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    Place of origin



    The temple cats of Burma have been cherished by priests there for centuries, and they exist in many different colors and varieties. In the late nineteenth century, cats described as "chocolate Siamese" were imported into England but did not find favor with cat fanciers at that time. Dun-colored cats with dark extremities were considered "Royal Siamese," whereas the chocolate cats were considered "Temple cats" or "Rajah type." A photograph of a cat taken back to England as a "Burmese cat" shows an Oriental ticked tabby.

    In 1903, Frances Simpson's The Book of the Cat mentioned the legend about the Siamese and Burmese cats: the light-colored cats with blue eyes represent silver, whereas the dark cats with yellow eyes represented gold; according to legend, anyone possessing both cats would have plenty of silver and gold. Early fanciers also encountered imported Siamese with "coats of burnished chestnut with greeny-blue eyes" (suggestive of the modern Tonkinese) and "chocolate colored Siamese with the same color all over." Simpson's book stated that it was a great mistake to mix the two varieties because the result was a blurring of the markings and a patchy coat. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (eleventh edition) referred to a "wholly chocolate–colored strain of Siamese" that was exhibited in 1894 under the name Swiss Mountain Cats. The standard of points for the chocolate Siamese were the same as for the Royal Siamese, with the exception of the dark, rich brown body color, which made the markings less noticeable-this strongly suggests the Burmese sepia color. However, those chocolate colored cats vanished in the 1920s, when the Siamese Cat Club ruled that only blue-eyed Siamese were acceptable.

    With so many years elapsed and so few photos, it is impossible to say with certainty whether the chocolate-brown Siamese were equivalent to Burmese, to Tonkinese, or to modern Havanas (chestnut-brown Orientals). In any case, the modern breeds with those names are Western refinements, especially in terms of physical conformation, of varieties first imported from Thailand and neighboring countries in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

    The chocolate-brown Siamese having died out in the United Kingdom during the 1920s, today's Burmese breed traces its ancestry back to a single "copper cat" (called by the Thai people Thong Daeng-literally "red gold") named Wong Mau; she was taken to the United States in 1930, where she caused a sensation in the cat fancy. As was common in Thailand, Wong Mau was mated to a sealpoint Siamese cat, resulting in kittens of both Siamese coloration and those colored like their dam. This means Wong Mau was equivalent to a modern mink-patterned Tonkinese cat. When one of the male kittens was bred back to his mother, it resulted in sable brown kittens who were darker than either parent. When these brown offspring were mated to each other, they produced only brown kittens-the Burmese breed had been born.

    It took skillful management by the initial breeders to create a unique breed from a single cat and a limited gene pool. Early breeders continued to cross to Siamese to avoid inbreeding, with the result that the American Siamese cat clubs of the early twentieth century initially fought the acceptance of the new breed into the cat fancy, and Burmese were removed from the show bench in 1947. Breeding with Siamese also created a more foreign-looking cat, and regaining the rounded head type and cobby body of the breed remained a challenge for many years.

    Additional imports were later added to strengthen the gene pool. Once the breed was established enough to meet the requirements of three generations of pure breeding, the Burmese breed was reaccepted for recognition in 1957. In the United States, blue, champagne, and platinum were registered as Malayan in 1979, but became part of the Burmese breed five years later. These occurred in Burmese litters as a result of recessive genes carried either by Wong Mau or by the Siamese she was bred to.

    The Burmese was recognized in the United Kingdom in 1952. The breed was based on a small number of cats imported from the United States from 1949 to 1956, although cats resembling Wong Mau had been brought back by soldiers stationed in the Far East during the late 1940s. Continental Europe and the Commonwealth countries (countries once under British rule) have based their Burmese breeding programs on cats from the United Kingdom so that the more foreign-looking European Burmese has become the prevalent type worldwide.

    The first blue Burmese appeared in England in 1955. Although blue, champagne (chocolate in the United Kingdom), and platinum (lilac in the United Kingdom) had appeared in litters bred in the United States, breeders chose to concentrate on the original sable color. The red, cream, and tortie Burmese were developed by British breeders. In 1964, a blue Burmese female escaped and mated with a red tabby shorthair. A deliberate mating was made between a brown Burmese to a red point Siamese. A third mating was between a brown Burmese male and a calico farm cat who had Siamese ancestry. The resulting Burmese colors gained recognition in the United Kingdom between 1973 and 1977. Cinnamon Burmese were developed in Europe and New Zealand in the late 1980s and the 1990s. In North America, these colors are only recognized in the European Burmese.

    Physical description

    The Burmese has diverged in type between the United States and United Kingdom/Europe, with the result that they are effectively two different breeds. The relatively round-headed American Burmese is not recognized, even as an outcross, in Europe because of a lethal gene mutation carried by some lines. The more Oriental-looking Burmese cat of Britain and Europe is bred under the name European Burmese (or Foreign Burmese) in the United States.

    The American sable Burmese can be summed up as "round and brown" with a rounded head, relatively short nose, rounded eyes, and a cobby body. The large, round gold eyes contrasting with the glossy, close-lying coat gives the breed a unique appearance. Its broad and sturdy chest, cobby body, short neck, and thick tail result in a cat who is surprisingly heavy for her compact size and sometimes likened to a feline bulldog. This style of Burmese is largely restricted to North America.

    The European Burmese has become the more prevalent type around the world (the "European" prefix is used only in North America) and is described as an elegant cat of a foreign type with the head forming a short wedge and only slightly rounded. The top line of its eyes has a slight slant.

    BibleThe neck is medium length, rather than short. In general, it is more slender and more angular than its American Burmese cousin, but still a muscular cat.

    Colors and varieties

    Although initially recognized only in the sable brown or dark walnut color that inspired the breed, the Burmese is now accepted worldwide in three additional colors: blue, lilac (also called platinum), and chocolate (also called champagne). In the American Burmese breed, these additional colors were originally registered as a separate breed, the Malayan. In the United Kingdom and Europe, no such distinction was made. Crossing performed to establish a wide gene pool in Europe and Australia introduced additional colors, including red, cream, and the tortoiseshell, silver, and tabby varieties of the four basic colors. In Europe, the silver and tabby varieties form the Asian Shorthair breed group. Some are recognized under individual breed names, such as the Bombay (a black self Burmese) and the Burmilla (a tipped silver Burmese).


    Burmese cats bond very closely with their owners and can be territorial toward other cats. They are very affectionate and enjoy crawling under the bedcovers with their favorite family members. These playful cats enjoy games of fetch and chasing after toys. Females can be quite headstrong and are usually the dominant cat in the household, whereas males are more laid-back and willing to please. Burmese are very social cats and thrive on company-if you are away from home for long periods, it is usually better to have two Burmese so they can keep each other company.

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    Special needs

    Burmese are a healthy and long-lived breed that requires little maintenance beyond a regular grooming with a rubber brush to remove shed hair and a polish with a chamois cloth to bring out the natural sheen in the coat. Breeders of the American Burmese need to be aware of the Burmese craniofacial defect that results in lethal skull malformations and stillborn kittens (see Burmese Craniofacial Defect). This gene mutation is not present in the European Burmese.


    Burmese conformation cats have been bred that lack the partial albinism that results in the unique color of the Burmese breed. These result from crossing the Burmese with American Shorthairs or other shorthaired cats. These breeds are known as the Bombay (with its black, shiny, patent leather appearing coat), Asian Shorthair, and New Zealand's Mandalay (the other solid colors). Because these breeds do not express the partial albinism gene, the eye color of the Bombay and Mandalay tends toward deeper shades of gold and copper. Several outdated names are sometimes still heard: Cornelian (red self Asian Shorthair), Burmoire (smoke Asian Shorthair), and Burmali (ticked tabby Asian Shorthair).

    The Burmilla, which has both shorthaired and semi-longhaired versions, originated in the United Kingdom in 1981 with an accidental cross between a Chinchilla Persian and lilac Burmese. As a result of the crosses with silver Persians that were performed to develop the Burmilla, longhaired Burmese have been developed as the Tiffanie and Asian Longhair. The separate Australian Tiffanie is a cobbier cat with a greater amount of Chinchilla Persian blood than the European Tiffanie.

    European Burmese

    Lilac Burmese

    Caramel Burmilla

    Chocolate Burmilla

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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