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Choosing a Siamese

By: J. Anne Helgren

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The Siamese is the most universally recognized domestic cat breed on the planet and one of the oldest, with a history as colorful as the cat herself. These sleek, vocal cats with big baby-blue eyes and striking pointed pattern originated hundreds of years ago in Siam (now Thailand), where they were held in high esteem. According to legend, for generations the kings of Siam kept Siamese cats in the royal palace. Siamese were considered worthy companions for Siam's royalty and religious leaders.

History and Origin

The Siamese has been around for many centuries. The Siamese is described and depicted in the Cat-Book Poems, a manuscript written in the city of Ayudha, Siam, sometime between 1350 when the city was founded and 1767 when the city was destroyed by invaders. The illustrations in the manuscript clearly show cats with slim bodies and legs and pale-colored coats with dark coloring on the ears, tails and feet.

In 1871, Siamese cats were first exhibited in Britain in the first modern-day cat show at London's Crystal Palace, where they were disparagingly described as an "unnatural, nightmare kind of cat." Nevertheless, the Siamese rapidly became popular among British fanciers. By the early 1900s, the Siamese had made the move to America, where the breed quickly became popular with American cat lovers as well. The breed is now the most popular shorthair in America, and third most popular breed overall, according to CFA's registration statistics.

Appearance

The most striking feature of a Siamese (next to her big blue eyes) is the point-restricted coat pattern, for which the breed is famous. This means that the body of the cat is always a light color while the face, tail, paws and ears (the points) are always a darker color.

The point-restricted pattern is caused by a gene that reduces the amount of pigment in the hair. The pattern is controlled by an enzyme that produces greater depth of color at the areas farthest away from the heart. The skin temperature of the body's extremities is a few degrees lower than the rest of the body, and therefore attracts more pigmentation. The body hair contains little pigment, but the "points" of the body - the face, tail, feet and ears - contain more.

The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) recognizes the Siamese in only four colors: seal point, blue point, chocolate point and lilac point. However, other cat associations accept additional colors including red point, cream point, cinnamon point, fawn point, tortie point, lynx point and tortie lynx point. In the CFA, these colors of Siamese are considered a separate breed called the colorpoint shorthair. Most of the other cat associations, however, consider these cats to be simply color variations of the Siamese.

The Siamese is a shorthaired cat. The longhaired version is considered a separate breed, called the Balinese. This breed is also pointed. In the CFA, the Balinese comes is seal point, blue point, chocolate point and lilac point. The longhaired version of the Siamese with other color points is referred to as the Javanese, considered yet another separate breed by the CFA. Other cat organizations do not consider the Javanese to be a separate breed but merely an extension of the Balinese.

Two body types exist. The show Siamese is characterized by a long, elegant, svelte body, refined, tapering lines, and a long, tapering wedge-shaped head. The ears are strikingly large and pointed, the eyes slanted and almond-shaped, and the tail whip-long and tapered to a fine point. This variety enjoys championship competition status in most of the cat associations.

The traditional or old-style Siamese (also known as the Applehead) is a medium- to large-sized robust cat with a muscular build and substantial bone structure. The head is rounded rather than wedge-shaped, and the ears are medium-sized and rounded at the tips.

Personality

The Siamese are well known for their talent for communicating with their human friends. If you crave peace and quiet when you return home from earning the cat food, this breed may not be for you. The Siamese's loud raspy yowl can be a bit annoying to some, but Siamese fanciers value the breed's skill at communication. Siamese are masters at human manipulation with their attention-getting yowls and their belief that the world rotates around them.

Shoulder perchers and cat toy fetchers, Siamese are social and dependent upon their human companions. They are intelligent and loyal and crave attention, affection and active involvement in your life. If left alone too often, they pine. Once you develop a close relationship, however, you have a loving and devoted companion for life.

Grooming

Siamese need very little grooming. Their "painted on" coats are very short and close-lying with no noticeable undercoat. Their favorite grooming tool is your hand, applied gently down their backs.

Association Acceptance

  • American Association of Cat Enthusiasts (AACE)
  • American Cat Association (ACA)
  • American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA)
  • Canadian Cat Association (CCA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Federation (CFF)
  • The International Cat Association (TICA)
  • Traditional Cat Association, Inc. (TCA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    Special Notes

    Siamese are generally healthy but, like most purebred breeds, genetic weaknesses exist in some lines. Notably, some Siamese have problems with gingivitis, a liver-destroying disease called amyloidosis and the heart disease cardiomyopathy.

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