Sometimes described as a brick wrapped in silk, the Burmese is a solidly built feline with a short, glossy, satin-like coat. Originally from Burma (now Myanmar), all North American and European Burmese can be traced to a single cat that arrived in the United States in 1930. The breed itself, however, has existed for hundreds of years in its native land. As the legend goes, the Burmese is a descendant of a breed once worshiped in Burmese temples as embodiments of gods.
History and Origin of Burmese Cats
Called copper cats in their native region for their rich brown color, these cats have existed in Southeast Asia for centuries. They were described and depicted in the ancient text The Cat-Book Poems, a manuscript written in the city of Ayudha, Siam (now Thailand) sometime between 1350, when the city was founded, and 1767, when the city was razed by invaders.
The modern Burmese saga, however, began in 1930, when a female cat was brought to the United States from Burma. The cat, named Wong Mau, had caught the fancy of a retired Navy doctor named Joseph Thompson. He took the cat to his home in San Francisco.
By breeding Wong Mau with Siamese cats, Thompson determined that the Burmese was a distinct breed rather than a Siamese variant. The doctor began a carefully planned breeding program to establish the Burmese as a new American breed. Three color variations were identified: medium brown with dark points, light brown with dark points, and solid, dark-chocolate brown. Thompson decided to work with the sable brown cats, as he felt they were the most beautiful and striking.
The breed was controversial from the start. Siamese breeders strongly opposed the breed; they considered Wong Mau a poorly colored Siamese and didn’t want her “poor” genes muddying up their pure gene pool. Other cat lovers, however, immediately took to the look and personality of the Burmese.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) first accepted the Burmese for registration in 1936, but because of the controversy and poor breeding practices, the CFA suspended registration of the Burmese in 1947. Breeders worked to improve the breed. In 1953 the CFA reinstated the Burmese for recognition and in 1957 granted championship. Since then, the breed has been refined through selective breeding, and the three distinct body styles emerged.
Appearance of a Burmese
Because the Burmese’s body style has changed over the years, three distinct types exist today: the contemporary, the traditional and the European. The contemporary is currently favored in the show halls. This type has a stocky, compact body that is surprisingly heavy when hefted, a rounded head, a broad, short muzzle, and prominent, round, widely spaced eyes. Accepted colors are sable, champagne, blue and platinum.
The traditional more closely resembles the breed as it appeared when first imported to America: sturdy and muscular but with a distinctly different head type. The head is pleasingly rounded, the face is full, and the muzzle is broad, squared, and well-developed. The traditional comes in the same colors as the contemporary.
The European Burmese is of “foreign” type; this is an elegant, medium-sized cat whose body shape is neither anorexic nor chubby, but somewhere in between. The eyes have a slight slant. The European Burmese also comes in a wider range of colors, including brown, blue, chocolate, lilac, red, cream, seal tortie, brown tortie, blue tortie, chocolate tortie and lilac tortie.
All three types share two things – short, silky fur that’s satin-smooth and very glossy, and personalities that are bound to win over even the most zealous ailurophobe.
Personality of a Burmese
Burmese are quintessential cat companions: epitomes of playfulness, leaders in loving devotion, Velcro feline friends that stick by your side as if attached there. Burmese are active and super-smart, and love to play, particularly when you are involved in the game. However, if you spend most of your time away from home, this breed may not be for you. Burmese are extremely devoted, people-oriented cats that require a significant time commitment.
Like the Siamese, Burmese can be vocal, but usually only when something is dangerously wrong, like empty food dishes. Then they’ll repeat their complaint until you take care of the catastrophe. When speaking to their favorite humans, they have a variety of sweet, expressive meows at their command, which they use liberally to get their thoughts across.
Burmese can be determined cats. Once they have started on a course of action – such as climbing into your lap or diving into your plate – you might as well give in and accept the inevitable. Your Burmese buddy will long outlast you in any battle of wills.
Grooming a Burmese Cat
The Burmese’s sleek, glossy coat requires little care. A good once-a-week brushing with a good quality cat brush or steel comb will keep your Burmese looking sharp. The nails should be trimmed every two weeks or so.
Price varies depending upon area, breeder, bloodline and quality, as well as on body and head type.
The traditional Burmese is accepted by the Traditional Cat Association, Inc. (TCA), although some traditionals are being shown in the above associations as well. Founded in 1987, TCA strives to preserve, protect, perpetuate and promote cats whose body styles and conformations have given way to more extreme forms.
The European Burmese was accepted in 1994 by the CFA. They are shown in the nonchampionship miscellaneous class, except in international division shows, where they are eligible for championship. In the CFF, CCA and UFO, the breed is accepted for championship under the name “Foreign Burmese.”
Burmese can be prone to gingivitis, so they should get yearly dental checkups and cleanings as needed. Feeding a high quality hard food will help keep their teeth clean, but extra dental care is often needed to keep this breed’s smile bright. Although uncommon, other reported problems that affect contemporary Burmese include cranial deformities in newborn kittens and excessive tearing and breathing problems due to the foreshortened nose. According to fanciers, the traditional and European Burmese lack these physical problems.