This page on Burmese Cat Health is in addition to the information on the Burmese cat page. Firstly, I would like to expand on the well known and disastrous “head defect”. Ross D Clark, DVM in his book “Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects of Purebred Cats” states that this is a syndrome of meningoencephalocele and an inherited trait in Burmese cats. The VetMed UCDavis site states that the “Burmese Head” fatal health condition is caused by inbreeding that has resulted in an unforeseen and undesirable trait coming to the fore via an autosomal recessive gene. The symptom of this disease is herniation of meninges and brain tissue through a defect in the skull. It is nearly always fatal after birth. “Herniation of meninges” means a rupture in the skull through which in this case membranes enveloping the brain and the brain itself protrude.
It was during the 1970s that a more extreme type of Burmese was developed, which remained within the widely construed breed standard. The desire to create more extreme looking cats is commonly encountered in the cat fancy as it can result in better business and kudos for the cat breeder. The more extreme head features included:
- More rounded head
- higher frontal prominence
- shorter and more broad muzzle
- larger more prominent eyes
- more demarcated “nose break”
These more extreme cats were called:
- New Look
This left the original appearance as “traditional”. The new look Burmese cats won prizes at cat shows, which lead to more breeding of this type of cat. After the more contemporary cat was established a severe head defect (“congenital craniofacial deformity) in kittens emerged when both parents were of the contemporary type. Clearly this major health problem must now be looked at in an historical context. But it naturally caused a lot of discussion at the time (I should imagine that it was rather emotional at times). But as at 1992 (some 17 years ago now) the health problem was referred to in Dr Clark’s book indicating that is was unresolved at that time. I do not know the current status of the disease and whether the problem has been substantially resolved. I doubt it, however.
By 1983, “burmese head” was widespread and affected 90 Burmese cats over a widely dispersed number of catteries in the USA. A group was formed to oversee research, The Burmese Cooperative Research Project. Traditional Burmese were bred with contemporary Burmese cats. The resultant litters were then bred to known carriers of the recessive gene that caused the head defect. 13.24% of the resultant kittens had head defects. It was assessed that the inheritance was incomplete dominance. In respect of overall mating, the VetMed site says that 25% of offspring will have the condition.
Although this disastrous Burmese cat health problem originated in the USA, cats exported to the UK has, it seems, introduced the problem there, albeit I suspect to a much lesser degree (has it been completely eradicated in the UK as at 2009?). Update 10-5-09: I have received a very helpful comment (click on the comment link below) in which Marcia kindly makes it clear that neither this condition nor the heart abnormality affect UK Burmese cats. Please read the comment – thank you Marcia.
Both the Bombay cat breed and some American Shorthair breeding lines are said to carry the defective gene. Both these breeds could (and perhaps still do) spread the defect. Kittens born with this most severe defect are euthanized. I should be pleased if a breeder could provide updating information in a comment (see comments).
Another disease affecting Burmese cat health is called Primary endocardial fibroelastosis. This is an hereditary heart abnormality that is also found in Siamese cats. I don’t know if research has taken place into this condition to make it better understood. Signs first appear at 3 weeks to four months of age. Symptoms include difficulty in breathing with an open mouth. The left atrium and and ventricle are enlarged. This disease general proves fatal.
Two other disease can affect the Burmese in addition the above and as mentioned on the Burmese cat page:
- Congenital keratoconjunctivitis sicca was found in one line (reported in the Dr Clark book published 1992). This disease causes a dry eye. Symptoms are dry eyes, chronic conjunctivitis and often superficial corneal vascularization.
- Eversion of the cartilage of the third eye. This disease was reported to have been in a few breeding lines of Burmese cats. The problem resembles “cherry eye”. The problem can be successful treated with surgery.
Update 30-6-09:A visitor, Erica Head, made an interesting contribution on the subject of Burmese Cat Health with a story about 2 Burmese brothers going blind quickly when senior cats: Blind Burmese Brothers in the UK.
Update Sept 2011: Hypokalemic myopathy is an autosomal (not sex linked) recessive genetic defect seen in young Burmese kittens. Symptoms occur at about 4 months of age. The kittens have periods of paralysis or weakness. Their necks may be flexed downwards. The treatment is a dietary supplement of potassium. This reverses the symptoms. The supplement should be given until the kitten can regulate potassium metabolism. Seek a vet’s advice on duration (source is page 368-369 of the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook updated edition).
Update Feb 2012: Burmese cat health problems also extend to lethal midfacial malformations. This is an abnormality in about one quarter of the kittens that are (were?) born in a particular line of Burmese cats that were bred selectively for the more rounded face and short nose referred to above.
In addition the Burmese cat may have a propensity to developing Diabetes Mellitus (Sugar Diabetes) – source: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook 3rd edition. ISBN 978-0-470-09530-0.
Finally Burmese cat health problems could include Feline Orofacial Pain Syndrome (FOPS). This is a disease that causes pain in the mouth and face that is so acute it causes the cat to self-mutitate. The cause is not clear. Read more about this nasty disease and the other cat breeds that it affects. I have also listed: erosion of cartilage of third eyelid as a disease affecting the Burmese. I would advise research on this point.
Burmese Cat Health – Sources:
- As mentioned in the text
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