Thailand’s “Splendid” Feline
The Burmese cat has withstood hundreds of years of change, of which no doubt have shaped the breed into what it is today.
Often compared to a Siamese, the Burmese has a complicated history that has instilled a fierce loyalty in its supporters who have worked diligently throughout the years to make sure the breed thrives.
The Burmese cat’s history can be traced back to early Ayutthaya, a Siamese kingdom in Thailand which existed from 1350 to 1767. Mention of a cat resembling the Burmese appears in 17 illustrated poems. The cat was depicted as symbol of good fortune and lived in Thailand’s temples.
Historians speculate that during the 18th century, after Burmese soldiers invaded Ayutthaya, soldiers took the cats with them to Burma, although these cats should not be confused with Burmilla cats, which is a separate breed.
By the late 1800s, a pair of brown cats appeared at a London cat show. While these cats had coloring similar to a Siamese, their build was bigger and more muscular. It was rumored that they cats were from Burma. Well-known cat fancier Harrison Weir helped initiate the organization of the vast varieties of cat breeds; it was during this time that the cats from Burma began to gain interest in England.
Referred to as “chocolate Siamese” in their earlier days, the Burmese cat was cross bred with other Siamese cats in an attempt to conform this new breed to be a traditional Siamese. As a result, the Burmese ceased to exist in England.
Nearly 30 years later, a female brown cat resembling the Siamese was brought to San Francisco from Burma by Joseph Cheesman Thompson, a naval medical officer and cat fancier who had established “Mau Tien,” a cattery where he bred Siamese cats. He thought this brown cat was different from a Siamese with brown markings, and began breeding her with a Siamese to produce a hybrid Burmese-Siamese cat.
When the hybrid cats were bred with one another, they produced a dark coated cat, eventually creating the true lineage of the Burmese breed, which the Cat Fanciers’ Association officially recognized in 1936 as a new show breed in the United States. By 1947, however, the CFA no longer recognized the breed as a purebred due to the increased crossbreeding with Siamese cats in order to increase the Burmese population.
In 1954, the CFA began recognizing the Burmese breed again once standard breeding procedures were set in place. Meanwhile, England cat fanciers took a renewed interested in the breed and began importing Burmese cats from the United States, Canada and Singapore. With the influx of these imported cats, England produced a blue Burmese. Shortly thereafter, English catteries were breeding chocolate, red, cream, lilac and tortoiseshell Burmese cats.
United States cat fanciers groups initially banned Burmese cats that weren’t brown, going so far as to categorize these new colors as a separate breed of its own: Malayan cats. It wasn’t until 1984 that all color types of the Burmese were recognized and accepted in the United States.
Burmese cats bond well with their families, preferring to spend time with people rather than being on their own. Affectionate and vocal, they crave attention and activity.
Some Burmese cats have been known to display characteristics similar to that of dogs, and will play fetch and tolerate going on walks with a leash. They can often be clever and mischievous, taking shiny objects and hiding them in hard-to-find spots.
The breed responds well to other household pets, including dogs, and gets along well with older children.
Today, the American Burmese and the British Burmese—while considered one breed—produce different types of the lineage. The American version has a stockier body, with full cheeks and a short muzzle, while the British version is notably more Oriental, with a triangular face and a slender body.
While both Burmese versions can come in the following colors, only some of them are officially recognized in the United States: brown/ sable, blue/grey, chocolate/champagne, lilac/platinum, red, cream, tortoiseshell, cinnamon, fawn, caramel and apricot.
The trademark brown color is caused what is now referred to as the “Burmese gene,” which is part of the albino series that reduces the amount of produced pigment. This gene converts black to brown with all other colors turning out much paler as well.
Interestingly, the darker pigment appears in the “coolest” areas of the cat’s body: on the face, ears, tail and feet. The Burmese has gold eyes with a shiny, satiny shorthair coat. On average, the breed weighs eight to 10 pounds and is considered medium sized.
While these medical conditions are generally uncommon they are known to occur in the breed. Your Burmese cat will not necessarily develop any of the conditions listed below. Choosing a reputable breeder from which to purchase your pet will help minimize the risks.
- Burmese Head Defect is a serious genetic disorder that affects the musculoskeletal system of a Burmese cat, more commonly seen in the American version of the breed as a result of excessive inbreeding to produce a wedge shaped head.
- Congenital craniofacial deformity and deformed heads are signs of the defect. Breeding programs are still working to eliminate the condition from the lineage.
- Congenital keratoconjunctivitis sicca causes dry eyes, chronic conjunctivitis and corneal vascularisation.
- Feline Orofacial pain syndrome affects male Burmese cats in particular, although females are also affected. Symptoms include exaggerated licking and chewing movements, plus excessive pawing at the mouth. This happens in distinct episodes, although the cat remains alert (albeit in distress) for the duration. The disease appears to be related to some kind of oral pain or distress, and is possibly linked to teething or dental disease. A possible risk factor is stress, but it is believed that there are also hereditary factors involved.
- Primary endocardial fibroelastosis is a hereditary heart condition that develops in the first year of the cat’s life, causing breathing difficulties due to an enlarged left atrium and ventricle. The condition is often fatal.