One of the cat fancy’s best kept secrets, the Havana brown, first strikes you as an elegant cat with brilliant emerald green eyes in a setting of fur the color of chocolate kisses. Wrapped in that blanket of rich brown fur, however, is a feline with a personality that would enchant any cat lover. Fanciers say Havanas are charming companions with exceptionally devoted temperaments. However, contrary to their name, Havanas are in no way related to the island of Cuba.
History and Origin of Havana Brown Cats
Like the Siamese, the Havana brown originates in the mysterious land of Siam, according to a manuscript of verses and illustrations called The Cat-Book Poems. This manuscript was written in the city of Ayudha, Siam, sometime between 1350, when the city was founded, and 1767 when the city was razed by invaders. Solid brown cats were considered very beautiful and were believed to protect their owners from evil.
In the 1800s, solid brown cats and the pointed pattern Siamese were transported from Siam to Britain. Early reports describe these brown cats as “Siamese with coats of burnished chestnut with greeny-blue eyes.” At first, the solid browns were popular. Fanciers exhibited them in Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, in the 1920s, Britain’s Siamese Cat Club no longer permitted the breeding of any but blue-eyed Siamese. Without the club’s support, interest in the green-eyed solid browns dwindled.
However, interest in the solid browns didn’t completely disappear. In the early 1950s, a group of English breeders reproduced them by breeding black domestic shorthairs to chocolate point Siamese, and Russian blues to seal point Siamese. In 1958, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) accepted the breed for championship under the name “Chestnut brown foreign.” Later, the breed was renamed “Havana.”
The first Havana reached the United States in 1956, a female with the grand name of Roofspringer Mahogany Quinn. This cat became the mother of this continent’s Havana brown – almost all Havana browns in North America have Roofspringer somewhere in their ancestry. The breed was first recognized in 1959 under the name Havana brown and in 1964, the CFA granted the breed championship status. Today, the breed has championship status in almost all North American associations.
In Europe, the Havana still exists, but it is very different from the North American Havana brown. This breed is what we would call a chestnut Oriental shorthair – similar in color to the Havana but with a Siamese body style.
Appearance of a Havana Brown
Havanas are not as svelte as the modern Siamese, but they have a grace all their own. The Havana’s conformation falls midway between the stocky Persian type and the extremely svelte Siamese type, but leans more toward the elegant, slender side.
The Havana’s head shape is unique in the cat fancy. It is longer than it is wide and narrows to a rounded, somewhat narrow muzzle with a pronounced break on both sides behind the whisker pads. This unique muzzle shape is sometimes described as a light bulb or a corn cob. Large, alert ears tilt forward, giving the cat a look of constant curiosity. The brilliant, alert and expressive eyes are oval in shape and set wide apart.
Most associations accept the breed in only one color and pattern: solid warm mahogany brown. However, the Cat Fanciers’ Federation (CFF) and The International Cat Association (TICA) accept the breed in solid lilac as well – a color described as frost gray with a pinkish tone. Lilacs have the same brilliant green eyes, as do the browns. In both associations, the breed is called the “Havana,” since it is no longer solely brown.
The Havana is the only cat whose breed standard requires a specific whisker color. The standard specifies brown or lilac whiskers to complement the color of the coat.
Havana Brown Cat’s Personality
Havanas are gentle, intelligent and remarkably adaptable. They take almost any situation in stride, and with confidence and poise set about to rule whatever roost they are given. One-room walk-up or palace – it’s all the same to them as long as they have plenty of love and attention from their human friends.
Havanas make wonderful companions if you like interactive cats. Devoted, affectionate and constantly curious, Havanas want to be where you are, preferably right in the middle of the action. They want to help you read the paper in the morning, type on the computer in the afternoon, and prepare dinner in the evening. Their playful attitudes and ability to adjust to other pets and children make them great family companions. Unlike the Siamese, they are vocally quiet.
However, like the Siamese, Havanas need human interaction and don’t do well if they are ignored or left alone for long periods. Havanas are just not happy without humans around to love. If you work all day and have an active social life at night, consider a less dependent breed.
Grooming a Havana Brown
Unless you plan to show, the Havana brown needs little care to keep that glossy coat looking sharp. In fact, breeders warn that excessive grooming can result in bald spots. The coat is very short and close lying with no undercoat, so a once-a-month grooming with a rubber curry brush is enough to remove dead hairs and keep the fur glossy. Breeders recommend the Safari Curry Rubber Brush® for Cats. Brush gently to avoid damaging the coat.
Pricing varies depending upon the quality, breeder and the bloodline. Since the breed is rare and the best stock is generally kept, it’s difficult for a novice fancier to buy breeder or show quality.
Expect delays, too — waiting lists are common. Since Havana brown breeders are more rare than the cats themselves, you may find no breeders in your area or even in your state. In that case you may have to buy your kitten sight unseen and have her shipped to you. Ask to see photos of the parents and all the kittens in the litter, not just yours, and ask for references. Check out the breeder’s cattery with the registering association to make sure he or she is in good standing. Above all, get a written sales contract with a return clause, in case the kitten isn’t as promised.
The Havana brown is accepted for championship by the following North American cat associations:
With only 67 registered with CFA in 2000, the Havana brown is 37th out of the 40 breeds CFA recognizes. Why so rare? The main reason is that outcrossing – breeding Havanas to other breeds to expand the bloodlines – stopped in 1974, too early in the breed’s development. Dr. Leslie Lyons of the University of California at Davis has conducted genetic studies on the Havana that show the breed’s genetic diversity is as low as that of the Florida panther, one of the most endangered cat species. Because of this, the CFA voted in 1998 to allow the Havana to be outcrossed to Oriental shorthairs in certain colors and to black or blue domestic shorthairs. It’s hoped that this program will keep the breed healthy and viable by expanding the bloodlines and broadening the genetic diversity.