Your Guide to Siamese Cats
With a distinctive appearance and a long history, the Siamese cat is among the most popular and familiar felines for cat fanciers across the globe. April 6th is Siamese Cat Day, but it’s never a bad day to celebrate this beloved breed.
The History of Siamese Cats
Considered one of the world’s oldest cat breeds, the Siamese is descended from the Wichienmaat and appears in Thai manuscripts dating back to the mid-14th century. Some writings suggest that the cats helped guard royal jewelry, while others describe them as temple cats who served as companions to holy men.
The Siamese cat was introduced to London’s cat lovers at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in 1871, but did not become a popular pet throughout the United Kingdom for more than a decade. President Rutherford B. Hayes brought the first Siamese to America’s shores after receiving one as a gift. Hayes became the first of three Commanders-in-Chief and counting to keep a Siamese cat as a pet.
Growing in popularity over the decades, the breed also evolved into its modern shape. Traditional or old-style Siamese cats still have apple-shaped heads and somewhat chubby bodies compared to the lithe, angular “modern” Siamese cat. Distinctions between different types of Siamese cats differ from registry organization to registry organization. Both the International Cat Association and the World Cat Federation consider all Siamese cats imported directly from Thailand to be members of the Thai breed.
The Siamese Cat’s Appearance
Siamese cats have a number of features that make them immediately recognizable among cat breeds. These include their blue, almond-shaped eyes and the point-restricted coloration of their coats. Point coloration describes a coat that is mostly light with dark patches at the paws, ears, tail, and face. Because they’re partially albino, the tyrosinase (an enzyme involved in melanin production) in the Siamese cat’s body is only active at relatively cool temperatures, as far from the heart as possible. Cats living in cooler regions generally have darker pigmentation in their coats than those living in warmer, sunnier climates.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association recognizes four official color patterns for Siamese cats:
- Seal Point: These kitties have fawn or cream-colored coats with dark-brown points. That seal pigmentation is also present on their noses and paw pads.
- Blue Point: Blue Points feature blueish-grey spots at their extremities and a bluish-white coat across the rest of their bodies. Their paw pads and noses are the color of slate.
- Lilac Point: The points on these cats combine pink and grey, while their noses and pads feature a cinnamon-pink mix. Their coats are otherwise white.
- Chocolate Point: These cats look good enough to eat with creamy coats, milk chocolate-colored extremities, and cinnamon-pink noses and paw pads.
The Siamese Cat’s Personality
Talkative and sociable, Siamese cats are known to love attention. This makes them an affectionate addition to the family, but can sometimes make them a handful for busy owners. Some experts suggest adopting or purchasing Siamese cats in pairs if you won’t be able to provide the near-round-the-clock affection they crave. Fortunately, Siamese cats typically make fast friends with other pets.
The breed is notably intelligent, curious, and athletic. As a result, they require regular stimulation to remain engaged and content. Owners without the time for much hands-on play should consider scratching posts, puzzle toys, and other aids to engage cats in their absence.
Caring for a Siamese Cat
Siamese cats require very little grooming. Good weekly brushing is typically sufficient to remove excess hair and discourage excessive hairballs. Regular nail trims may be necessary to reduce furniture damage as a result of a cat’s natural scratching behavior. Cat parents are advised to introduce grooming routines early and often to ensure their pets quickly grow accustomed to them.
Since they’re such abundantly social and affectionate creatures, Siamese cats are prone to depression and boredom if they’re left alone for extended periods. It’s not uncommon for cats to act clingy, following their parents around the home and vocalizing to get their attention.
The modern Siamese’s wedge-shaped head may make them more susceptible to certain respiratory conditions, including asthma. Those piercing, blue eyes command attention, but they also make Siameses more likely to develop a chronic ocular condition called progressive retinal atrophy. This can lead to vision loss and even total blindness over time. Studies also suggest they may be more likely to develop amyloidosis than other breeds. This rare and sometimes fatal disease sees abnormal proteins build up in a cat’s internal organs (usually the liver and kidneys) and disrupt normal function.
Like all breeds, Siamese cats are more likely to develop a range of health concerns if they are fed to the point of overweightness or obesity. All cat owners should work closely with their veterinarian to ensure they’re serving the right amount of the right food and, if necessary, supplementing their pet’s diet appropriately. Diligent dental care (both at home and in a veterinary setting) is essential as well.
Famous Siamese Cat Lovers
After finding their way to U.S. shores, the Siamese cat quickly became a favorite feline of many famous Americans. Here are just a few of the notable names who’ve made Siamese cats their own:
- President Rutherford B. Hayes: Our nation’s 19th president accepted his very first Siamese cat as a gift from an American diplomat stationed in Bangkok, Thailand. First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes chose the name Miss Pussy, but quickly switched her moniker to Siam, which she felt better suited the cat’s regal attitude.
- President Gerald Ford: Ford’s daughter Susan brought her Siamese cat Chan to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when the family moved in. The two even graced the cover of People magazine in 1974.
- President Jimmy Carter: The Carter family also counted a Siamese cat among their many pets. Youngest child Amy came to the White House alongside the peculiarly-named Misty Malarky Ying Yang.
- Andy Warhol: Pop art provocateur Andy Warhol went from owning just one cat to presiding over a litter of more than 20 after purchasing a mate for his cat Hester. Some Bob Dylan enthusiasts believe that Warhol and Hester are the “diplomat” and “Siamese Cat” referenced in the legend’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”
- Taylor Swift: It’s no wonder Taylor Swift took a role in 2019’s Cats. The pop star is a longtime cat lover with a handful of her own, including two Siamese-Tabby mixes: Indy and Eliehsen.
- Elizabeth Taylor: The Academy Award winner played a famous cat lover in Cleopatra and was a veritable feline fanatic in real life. On the set of Giant, she bought a Siamese cat named Marcus for her co-star James Dean.
- Ricky Gervais: UK funnyman Gervais bid a heartfelt farewell to his beloved Siamese Ollie in March of 2020. The pair were together for more than 16 years, beginning when talk show host Jonathan Ross surprised Gervais with the furry on-air gift.
Striking Siamese felines have also made a name for themselves as stars or supporting players in movies including the Disney classics Lady and the Tramp, The Incredible Journey, and That Darn Cat!
5 Siamese Cat Facts
- Two Siamese cats helped uncover an international espionage plot in the 1960s when they began scratching at a wall. Their owner — a Dutch diplomat living in Moscow — expected that they were reacting to a sound that only they could hear. He was right! The wall hid a number of tiny microphones.
- While most felines can see quite well in the dark, Siamese cats struggle to perceive details in poor light. The breed has no tapetum lucidum behind their distinctive blue eyes. In other breeds, this reflective layer provides for effective night vision.
- Though they’re popular today and may have historically received the royal treatment, Siamese cats got a much cooler reception at their first U.K. cat show. One journalist was so repulsed by the breed that they called it an “unnatural, nightmare kind of cat.”
- The earliest Siamese cats were identifiable by their crossed eyes and kinked tails. Generations of breeding have made these qualities decidedly uncommon among healthy examples of the breed.
- In 2016, the Guinness Book of World Records named Scooter, a 30-year-old male Siamese cat, the world’s oldest living cat.
Names for Siamese Cats
Need a unique name to suit your unique feline friend? Check out these names inspired by the Thai language:
More Information on Caring for Cats
Taking care of a Siamese cat or any breed of feline is a full-time job. Check out our guide for first-time cat owners to learn more about food, socialization, healthcare, and every other aspect of pet parenthood.