Burmese Cat Health

by Michael
(London, UK)

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.

Burmese Cat
Burmese Cat. Image copyright Helmi Flick.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

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 broader muzzle
  • larger more prominent eyes
  • more demarcated “nose break”

These more extreme cats were called:

  • Contemporary
  • Eastern
  • Extreme
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

From Burmese Cat Health to Burmese Cat

Burmese Cat Health – Sources:

  • http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/phr/lyonsden/Burmese.htm
  • As mentioned in the text


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Burmese Cat Health

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May 22, 2012
reply this topic NEW
by: mortgage loans If you want to buy real estate, you will have to receive the personal loans. Furthermore, my sister all the time takes a short term loan, which seems to be really useful.

Apr 12, 2011
Burmese and Dental Care
by: Anonymous I own 2 European Burmese (brother and sister) that will be 3 years old this June and are extremely healthy except they both have had horrible breath. After looking at their gum lines I discovered redness and swelling on both cats. According to my Vet this is quite common in breeds with shorter muzzles. I have since started a brushing routine with Enzymatic toothpaste every other day with great results! All of the issues have improved dramatically.

Dec 15, 2010
stomach issue
by: Anonymous Hi Anya,
My cat is a Bombay but he has many burmese characteristics. He has stomach issues since he was 3 years old, so I tried many different dry and soft foods. I found a dry food called Wellness which he does well on, but he will still throw up from time to time. I think that the smaller kibble helps since he does not like to chew much too. Now, the vet has me give him a 1/4 tablet of a 10 mg tablet of pepcid a day which seems to be helping him. Good luck with your cat.

Apr 06, 2010
by: Tuesdayjoe Hi Anya..Sadly my cat died recently. Our vet was great…looked into everything but couldn’t solve the problem..she did look at her teeth but could see nothing wrong. Thanks for answering my post

Apr 05, 2010
Stomach problems?
by: Anya I was wondering if anyone else experienced any bad problems with your Burmese’s stomach/digestive system? My parents’ 4 and a half year old girl has had some pretty bad issues since a couple of months ago. At first she started throwing up after feeding and just acting all sickly (sleeping all the time, not being alert etc.). She’s had the same diet since she was a kitten – boiled chicken breast, soft and dry cat food (good brand), and never had any issues before. We took her to the vet who did some blood tests and put her on a special diet cat food (dry), and told us not to feed her anything else apart from that, and at first she seemed to be doing really well, her apetite came back, and she was her playful self again. The blood tests didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary. Recently she has lost her apetite again and is sleeping all the time, I’m really worried 🙁

Apr 05, 2010
To Tuesdayjoe
by: Anya Tuesdayjoe, my parents’ burmese had this, she scratched the inside of her mouth so bad she was bleeding, when we took her to a vet he found an infected tooth (she was only 3 years old at the time!), after they removed the tooh she was fine. Perhaps your cat has some sorta tooth or gum ache as well? Otherwise I really don’t know 🙁

Apr 01, 2010
by: Tuesdayjoe My Burmese started to claw at her face in her last years and,sadly, had to wear a cone round her head to prevent her from self harming. I have read recently that some Burmese develop facial pain in their jaw which is why they harm themselves. Has anybody else experienced this? Thanks.

Nov 09, 2009
about cranio-facial defect
by: Cuddle and Kiss’s Cattery First, excuse my bad English.I just want to add that the 1st cranio-facial defects were detected in Burmese in the 50’s. Far before the development of the extreme type.

So it’s maybe time to stop saying that American Burmese breeders are responsible of that disease and that the breed should have stayed with a more Asian look (European Burmese) to avoid health problem.

In France we do not have problem with our american burmese and bombays, even if we are known in shows to have very well typed cat with round face and short nose.

Vets and breed committees are working on that disease to find the genetic problem for decades and they can’t still tell where does it come from.
I just like to add a link to a breeder testimony about that disease (go to page 2) :
(new window)

Cuddle and Kiss’s Bombay and Burmese

May 10, 2009
Burmese comments
by: Marcia No problem Michael. I wasn’t upset but didn’t want people being thinking that all the Burmese had the problem. We are proud in the UK to have kept the problems out.Thank you for putting the matter straight – quite refreshing.


May 10, 2009
Correction to article
by: Michael (PoC Admin) Hi Marcia, Firstly, thank you for taking the time to comment. Comments are always welcome. I have made the point that you made (in summary form) in the article and directed visitors to your comment. I am sorry if you were a bit upset but I just report what I see as honestly and as accurately as I can. The suggestion that UK cats could be affected came from the VetMed site referred to at the base of the article and not from me, by the way.

May 10, 2009
Correction to article
by: Marcia I wish to put the record straight regarding the UK. The imports to the UK took place well before the craniofacial deformity problems appeared in the USA, hence the UK has NEVER had the problems. UK breeders have been very careful not to breed to the extremes and have avoided having this deformity. The UK have had a registration policy for quite some number of years in that we cannot import Burmese and be able to register them with the GCCF which has meant we have kept the gene out of our Burmese which look totally different to the USA Burmese – look at the Burmese Cat Club website at www.burmesecatclub.com I do hope you can correct your article as it is generally very good but is inaccurate in this respect. You are correct in your remarks that the USA defects have not been resolved and are still to this day being researched with no answers yet.

The UK also does not have the heart problem mentioned either.

I can be contacted at goldlay@gmail.com if you wish to discuss further.

7 thoughts on “Burmese Cat Health”

  1. I’ve been trying to find out if my cat, Paul, has a less severe case burmese head defect. He’s a Bombay I believe. He only has 1 nostril and that side of his face is crooked to make up for the no nose. No palette issues, he’s 6 and has asthma but perfectly healthy besides the deformity.

    • Hi Emily. Well, I did a bit of research on this and you might know more than me! Burmese Head Defect (BHD) is just another one of those diseases caused by selective breeding which has gone too far causing a mutated recessive gene to take effect when it would normally be ‘dormant’. I can’t tell if your cat suffers from a mild form of it but it is entirely possible. According to UC Davis the following breeds are ‘appropriate for testing’: Australian Mist, Bombay, Burmese, Burmilla, European Burmese, Tonkinese. Kittens with the condition don’t survive. BHD is down to overbreeding which is a big problem for the cat fancy. Almost all cat breeds have their own genetically inherited health problems and they are often extensive. Good luck.

  2. Goodday,

    This problem with Burmese has in fact worstened and in an article was produced by Professor Leslie Lyons University of Missouri, the genetic problems have spread too the rest of the world. Resulting in action being taken by using Thai-Born cats that conform too Burmese standards and that test negative for the 10 known genetic diseases affecting Burmese. Being used in outcrossing programmes too improve genetic diversity and improved hybrid vigour and so reduce the risk of genetic disease being perpetuated. Kind Regards denis jansen Mapantsula cattery Cape Town South Africa

  3. Hi!

    Please check the website for info about midline defect in european burmese.

    Also: isn’t meningoencephalocele the same as the head defect you mension later in the text?



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