Cats two Burmese cats in front of a white background

Published on June 10th, 2016 | by Debbie Martin


Cat Breed Series: Burmese

For some people, friendliness is an essential quality in any prospective pet. If a cat prefers to keep to itself, or is timid or irritable, then it’s not going to be quite so fun to be around as one that’s friendly and warm.

It’s undoubtedly for this reason that the Burmese is one of the most popular breeds of cat on the planet. These loveable cats will involve themselves with whatever happens to be going on in your household – they want to be at the centre of things.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this most affectionate of felines – we’ll examine its origins, and see just how it might fit into your home life.

Profile: What is a Burmese

Burmese cats are close relatives of the Siamese, and share their friendly nature. But the two breeds are physically quite distinct from one another. The breed is medium sized, but is deceptively heavy thanks to its considerable musculature. Like the Siamese, if you pick one up you’ll be surprised at just how much effort it takes!

Burmese cats come in two different sub-categories. There are British (or ‘traditional’) Burmese, and there are American (or ‘contemporary’) ones. The former is a lankier animal with a long muzzle and a medium-length tail. The latter is markedly stouter – its head is broader, its eyes rounder and its muzzle flatter.

Both varieties boast a coat that’s very short and very glossy. Burmese cats can be chocolate, lilac, red, blue or cream, but most of them are brown. The colour should be uniform, with only the subtlest variations at the points. Animals with spots are considered non-standard. Burmese cats have usually green or gold eyes.

The uniform nature of the Burmese fur coat is thanks to a special gene named after it. It’s closely related to the ‘albino’ gene which causes a complete loss of pigmentation. This ‘Burmese’ gene will cause less pigment to be produced, which means that all colours are paler than they otherwise would be.

History: Where did the Burmese come from?

You might conceivably now be wondering why we’re talking about British and American versions of this animal. Aren’t Burmese cats – well – from Burma? Ultimately, the answer is mostly yes – but the name arose thanks to marketing rather than geography. Western breeders wanted their creation to appear ‘exotic’ to western customers, and so they adopted a name that called to mind the Far East, however tenuous the breed’s link to the region.

The breed’s origin can be traced back to the late Victorian era, when the British were importing cats from their colonies in modern Thailand. These cats were highly sought-after, thanks to their classic looks and affectionate temperament. Breeders quickly got to work creating variants that would cater to the demand. One of their early efforts was the Chocolate Siamese, a brown variant of the traditional Siamese.

One of these breeders was Joseph Thompson, a medical officer in the US Navy. Thompson brought a brown female named Wong Mau back to San Francisco. He would breed the cat with a Siamese, and then with her son. This produced a littler of distinctively Burmese kittens, with uniform, brown coats.

Just a few years later, the breed was recognised by the American Cat Fancier’s Association. But this success was not to last – outcrossing with Siamese meant that the breed’s genome was diluted to the extent that the CFA rescinded their recognition. It would take a further twenty years before the breed would be recognised again in the states, and be exported to the UK, where it developed as a separate strain. The two varieties developed according to the tastes of their respective homelands, until they eventually settled on the Burmese varieties we know today.

Personality: What’s a Burmese like to own?

Burmese cats are notoriously friendly. If you’d like a low-maintenance pet that will mind its own business while you attend to yours, then look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you’d like a pet that’s a willing participant in everything your do around the house, then look no further.

The Burmese is an exceptionally friendly breed, which will want to play at every opportunity. They’re therefore perfect for households with small children in them – they’ll provide such children with an invaluable playmate.

Some Burmese cats have been known to ‘collect’ items they find around the house. It’s thought that this behaviour is linked to their need for human contact – old socks and underwear are highly reminiscent of their human owners, and so are of great interest to the Burmese. It should be noted, however, that not all Burmese exhibit this markedly dog-like behaviour.

Burmese cats are distinct from other friendly breeds, like the ragdoll, in that they have very short fur coats. This makes grooming them much more straightforward – just give them an occasional stroke and you’ll be giving them all the grooming they require. Fortunately, this is a breed that’s more than willing to volunteer for such a thing.

Burmese cats are noteworthy in that they’re predisposed to a couple of health problems. They’ve been linked with certain sorts of diabetes, and so owners should take care to monitor their pets diet. It may well be that this ‘predisposition’ comes as a result of achingly-cute Burmese cats begging for treats, and so this behaviour should be resisted and discouraged.

One other potential health problem for the Burmese is Flat-Chested Kitten Syndrome (or FCKS). This causes the effected kitten to suffer from a compressed chest, which in turn is usually caused by a collapsed lung.

Burmese cats are also at greater risk of developing hypoxaemia, a low concentration of potassium in the blood. This condition is caused by a recessive gene, which both parents must have in order for it to be passed on. For this reason, reputable breeders will carry out a DNA test in order to ensure that the gene is not present in breeding cats. Be sure to ask for proof of such a test before you part with your money; a quality breeder will be happy to oblige.

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About the Author

Debbie Martin has worked at Beeston Animal Health for over five years, having previously worked as a nurse in equine and small animal practice. Although generally involved with aspects of marketing these days and putting her psychology degree to good use, she still has a great depth of up to date knowledge in all creatures great and small. Debbie lives at home with her partner and two children and spends much of her spare time looking after her horses, dogs and cats or at the home farm with the cows, sheep and turkeys.

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