Not to be confused with the Birman.
The Burmese (Thai: ÈØÀÅÑ¡É³ì subh-bha-lak meaning fortunate, beautiful and splendid appearance) is a breed of domesticated cats divided into two subgroups: the American Burmese and the British Burmese (and are not to be confused with "Sacred Cat of Burma".
Most cat registries do not recognize the split between the two groups. Those that do formally refer to the type developed by British cat breeders as the European Burmese.
History of Burmese Cats
The earliest records of a type resembling Burmese come from Thailand, known as Siam. A series of 17 illustrated poems written in Siam during the period of the Ayutthaya mention three types of cat which appear to correspond to known breeds. These were the Vichien Mat (Siamese), the Si-Sawat (Korat), and the Thong Daeng (Copper, now known as Burmese).
These cats are thought to have remained in Thailand until it was invaded by the Burmese in the 18th century. It is thought returning soldiers may have taken the temple cats with them back to Burma. Cats from Southeast Asia may share characteristics. Continued breeding gives them their distinct features.
The year of 1871, Harrison Weir organized a cat show at the Crystal Palace. A pair of Siamese cats were on display that closely resembled modern American Burmese cats in build, although Siamese in marking. This means that these cats were probably similar to the modern Tonkinese breed.
After this, cat fancy began with cat clubs and cat shows forming. It took many years for breeds to be worked-out and developed. The first Burmese cats in the late 19th century in Britain were considered Chocolate Siamese rather than a breed in their own right.
This view persisted for many years, encouraging cross-breeding between Burmese and Siamese and attempts to breed Burmese to more closely conform with the Siamese build. The breed slowly died out in Britain.
History of the American Burmese
In the early 1930’s, Dr. Joseph Thompson of San Francisco acquired an attractive walnut-brown female from Burma that he named Wong Mau. Most modern Burmese are descendants of Wong Mau. As had happened earlier, a number of breeders considered the cat simply to be a color variant of the Siamese. Dr Thompson considered the build sufficiently different to be something else.
Without any male of a similar type, Wong Mau was bred with Tai Mau, a sealpoint Siamese from Thailand. Wong Mau was then bred with her son to produce dark brown kittens that were called Burmese cats. In 1936, the Cat Fancier's Association granted recognition to the Burmese breed.
Through selective breeding to Siamese, it was established that the Burmese is a distinct breed. Originally Burmese cats were exclusively brown (sable). Years of selective breeding have now produced a wide variety of colors. Lighter colored kittens were occasionally produced.
In time American breeders requested recognition from Cat Fancier's Assn. (CFA) for these “dilute” colors. Intially as another breed named Malayan, then later as a dilute division of Burmese. The four colors recognized by CFA are: sable, champagne, blue and platinum. Different associations have different rules about which of these count as Burmese.
Due to the extensive breeding with Siamese Cats that had been used to increase the population, the original type was overwhelmed. CFA, the leading US cat registry, suspended recognition of the Burmese as a purebred cat on May 8th, 1947. Other American cat registries continued to register the Burmese in America. In 1954, CFA lifted the suspension.
Gerstdale's The Princess of Re-Ru and Hassayampa Spi-Dar of Regal were entered in the Foundation Record of CFA. In 1958 the unaffiliated breed club United Burmese Cat Fanciers (UBCF) wrote a single standard that was used for judging ideal Burmese in all registries.
The UBCF standard has remained basically unchanged since its adoption. This standard is used in all American registries, although European regestries maintain their own standard. Of late The International Cat Assn.(TICA) and CFA clubs are holding shows in Europe and use the American breed standard for judging the Burmese in Europe.
During the early period of breed development, it became clear that Wong Mau herself was genetically a hybrid between a Siamese and Burmese type. These hybrids were later developed as a separate breed known today as the Tonkinese.
History of the British Burmese
The history of the breed unfolded differently in England. The breed was recognized by the United Kingdom Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) in 1952. From about 1949 to 1956, the British Burmese population became enriched with cats imported from America. The cats which fed the British breeding program were of a variety of builds.
By 1952, three generations had been produced in Britain. Official recognition was granted by the GCCF and the breed was accorded the breed number 27. Until the late 1960s, the gene pool in Britain was very small, with most Burmese being descended from 6 initial imports and a Burmese/Chinese hybrid from Singapore.
In 1969, additional cats were brought over from Canada and the gene pool became even wider.
The first blue Burmese was born in 1955 in England. Followed by red, cream, and tortoiseshell kittens over the next couple of decades. Considerable effort was put in to remove banding patterns from the coats and to decide whether these new colors counted as Burmese.
Champagne colored cats (known as "chocolate" in the UK) appeared in America. Breeding became impeded by refusal of breed clubs to acknowledge Burmese cats could be any color other than Brown. The year of 1971 the first lilac kitten was born, being the latest solid color introduced in Burmese.
Throughout the 1970s, brown, chocolate (champagne), blue and lilac tortoiseshell types were developed in England. In America, the chocolate (champagne), blue and lilac (platinum) colors were accepted for registration as a separate breed, the Malayan in 1979. In 1984, the champagnes, platinums and blues were accepted for registration as Burmese.
CFA organizes the champagne, blue and platinums in the "dilute" division and the sables in the sable division. Cinnamon, Fawn, Caramel, and Apricot Burmese were developed in New Zealand from a breeding program initiated by geneticist Dr Rod Hitchmough. The first cinnamon Burmese was Arsenios Cinnamon Dream Boy.
From the 1950s onwards, countries in the Commonwealth and Europe started importing Burmese cats from Britain. As a result, most countries based their Standard of Points for this breed on the British model, rather than the American.
Burmese cats have been instrumental in the development of other domestic cat breeds, including (but not limited to) the Tonkinese, the Bombay and the Burmilla.
Accepted eye color for the breed is gold or yellow. Their coat is known for being glossy, with a satin-like finish. With most short-hairs no additional grooming is required. The shape of the British breed is more moderate but cannot be Oriental.
The American breed is sturdier in build. Longer lived than most pedigree cats, they often reach 16 to 18 years of age. Burmese are a small to medium size breed tending to be 4-6kg in weight, even though the breed are a lot heavier than they first appear.
Burmese Cats carry surprising weight for their size and have often been described as “bricks wrapped in silk.” Their coats are very short, satin-like in texture, generally requiring little grooming other than daily petting.
There is a range in Burmese head and body type; the more compact cats with the rounder heads are seen in the show ring. Burmese have large, expressive eyes that are great pools of innocence and seductive appeal, irresistible in effect.
These eyes are their most persuasive weapon in an arsenal of endearing traits that mask an awesome power to hypnotize their owners into life-time love affairs with which they then effortlessly rule their families.
Burmese kittens are quite lively. Often times they appear to be clumsy when they attempt feats beyond their capabilities and land on their rears with solid little thumps. They will be playful well into adulthood. As Burmese grow, their high intelligence emerges and their own individual personalities start to unfold.
They mature into charming, resolute executives who move in and take over a household, running it efficiently with those big eyes and a velvet paw. When encouraged, many Burmese cats converse with their humans, using soft, sweet voices (they are not loud nor raucous).
They are good with children, will tolerate the family dog and if introduced to it at an early age as something pleasant, most will enjoy traveling in a car.
Burmese are vocal like the Siamese but have softer, sweeter meows. They are very affectionate and enjoy company. As they are a people oriented breed they form strong bonds with their owners and gravitate toward human activity.
Burmese need a reasonable amount of human attention, are not as independent as other breeds and are not suited to being left alone for extended periods of time. The Cat Fanciers Assn. (CFA) breed information on the Burmese implies that all survival instinct of flight or fight seems to have been bred out of them.
Other sources note that, while rarely aggressive with humans, Burmese cats can defend themselves quite well against other cats, even those larger than themselves.
The Burmese Brown coat is caused by the Burmese gene (cb), part of the albino series, which causes a reduction in the amount of pigment produced converting black into brown, and all the other colors into a paler, more delicate shade of their full color equivalents.
The action of the gene causes pigment production to be most limited in the warmest parts of the body, so in some varieties darker areas of pigment are obvious on the colder parts of the body such as the face and ears, the tail and the feet. The effect of restricted pigment is significantly more visible in young kittens.
The Burmese gene is also present in some other cat breeds, particularly the established rex breeds, where it can be fully expressed in its homozygous form (cbcb) and referred to as Burmese Color Restriction or Sepia or can be combined with the Siamese gene (cbcs) to form Mink or Darker Points.
The Singapura is always homozygous for the Burmese gene, combining it with a ticked tabby pattern and Snow Bengels with eye colours other than blue also have the gene. A breed of cat exists called the Asian which is a breed related to the Burmese, having the same physical type, but occurring in a range of other patterns and colors not recognized as part of the Burmese breed.
Closing Thoughts and Recommendations
Burmese Cats should never be let outdoors as they are entirely too trusting and have little, if any, survival instinct. Their idea of survival is to turn their soulful eyes on you to attend to all their needs. This does not work for catching food and fighting off enemies or avoiding cars.
A Burmese should be purchased only from a reputable breeder; avoid pet shops. Good advice is to visit the breeder’s home to observe the conditions in which the litter is being raised. Breeders differ in their methods but the environment should always be clean and relatively odorless.
The kittens should be energetic, curious and easily handled. All the cats in the breeder’s home must be healthy. Check for clear eyes and noses, clean ears and healthy-looking coats. A breeder must guarantee the health of the kitten or cat for a reasonable length of time.
Breeders must provide registration papers (often after the kitten has been altered), discuss care and available to answer questions.
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