It seems that for centuries this cat was found in the Far East, in Siam (now Thailand), Burma and the Malay Peninsula (now Malaysia). A female Burmese cat was imported into the USA in 1930. This imported cat was mated with a Seal Point Siamese and then a male offspring from this breeding was bred back to his mother to produce the Sable Burmese Cat¹.
I think that it is unfortunate that the development of this breed in the West has taken divergent paths. This is because of a disagreement between the UK and US cat fancy as to what the Burmese cat should look like. It is a shame that the US and UK differ in respect of their standard for this breed. The differences between the GCCF (UK) and CFA (US) makes it more difficult for non-cat fanciers to appreciate this cat breed. It also means that other countries and associations have to decide how to treat the divergent Burmese subgroups.
Most apparently treat them as the same cat, while some differentiate and call the UK cat the European Burmese. People will disagree with what I have said and one counter argument is that nature throws up diverging types of the same species, the tiger being a classic example (Bengal and Siberian tigers). So, I can see the counter argument. I’ve built two short Blogger posts, one on the American Burmese and the other the European Burmese cat. Most of the cats illustrated on this page are the American Burmese. In the US she is considered a round cobby, small but heavy cat. While the Burmese is described as of foreign type in Australia. See Cat Body Types
|Burmese Cat living in Burma, Thailand (Siam) and Malaya.|
|late 1800s||This breed found in the UK as Chocolate Siamese.|
|1930||Female Burmese Cat first imported into USA (San Francisco). Thought by some to be a dark Siamese. She was breed with a Sealpoint Siamese. One of the litter, a male, was bred with his mother and this litter resulted in the 1st Burmese.See more below.|
|1936||CFA recognise breed (USA)|
|1947||CFA withdrew recognition because of poor breeding practice by some breeders resulting in hybrid Burmese (USA).|
|1949||Two Burmese Cats imported into UK from France|
|1951||Third Burmese imported into UK from USA|
|1952||GCCF recognise Burmese but not on basis of USA pedigrees (UK)|
|1953 or 1954||CFA restore recognition of Burmese(USA).|
|1955||First Blue Burmese born in UK.|
|Champagne Burmese in litters (USA).|
|1958||Breed Standard drafted in USA.|
|1965||Champagne and Platinum Burmese bred formally.|
|1969||Gene pool widened in UK by importation of Burmese from Canada|
|1972||Chocolate and Lilac colors established in the UK.|
|1984||Champagne, blue and platinum accepted for registration by CFA in US.|
|Current||The CFA does not register Traditional (European) Burmese and the GCCF does not register the American (contemporary) Burmese. All US cat registries accept the Burmese for competition.|
Early development – Dr Joseph C. Thompson was the original importer of the first Burmese cat into the USA. Dr. Thompson of San Francisco brought back a chocolate colored cat from Burma, the now famous Wong Mau. It is now thought that the original cat was either a Tonkinese or a Burmese/Siamese variant.
He entered into a complex breeding program, the outcome of which was a declaration from Mr Thompson that this “new breed” was partly a new breed and partly a Siamese cat. Wong Mau was bred to a Siamese because it seems not other cats of the same color were available for breeding (does this sound sensible?). Some of the offspring were pointed. Gloria Stephenson in her book, Legacy of the Cat, says that if Wong Mau had been a Burmese, breeding her to a Siamese would have resulted in all mink colored Tonkinese kittens (is does get very complicated, I am afraid). I would have thought that Wong Mau was an unclassified cat as the Burmese cat breed was not yet officially created when Wong Mau came to the USA. Gloria says that Wong Mau may be regarded as the first Tonkinese but an undeveloped Tonkinese as her body shape was not that of present day Tonkinese cats. The Burmese breed originated from the dark brown kittens that were produced from several generations of breeding mink to mink.
Later development – The appearance of the Burmese started to become more cobby in the United States in the 1960s. The breed were more foreign in appearance until then (i.e. more slender). The head was not the rounded shape that is desired in America, currently (2009). The body and legs were longer. It would seem that the catalyst for change to a more rounded compact appearance was a cat called Theebaw, who was a companion cat of a well known Burmese breeder, Gladys de Fleron, living in New Orleans. Until Theebaw arrived she had shown foreign type Burmese cats. Theebaw was an attractively different looking Burmese, more compact and shorter. He was shown at cat shows with huge success going on to win the ACFA (American Cat Fanciers Association) Cat of the Year award in the 1960s. The natural consequence of Theebaws success was a desire to reproduce it and the more cobby appearance took root. Other famous Burmese cats that influenced the current USA Burmese appearance are: Prince Pogo of Regal (born 1958), Mizpah’s Fernand of Briarwood, Hill House Daniella of Shawnee, Burma Road’s Detour of Senshu to name some.
If one were to summarize the CFA description of character it would be that the Burmese cat is a pleasant, sweet natured and people orientated cat with all the usual attractive domestic cat attributes. A great companion animal. The Burmese cat is vocal with a louder than usual voice. Surprisingly the CFA says that the Burmese cat has almost no sense of survival and should be kept in as a result.
This brings to mind the Ragdoll cat as some people have said similar things about that cat breed. This would seem to be an exaggeration. It must be almost impossible to breed out the ‘hard-wired’ survival instinct, the most fundamental off all instincts. And if cat breeders did breed out this instinct, it would be improper of them, in any event. All domestic cats have retained their fundamental wild cat traits. The Burmese is a pointed cat (e.g. like the Siamese). The points are hard to see, though. The original Burmese was sable (dark brown) in color. Since then, through careful breeding, a wide range of colors have been developed. This has been a further source of controversy. The CFA accepts:
TICA accept the above and these:
The GCCF accept these colors: brown (similar to sable), blue, chocolate, lilac, red, brown tortie, cream, blue tortie, chocolate tortie and lilac tortie.
Candido the cat featured on this page is (I believe) a platinum colored cat (“pale silvery grey with pale fawn undertones” – CFA). The eye color is gold to yellow. Because of the different approaches to the breeding of this cat, there is a range of head and body types. As can be seen from the American cats on this page the face is round.
Update July 2010: I get confused about Burmese colours – perhaps the authors of the source material that I use are confused too.
The USA breeders prefer the “contemporary Burmese” while the Brits go for the “Traditional Burmese”. A brief and limited comparison of breed standards helps to understand the difference.
UK – the head should be a “short wedge”, wide at the cheeks and tapering to a blunt nose. There is no reference to roundness as in the US standard below. The body should be of “medium length and size”.
USA – the head should be “rounded” with a sweet expression. The body should be medium in size and compact (i.e. short).
This comparison tells us a lot about the difference between the UK and US. The European Burmese (UK type) is nearer a normal or standard cat shape (moggie shape). Although some call it more Oriental. While the US Burmese has a slightly exaggerated roundness (supporting the desired sweet look) to her pug-like conformation. Everything about the Burmese is meant to be “rounded”. All major components of the body are round, the head, eyes, short muzzle and chest. Similar terms are used for the American Shorthair and Persian with respect to a round appearance).
Americans, it would seem, demand something a little more outstanding and tend therefore to breed more extreme cats, either very cobby and round (Ultra Persian) or long and delicate (Modern Siamese). In addition the American breeders consider the more rounded look the traditional (original) look. It would seem that some breeders in the US have progressed from “rounded” (the desired breed standard) to “flattened” (something like the Ultra Persian). The flatter faced Burmese cat is called the “contemporary” look.
Although the head should be without flat planes. It is not unusual for breeders to drift slightly away from the breed standard as it is written in quite general terms. This can result in the standard being re-written to accommodate the drift or the judges can enforce a return to the original standard. At one time the Burmese was being bred smaller than required by the standard. The male Burmese cat may be quite strong and powerful with a barrel chest, while females can be more delicate.
The breeding lines of the American cat has a defective gene, which is seen in the birth of kittens with a deformed head. The condition is called Meningoencephalocele. The symptoms are soft swellings on the forehead and face. The condition is inherited from a recessive gene. Kittens that are born alive are euthanized. This does not effect the UK Burmese. This major health problem has been hard to eradicate. The idea is that it will gradually fade out through wise breeding. Read more on this.
As I understand it there is a separate skull defect that was and perhaps is still caused by breeding for the flat face (USA contemporary appearance). This breeding apparently caused the birth of open skulls and misplaced eyes. I am not sure if there is an overlap between this condition and the above.
A condition called Flat Chest Kitten Syndrome, which can be found in dwarf cats, can also it seems be found in the Burmese cat. As indicated the condition causes the chest to be flattened. This causes possible dislocation of internal organs and difficulty in breathing, with poor growth. The kitten will be in distress as well, obviously. This health problem is due to an inherited recessive gene (fck).
Finally A condition called “Cherry Eye” can affect either the traditional or contemporary Burmese cat. The third eyelid comes out and reveals the tear duct. It can be corrected through minor surgery.
Diabetes in cats is on the increase probably due to dietary factors. Dry cat food contains too much carbohydrate. In an Australian study, a higher percentage than average of Burmese cats where found to suffer from Diabetes Mellitus. This is not corroborated by a US study.
Dr. Turner and Jean Turner (authors of Veterinary Notes for Cat Owners) say that this cat breed may be predisposed to a condition called Psychogenic Alopecia (excessive grooming through behavioral problems leading to hair loss). See Feline Endocrine Alopecia
I have expanded on major health problem referred to at 1 above on this page: Burmese cat health [link] and added some more health issues.
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