the breed. “Born just south of the Arctic Circle in the Russian port city of Archangel, the Russian Blue was an intrepid explorer who legend says rode with Cossacks and frequently made his way to other climes as a ship’s cat,” according to VetStreet. These cats are quiet and often reserved. They usually won’t be clingy, but they do prefer that you keep them on a consistent schedule — especially when it comes to mealtimes.

12. Siamese

The Siamese is one of the most recognizable cat breeds today. But it took a while for these cats to make their way to the Western world. “It is believed that Siamese are descended from the sacred temple cats in Siam, now called Thailand,” according to the CFA. In the late 1800s, they started moving west, with U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes even receiving one as a gift. These cats love people and are known for using their vocal abilities to carry on a conversation with their humans.

13. Siberian

two Siberian catsCredit: EnkiPhoto/Getty Images

Siberians are an ancient cat with an adventurous spirit and a thick fur coat that would protect them from frigid Russian winters. “They are thought to have existed for some 1,000 years, performing rodent control on farms and in shops,” according to VetStreet. “In Russian fairy tales, magical cats protect children and open gateways to unseen realms.” Although some people might claim the Siberian is hypoallergenic, that hasn’t been scientifically proven. “Allergies are not caused by a particular coat type but by dander, the dead skin cells that are shed by all cats,” VetStreet says.

14. Turkish Angora

The Turkish Angora’s silky coat might look like it’s all for show, but it actually protected this cat from the harsh mountains of Turkey. “The earliest written reference to the cats dates to 16th century France, so they were no doubt popular objects of trade,” according to VetStreet. “At the birth of cat shows in the late 19th century, Angoras were among the breeds exhibited.” At that point, Persian breeders began to use Angoras in their breeding programs, causing Angoras to lose their identity. Fortunately, the natural version of the cat was preserved in its native land, so the breed could continue in its true form.

15. Turkish Van

The Turkish Van might be confused with the Angora, but the two have some very marked differences. For one, the Van is much larger, weighing roughly 7 to 20 pounds versus the Angora’s 5 to 9 pounds. “The Van takes his name from Lake Van, located in the mountains of Turkey’s eastern Anatolian region, where he was first known,” VetStreet says. “He probably existed there for centuries, protected by his isolation from the rest of the world.” Westerners first discovered the cats in the 1950s, and they didn’t make it to the U.S. until the 1980s. Even in Turkey, the Van is fairly rare, though it is considered a national treasure.

Main image credit: cunfek/Getty Images

73 comments

Mia B
Mia B2 days ago

thank you for posting

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D2 days ago

Great article - very interesting. Cats are beautiful and majestic. I would have loved to have more pics accompanying this article.

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Caitlin L
Caitlin L3 days ago

Thank you for sharing

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Leo C
Leo C4 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Leo C
Leo C5 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mike R
Mike R5 days ago

Beautiful cats!! Thanks

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Paula A
Paula A5 days ago

Thank you.

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Sue H
Sue H6 days ago

Beautiful photos and information.

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Patrice Z
Patrice Z6 days ago

Very interesting article. I would have liked to see pictures of all the breeds mentioned.

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Teresa W
Teresa W6 days ago

beautiful cats

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