Choosing a Balinese

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Named for the graceful dancers of the Island of Bali, the Balinese is perfect for those who want a companion with the personality and svelte styling of the Siamese and the luxuriance of a semi-long soft-as-ermine coat. And since the fur has no downy undercoat, this breed doesn’t require the upkeep that some longhaired breeds need. You can spend more time playing with your Balinese instead of grooming her.

History and Origin of  Balinese Cats

Unlike many of our newer Oriental breeds, the Balinese was not created intentionally. In fact, breeders were shocked when, in the early 1900s, longhaired kittens began appearing in otherwise shorthaired Siamese litters. This meant both Siamese parents possessed one copy of the gene for long hair, a gene that, as purebred Siamese, they shouldn’t have had. Since long hair is a recessive trait, cats can have the gene and pass it along to their descendants without having long hair themselves. Only cats that inherit two copies of the gene will have long hair.

How the Siamese picked up the long hair gene has been the subject of debate for many years. Some fanciers think it was introduced into the Siamese gene pool in Europe after World War I. Since the Siamese breed was nearly obliterated in the chaos, other cats were used after the war to help rejuvenate the breed. It’s thought that the Turkish Angora, a breed with a silky, semi-long coat, may have been one of the breeds used.

Other fanciers believe that a natural genetic mutation occurred within the Siamese bloodlines, producing a natural longhaired Siamese. This theory is appealing to some fanciers because it means the Balinese is only one gene apart from the Siamese and is a natural rather than a hybrid breed. But no one really knows for sure. At any rate, most early Siamese breeders quietly gave away these occasional longhairs, fearing other breeders would suspect them of crossing their Siamese with other breeds.

In the 1940s, however, a few progressive fanciers realized these longhaired rebels might make a respectable breed in their own right. New York breeder Helen Smith and California breeder Sylvia Holland began working with the longhaired cats born in Siamese litters. Only Siamese were used in their breeding programs — no other breeds need apply.

Other Siamese breeders, however, were not at all pleased with the new breed and did their best to keep the Balinese from gaining acceptance. But the Balinese fanciers were persistent, and by 1970 all major North American associations recognized the breed.

Appearance of a Balinese

The extreme Balinese has the same body type as an extreme Siamese: a long, tapering wedge-shaped head perched on a long, slender neck; strikingly large, pointed ears that are wide at the base; and medium-sized, almond-shaped eyes. The body is graceful, long, svelte, and tubular with a distinctive combination of fine bones and firm muscles. The tail is long and thin and tapers to a point, but the tail hair makes it appear larger than it actually is. Long, slim legs end with dainty oval paws.

The primary difference between the Siamese and the Balinese is hair length. The Balinese’s coat is fine, silky, and medium length, but the fur lies against the body so it appears shorter than it actually is. The hair on the tail is longer, however, and spreads out in a striking plume. Because of the longer coat, the Balinese has a softer look and appears to have a less extreme body type than the short-coated Siamese.

Two body and head styles exist today — the extreme and the traditional (once called the applehead). The extreme Balinese is the one you generally see at cat shows — it has the svelte body style and wedge-shaped head of the extreme Siamese. The traditional Balinese has the stockier body style and the rounder head type of the traditional Siamese, and possesses a semi-long coat.

The Balinese comes decorated in the same colors and pointed pattern as the Siamese. Four colors are accepted by all of the cat associations: seal point, blue point, chocolate point and lilac point. However, most cat organizations, except the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), recognize the Balinese in the additional colors of red point, cream point, lynx (tabby) point and tortie point. In CFA cat sporting these additional colors are considered a separate breed called the Javanese.

The Javanese was created by crossing Balinese and the colorpoint shorthair. Since the colorpoint shorthair was created in the 1940s by crossing Siamese, Abyssinians, American shorthairs and domestic shorthairs, technically this makes the Javanese a hybrid. The Balinese, however, was created from purebred Siamese lines, so CFA created a separate breed for the cats produced by these crosses.

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