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Choosing an Oriental

By: J. Anne Helgren

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The Oriental may well be the most colorful cat breed on the planet. This breed has the same svelte chassis, silky fur and chatty personality as the Siamese, but comes clothed in myriad colors. Nor is the Oriental bound to the Siamese's point-restricted pattern - the breed has many patterns from which to choose. This breed is growing in popularity and appeals to the cat-lover who wants the elegant Siamese body type and outgoing temperament but with fresh, colorful packaging.

History and Origin

The Oriental is a deliberately created Siamese hybrid. Breeders wanted to develop a breed that looked and acted like the Siamese but came in a wider range of colors and was not confined to the pointed pattern. First in Britain in the 1950s and then in America in the 1960s and early 1970s, breeders set out to create a new look by crossing Siamese cats with American shorthairs, Russian blues, Burmese and Abyssinians. The Siamese's svelte body style, head type and personality were maintained, however, by crossing the hybrids back to the Siamese after the color was achieved.

In 1977, the CFA accepted the Oriental shorthair for championship status. Since then, the Oriental shorthair has rapidly increased in popularity. In recent years the Oriental shorthair has been consistently ranking high among shorthaired breeds and is currently the fourth most popular shorthair according to CFA's registration totals, a status it has maintained since 1996.

The Oriental longhair was developed separately in the late 1970s by crossing the Oriental shorthair with the Balinese (longhaired Siamese). In 1995, CFA combined the Oriental shorthairs and longhairs into one breed group called the "Oriental," a move that was not without controversy. However, this made breeding, registering and showing longhairs easier. For example, if two Oriental shorthair parents produce kittens with long hair - possible if both parents carry the recessive longhair gene - those kittens now can be registered and shown as Oriental longhairs. Before, when the Oriental longhair was considered a separate breed, such kittens could not be shown. Conversely, when longhair breeders cross back to Siamese or to Oriental shorthairs, the shorthair kittens that are inevitably produced along with the longhairs can be registered and shown as Oriental shorthairs.

Appearance

The body of the show Oriental is long, lithe and muscular with sleek tapering lines, long, slim legs, and dainty, oval paws. The head is a long tapering wedge with very large pointed ears and slanted almond-shaped eyes. While Orientals might look like the cat fancy equivalent of today's supermodel, they are not starved to keep their shapely forms, nor are they fragile. Pick one up; they are surprisingly heavy cats.

The Oriental is accepted in more than 300 color and pattern combinations. Some colors are more common than others, of course; solid ebony is a popular and striking color. Solid white, chestnut and blue, and tabbies in ebony, blue and red are also favored. In the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), green is the accepted eye color, except for white and bicolor Orientals that may have blue eyes, or one blue and one green eye. Other associations accept additional eye colors.

The Oriental shorthair has short, glossy, fine hair. The Oriental longhair has a medium length coat that's fine and silky. The hair lies close to the body so the fur appears shorter than it really is. Because of the longer hair, the Oriental longhair appears to have softer lines and a less extreme body type than the shorthair.

Personality

The personality of the Oriental is as distinctive as the multicolored exterior. They are natural entertainers - full of enthusiasm, energy and the belief that the world revolves around them. Extremely people oriented and trusting, they show a deep dependence on their human friends and can become distressed or depressed if left alone too often. They usually bond with one preferred person. Expect them to be at your side, in your lap, and at the door interrogating you about where you've been.

An Oriental's feelings are easily hurt if you ignore her, but given her full share of affection, Oriental shorthairs will repay you with a lifetime of love, affection and intelligent conversation. Like the Siamese, the Oriental is not for cat-lovers who want their cats seen but not heard. The breed's vocal tone is generally softer and milder than that of the Siamese, but they are never at a loss for words.

Grooming

Oriental shorthairs need very little grooming. Their coats are very short and close lying with no noticeable undercoat. Oriental longhairs need a bit more grooming, but not as much as some longhaired breeds. Their hair is medium long with no undercoat, which means tangles and mats don't form easily. Figure on a quick combing once a week.

If you're looking for a special color or pattern, expect a longer wait or a higher price, or both. Longhairs are harder to obtain than shorthairs. Retired show or breeder Orientals are sometimes placed in good homes for pet quality prices or less.

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)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    The Oriental longhair is accepted by CFA as a division of the Oriental breed, and in TICA as part of the Siamese/Balinese/Oriental shorthair/Oriental longhair breed group. AACE, ACA, ACFA and UFO accept the Oriental longhair as a breed in his own right.

    Special Notes

    Orientals are generally healthy but since they are closely related to Siamese they share some of the same diseases, notably gingivitis, a liver-destroying disease called amyloidosis, and the heart disease cardiomyopathy. Buy from a breeder who offers a written health guarantee and registration papers.

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