Published on July 29th, 2016 | by Debbie Martin0
Cat Breeds: Siamese Cat
Anyone who’s seen ‘Lady and the Tramp’ will be familiar with the Siamese cat – this is the breed represented in Disney’s classic by the pair of disturbingly synchronous felines, who emerge from an old lady’s bag and wreak havoc. But do real life Siamese fit this stereotype as the overly-pampered, scheming manipulator?
Profile: What is a Siamese Cat?
The Siamese cat is a very slender animal, with a long body and limbs, with a tail to match. The head is shaped roughly like a wedge, with no round parts of points. The ears are large and darkly-coloured, as is the face, paws and tail – but the body is pale. Or, at least, it’s this way when the animal is young. As the cat gets older, these contrasting shades tend to blur into a single continuum. If raised in a colder environment, this effect will be even more so – with the coat becoming even darker in response to the chill.
The breed’s other distinctive quality is their clear blue eyes. These are bred to give the appearance of intelligence and perceptiveness – and, as we’ll see, this breeding process has also yielded less direct benefits.
Though the brown variety is the most recognisable form of Siamese cat, the breed comes in a number of other sorts and colours. Select a kitten to match your taste. You’ll find that some breeders will specialise in just one variety, and so it’s important that you do your research before proceeding with a purchase. Don’t be afraid to ask the breeder questions – if they’re worth buying from, they’ll be able to assuage your concerns.
History: Where did the Siamese Cat come from?
As you might expect, this breed of cat originated in Siam, in what is now Thailand. There, they were so highly-regarded that only high-ranking members of the aristocracy were allowed to keep them as pets. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the breed was introduced to the west, when visiting British diplomats encountered them. The British Consul in Bangkok, Edward Gould, was given a pair of the animals as pets, and decided to bring them back to Britain as a present for his sister, Lillian.
This first pair, Pho and Mia, would sire three kittens. The entire family was put on display in a cat show in Crystal palace in 1885. The result was a surge in demand for the breed – British aristocrats were keen to bring over this strangely elongated, almost alien breed. Sure enough, more Siamese were imported, and these early animals formed the basis of the bred in Britain and the west in general. These early breeders were keen to emphasise the prestige of these animals – and so named them ‘The Royal Cat of Siam’ – though there is no evidence of any official royally-commissioned breeding programme in their homeland. Lilian was to marry a decade later, and, as Lillian Jane Valley, would co-found the Siamese Cat club in Britain.
As time went on, British Breeders would have their influence on the shape of the animals to come. They began to select for the qualities that made the breed ‘exotic’ and against those that made it ordinary. The result was a succession of increasingly elongated, almost nightmarishly slender animals, with fine bones, narrow heads and extremely long tails and enormous ears. The original breed was almost eradicated – but a few breeders persisted with tradition. The result is two distinct strains of cat – the ‘traditional’ style, and the more recent ‘show’ style.
Personality: What is a Siamese Cat like to own?
Siamese cats are animals which love to be around people. They make for excellent lap cats who love to cuddle up to their owners. They’re sociable, too, and will happily talk to their owners. They’re unlikely to display aggression, with most animals having great temperaments. If you’re looking for a family cat that will happily play with you, or your friends and relatives of any age, then a Siamese cat will fit the bill nicely.
This generous, playful nature also extends to other cats. This is where Disney’s characterisation of the breed is accurate. Siamese cats are at their best when they’ve got another cat to bond with. They’ll play nicely together, develop and strong relationship and, if the testimony of most owners is to be believed, will be far happier as a result. For this reason, many opt to keep their animals in pairs.
Since Siamese cats are short-haired, they don’t demand much attention in the way of grooming. Just give them a gentle brush every now and then and you’ll keep them in tip-top condition.
Any Special Concerns?
The Siamese is a cat which has been very heavily modified in just a short space of time, as breeders sought specific sorts of physical features, without any real knowledge (or regard) for the function of the animal’s body. As such, the breed has formed a number of health problems. Let’s take a look at a few of them in turn.
Siamese cats tend, on average, to live shorter lives than their cousins. On average, they live for around 14 years. The majority of these deaths occur due to tumours forming, particularly on the mammary glands.
Like other varieties of cat bred to have blue eyes, the Siamese enjoys slightly less low-light visibility than other cats. This is because the same allele which produces coloured eyes also produces a structure which helps to amplify low light levels. Further complications to vision mean that some early Siamese went cross-eyed – though, since this trait is visually undesirable, it’s been largely bred out of existence.
It’s not all bad news, however. Relative to other cats, Siamese tend to have a slightly reduced risk of suffering urinary tract disease. Moreover, their reduced ability to see in the dark means that the Siamese is a fairly terrible hunter, and is unlikely to bring home any undesirable ‘gifts’ for its owners. If you’re looking for a cat which is wholly dependent on its owner, then the Siamese may be just right for you!