Thousands of cat owners disagree with Ben the Vet on cat breed lifespan

In a TikTok video below, Ben the Vet presents his version of cat breed lifespans. He has based his presentation, in the short video, on a study about the lifespan of the various cat breeds. I was able to find the results of the study on the website of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in the UK. The aim of the study is to compare the lifespan of cross breed and purebred cats to allow people to identify how long cats live and what they die of. Useful information when thinking about buying a purebred cat or adopting a moggie from a shelter.

They collected data from over 4,000 deceased cats randomly selected from all deaths in 118,060 cats attending 90 veterinary practices in England, UK.

Ben presents the main results of that study in his video which has 2,180 comments (at the date of this post). When you skim down those comments you can see right away that visitors strongly disagree with the findings. In almost every case they argue that their cat lived longer than the average lifespan of the breed selected. And I must say some of these lifespans are surprising.

Bengal and Abyssinian – short lifespans

Perhaps the most surprising of all is the lifespan of the Bengal cat at 7.3 years, which seems incredibly short; similar to that of large dog breeds. It makes you wonder whether the study was able to include enough individual Bengal cats to assess their average age accurately. The Abyssinian has a lifespan of 10 years. Once again that is very short compared to random bred cats.

The Maine Coon’s lifespan is 11 years, British Shorthair 11.8 years, crossbreed (moggie) 14 years, Persian 14.1 years, Siamese 14.2, Burmese 14.3 and Birman 16.1. Clearly, this is not all the cat breeds. Even the very selective Cat Fanciers’ Association recognises about 44 cat breeds. The International Cat Association recognises many more, approximately 77 breeds as far as I can remember.

HCM shortening lifespan?

All-in-all there have been about 104 cat breeds in my estimation. I’m going to have to speculate as to why visitors to Ben’s video disagree with the study results. A possibility is this: the Bengal cat suffers like other breeds with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart disease which shortens the lifespan of an individual cat. I’ll speculate and say that this is the reason why Bengal cats have an average lifespan which is so short.

The Maine Coon cat also suffers from HCM which no doubt shortens their lifespan as well ON AVERAGE. You’re going to get some individual Maine Coon and Bengal cats living much longer. And that’s why we have a disagreement between the study and individual cat owners. Many other breeds suffer from a predisposition to HCM.

RELATED: Bengal cat and taurine.

Another interesting aspect of the study results is that the cross breed or random bred cats do not have the longest lifespans compared to some breeds but SEE BELOW. Predictably they would have the longest lifespans because they have better genetic diversity. All purebred cats have limited genetic diversity because they are all inbred.

It is possible that the random bred cat’s lifespan is shortened because they more often die unnatural deaths i.e. through injury and trauma because they are more often than purebred cats allowed outside unsupervised.

The difficulty with the study results is that you expect these lifespans to be based on the cat dying of natural causes i.e. old age but I don’t think this is the case.

Another interesting aspect of the study is that the Siamese cat has an average lifespan of 14.2 years despite the fact, on my estimation, that this is the cat breed with the most inherited diseases [link]. In the Persian also has a very high number of inherited diseases but that cat breed, too, has a lifespan which is longer than a random bred (moggy).

RELATED: Average life expectancy of a Siamese cat

I think we can conclude by saying that there will be great variation between individual cats of individual cat breeds in terms of lifespan. And a big influence on lifespan is their caregiving and whether they are well looked after indoors, full-time, or allowed outside and neglected as might be the case more commonly with random bred cats.

The actual study

The Royal Veterinary College, I’ve discovered while preparing this page, referred to a study entitled Longevity and mortality of cats attending primary care veterinary practices in England dated 2015.

As a result, I can add some detail. They surveyed 90 veterinary practices. 3660 (91.7%) were cross breed or random bred cats. 2,009 (50.7%) were female and 2,599 (64.8%) were neutered.

The most frequently attributed causes of mortality in cats of all ages were:

  • Trauma (12.2%) – I believe this to be a reference to random bred cats allowed outside being killed on the roads and in other ways suffering injuries.
  • Renal disorder (12.1%) – this is a reference to chronic kidney disease which is highly prevalent among elderly cats both moggies and purebred cats.
  • Non-specific illness (11.2%)
  • Neoplasia (10.8%) – this is a reference to an abnormal growth of tissues that may or may not be cancerous
  • Mass lesion disorders (10.2%).

Moggies live longer than purebreds

Overall, the average longevity was 14.0 years. Cross breed cats had a higher median longevity them purebred cats at 14 years compared to 12.5 years for purebred cats. But that said, individual purebred cats varied substantially in their longevity.

Longest lifespan

The longest-lived cats dying after five years of age were moggies having a lower body weight, being neutered and not being insured. Comment: ‘lower body weight’ is an important factor. It points to many cats having a shortened lifespan because they were obese.

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Burmese cat infographic

Here is a compact Burmese cat infographic that I have just created. The word ‘compact’ might be appropriate as in the United States this breed is indeed compact or to use cat fancy terminology: cobby. Perhaps the unsettling aspect of this popular cat breed is that there is no universal breed standard. The shape of the body varies from country to country. As mentioned in the US this is a rounded cat but in Australia the Burmese is described as ‘foreign type’. This means slender. Fundamentally the opposite to the US style. This is a small heavy cat. The default, classic coat colour is sable which is dark. This is why the pointing (darker extremities) is hard to see. It almost looks like a solid colour but it is not. The eye colour is gold to yellow to match up with the hint of those colors in the classic coat.

Burmese cat infographic
Burmese cat infographic. Click it for a larger image.


Are Burmese cats vocal?

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Are Burmese cats vocal?

The question in the title is asking if Burmese cats make a lot of noise! The simple but slightly vague answer is that they will probably be more vocal than your typical domestic cat either purebred or non-purebred because they have some Siamese cat in them and the Siamese is known to be vocal. I am stating that the Siamese characteristic for having a distinctive, persistent meow has been given in a diluted way to the Burmese. That’s a personal thought and I’d appreciate comments from breeders.

Burmese are vocal
Burmese are vocal in general but they are individuals too with their own characteristics. Image: MikeB

Former cat show judge, Gloria Stephens, says that the breed is ‘vocal and talkative with a rather loud voice’. Sounds like the Siamese, right? They let you know what they want in no uncertain terms. Their voice is sometimes described as ‘persistent’!

This statement from Wikipedia tells us how Siamese cats characteristics were adapted by the Burmese:

Most modern Burmese are descendants of one female cat called Wong Mau, which was brought from Burma to America in 1930 and bred with American Siamese. From there, American and British breeders developed distinctly different Burmese breed standards.

The Burmese is a bit of a jumble as it fundamentally differs in appearance between countries. In some it has a more ‘Oriental’ (slender) appearance while in America it is more cobby (rounded and compact).

Perhaps an important point to make once again is that not all Burmese have Siamese-like voices. It depends on the individual cat and I expect the environment in which they live. A contented cat, well served by their human caregiver may be less vocal than a neglected cat who, as a consequence, has to demand food and water and the occasional bit of human interaction and love. Or they may vocalise anxiety. Their upbringing will also have an influence on character which in turn affects their motivation to talk.

Kirsten Kranz, director of Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue says that ‘as every cat is an individual, not everyone is chatty’. Absolutely. But the trend for Burmese cats is that they can be more vocal than the norm.

Interesting fact: Burmese cats are 5 times more likely than other breeds to develop Type II diabetes. Click this link to find out why.

14 facts about the Burmese cat

American Burmese cat – evolution and comparison with European Burmese

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14 facts about the Burmese cat

Burmese cat
Burmese. This looks like a North American cobby Burmese. Image in public domain.

RELATED: American Burmese cat – evolution and comparison with European Burmese

Here are 14 facts about the Burmese cat presented succinctly to make it a quick read.

  1. The body shape of the Burmese varies from country to country. In Australia the Burmese is described as a “foreign type” which means slender whereas in North America under their standards it is described as “round and cobby” which means the opposite more or less.
  2. The Burmese breed originates from dark brown kittens which were the result of several generations of selective breeding originally from the mating of a cat named Wong Mau – imported from Burma as it was then called by Dr. Joseph C Thompson of San Francisco – with a Siamese cat. Wong Mau was imported in the early 1930s. These early cats were technically Tonkinese.
  3. In the 1960s and beyond, through selective breeding, the Burmese became less slender and more cobby in N. America. The head became more rounded and the body and legs became shorter. The muzzle became shorter too. This is the Contemporary Burmese. A major player in this drift to a more cobby cat was Gladys de Fleron of New Orleans. By chance one of her kittens was shorter and more compact in the body than her other cats. She liked his looks and named him Theebow. He won big at cat shows and became the ACFA Cat of the Year in the 1960s. Theebow helped to change the breed standard for the Burmese in North America to the more cobby appearance. There were other Burmese cats which also contributed to the contemporary Burmese of today.
  4. The word “round” is a much-used word in the description of the Contemporary Burmese in North America. It applies to the head, the eyes, the short muzzle and the chest. Together they create the cobby appearance.
  5. The American Burmese is small but heavy.
  6. The males can be quite large and strong whereas the females may be dainty.
  7. They have a barrel chest
  8. The Burmese is described as a “self-cleaning cat” indicating that they require little intervention in terms of grooming by their human caregiver.
  9. This cat breed may be shown in the sepia category, solid and tortoiseshell divisions. The solid colours are: sable (seal sepia), chocolate sepia, cinnamon sepia, blue sepia, lilac sepia, fawn sepia, red sepia and cream sepia. The tortoiseshell colours are: sable tortie, chocolate sepia tortie, cinnamon sepia tortie, blue sepia tortie, lilac sepia tortie and fawn sepia tortie.
  10. This is a pointed cat but the darker extremities are hard to see but become clearer in full sunlight.
  11. The seal sepia or sable Burmese appears to be a solid dark brown colour but the points are visible on careful examination.
  12. The Burmese cat has golden-to-yellow eyes.
  13. Silver has faiely recently (2000) been added to the gene pool.
  14. The Burmese is described by Gloria Stephens as “happy-go-lucky”. They love to be around people and demand love. They are affectionate, vocal and talkative. Their voice is quite loud.

My thanks to Gloria Stephens’ book Legacy of the Cat. This is the best book on the cat breeds. Highly recommended by me.

RELATED: Burmese cat breeders – useful resource (2022)

Burmese male cat, Murray, 9 months old, standing
Burmese male cat, Murray, 9 months old, standing. This looks like a non-North American version of this breed being slenderer. Photo: Warren Photographic published here with his permission.

Below are some more pages on the Burmese.

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Burmese cat breeders – useful resource (2022)

Burmese cat
Burmese cat. Photos: copyright Helmi Flick.

It is worth noting that there are significant differences between the European Burmese and the American Burmese. You may know that but the breed has diverged into two types, almost 2 different breeds depending upon which side of the Atlantic you live. The American side of the Burmese family has developed into a rounded cat whereas the European breeders have opted for a well-muscled but more angular shape. This is a more oriental look i.e. slenderer with long legs. The American Burmese has sometimes been described as “bricks wrapped in silk”. The breed standard in the USA emphasises roundness most notably in the shape of the head. Another interesting factor is that the GCCF standard of points (breed standard) says that the Burmese should be “an elegant cat of a foreign type”. Foreign type means slender.

The GCCF (premier cat association in the UK and Europe) accept these colours for the Burmese: brown (similar to sable), blue, chocolate, lilac, red, brown tortie, cream, blue tortie, chocolate tortie and lilac tortie. Incidentally, the European cat association, FiFe say that the Burmese should be “elegant” neither Siamese type (meaning oriental – slender in layman’s language) nor cobby (FiFe standard). They seem to regard the UK Burmese as cobby.

You can see how it might be confusing for a buyer. Having seen the potentially stark difference in the appearance of the European Burmese to the American variety and the apparent difference within Europe, what about Burmese cat breeders? I feel that if you are new to buying a purebred cat the best starting point is the cat clubs that are affiliated to the cat associations. They know their members and the breed.

RELATED: American Burmese cat – evolution and comparison with European Burmese

Here are some useful pages to visit. These links are date sensitive.

Europe

  • Europe April 17th 2022: Burmese Cat Club affiliated to the GCCF – UK based. A large club with a list of breeders. They also run a re-homing service.
  • Burmese Cat Society– affiliated to the GCCF – nice re-homing service – UK based. There is only one breeder affiliated to this club as at the above date.

RELATED: Burmese Cat – full description

USA

I do have some interesting pages, I hope you agree, on the Burmese cat on this website. You can access those pages by viewing the links below.

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Why are Burmese cats 5 times more likely than other breeds to develop Type II diabetes?

I endeavour to answer the question as to why Burmese cats are 5 times more likely than other breeds to develop Type II diabetes? The general view is that Burmese cats are about 5 times more likely than other cat breeds to develop Type II diabetes (diabetes mellitus). One study says that the predisposition to type II diabetes in Burmese cats is geographically located in places where it also affects humans. In other words, this study is saying that Type II diabetes in cats runs in parallel with type II diabetes in people in Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Is this linkage to do with obesity in people resulting in obesity in their cat which in turn can lead to Type II diabetes?

Dream a Burmese cat
‘Dream’ a Burmese cat

I’m speculating. However, one reason why Burmese cats are predisposed to developing Type II diabetes is because they have a decreased sensitivity to the effects of the hormone insulin. This results in an increased level of sugar in the blood and a commensurate lowering of uptake of glucose into the cells. As I understand it, “decreased sensitivity to insulin” means insulin resistance.

In other words, the body does not respond to insulin in a normal way which means that it does not have the same effect in controlling glucose in the body. This results in elevated levels of glucose in the blood which damages certain organs such as the kidney (damages the blood vessels), liver (fatty liver disease) and the nervous system at the extremities as I understand it.

So why is there a decreased sensitivity to the effects of insulin in Burmese cats? A further study which I list below tells us that the Burmese cats in the study “had higher insulin and lower adiponectin concentrations than Maine Coon cats”. “Adiponectin” is a protein hormone involved in regulating glucose levels.

The study also found that the pattern of substances formed and which are necessary for metabolism in the Burmese cat (metabolites) were similar to those in people with insulin resistance. In other words, the metabolic profile of Burmese cats predisposes them to Type II diabetes.

The scientists suggested that it might be possible to detect an abnormal level of low molecular weight metabolites produced in cells during metabolism as an indicator that the cat has become insulin resistant.

My research did not tell me why Burmese cats have, on my understanding, irregular levels of metabolites and lower adiponectin concentrations. However, there appears to be one possibility which is inbreeding depression due to selective breeding which has gone too far which reduces genetic diversity to the point where the immune system is compromised.

Or it has been suggested that the Australian Burmese cat might suffer from a genetic mutation in a single gene which might be responsible for this insulin resistance. This mutation may have come into existence because of over-zealous inbreeding (my thought). Remember that all purebred cats are inbred. It’s part and parcel of the process of artificial selection. And selective breeding can lead to the emergence of damaging recessive genes which are normally hidden.

This genetic mutation might have an impact on the metabolism of glucose which could lead to insulin resistance, or reduced glucose tolerance. There appears to be a question mark whether this mutation is present in all Australian Burmese cats or just those exposed to environmental factors such as obesity.

I hope this helps a bit. I sense that this is work on progress.

Study referred to: Differences in metabolic profiles between the Burmese, the Maine coon and the Birman cat—Three breeds with varying risk for diabetes mellitus.

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American Burmese cat – evolution and comparison with European Burmese

American Burmese cat
American Burmese cat. Photo: copyright Helmi Flick.

Pointed cat with hard-to-see points

The Burmese cat is a pointed cat meaning that it has darker extremities than the areas in the middle of the body. However, the pointing may be difficult to see except in full sunlight. And, for example, the stable Burmese has dark brown points and a dark brown body colour. This gives the cat the appearance of a solid colour all over.

Variation in body type

The body type or body conformation of the Burmese cat depends upon the country where the breeder of the cat resides. It depends, therefore, which cat Association they are using for guidelines. So, in some countries the Burmese cat has a longer body and legs which makes the cat more elegant and slender-looking. This is in comparison to the Burmese cats bred in the United States which is compact (cobby). And so, there are two forms of this well-known breed: the American and the European.

Australian Burmese

The Australian standard demands that this cat breed should be of “foreign type”. This is a reference to a slightly slender appearance which is almost opposite to the North American standard which demands that the cat should be “round, cobby, small but heavy”. So, you will see big differences in the appearance of this popular cat breed.

The Australian Federation Inc breed standard for the Burmese states that this is “an elegant cat of foreign type”. The body is described as being “medium length and size, feeling hard and muscular and heavier than its appearance indicates. The chest should be strong and rounded in profile, the back straight from shoulder to rump”. As for the legs they say they should be “slender and in proportion to the body”.

You can see that they have borrowed certain features of the CFA breed standard using the word “rounded” but decided that the cat should be less compact and more slender overall.

RELATED: Cat Body Types

North American contemporary Burmese (lilac). Photo: Helmi Flick.
North American contemporary Burmese (lilac). Photo: Helmi Flick.

THERE ARE MORE PAGES ON THE BURMESE AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE.

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Female lilac European Burmese

This is a lilac, European Burmese bred by Юлия Ланцова who lives in Moscow, Russia. It’s a very good picture and I think it illustrates this cat breed nicely. It also emphasises the fact that there is a difference between North American and European Burmese cats. I’d like to discuss that briefly. Gloria Stephens in her book Legacy of the Cat (great book and recommended) tells us that until the 1960s the Burmese in North America were more foreign in type (slender) i.e. more like today’s European Burmese.

European Burmese bred in Russia
European Burmese (lilac). Photo and breeding by Юлия Ланцова (Moscow Russia).

This means that the head was not so rounded as we see today. And the body and legs were longer. In the 1960s changes resulted in the Burmese type that we see today with a rounded head and a short muzzle. The body became more compact and this is described as the ‘Contemporary Burmese’.

The Burmese Info website tells us that American Burmese differ from the European variant by having a more compact and heavy build. They say that the feet don’t look thin and the paw pads have a round form. The European Burmese, in contrast, is a cat of average size “elegant with refined lines”. They also remind us that the American Burmese has two variants both the traditional and the contemporary. They both fall under one breed standard but there are differences in their appearance.

By my reckoning, that means that there are three types of Burmese cat, (1) the North American traditional (2) the contemporary Burmese and (3) the European Burmese. Although 1 and 3 must be very similar.

How did the North American Burmese develop into a contemporary version? It appears that this is put down to a famous Burmese cat breeder of the 1960s, Gladys de Fleron of New Orleans, Louisiana. She had shown foreign-type Burmese (Burmese cats like today’s European Burmese) until a different-looking kitten “showed up in her cattery” according to Gloria Stephens. As you can imagine, the cat was shorter and more compact in body than the other cats. She liked this appearance and decided to keep him for herself; naming him Theebaw.

North American contemporary Burmese (lilac). Photo: Helmi Flick.
North American contemporary Burmese (lilac). Photo: Helmi Flick.

She showed Theebaw at cat shows and he kept on winning and went on to become ACFA Cat of the Year in the 1960s. Clearly other breeders agreed with her that he was a great looking cat. Theebaw was instrumental in helping to change the North American standards for Burmese from the semi-foreign type earlier to the cobby (stocky) type today. Click this for a page on cat breed body types.

It seems that Burmese cat breeders in Europe and Russia did not diverge from the earlier body type which is why we have these three versions of the breed today.

SOME MORE ON THE BURMESE:

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