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Siamese

Siamese

Place of origin

Southeast Asia

History

One of the earliest breeds recognized by the organized cat fancy, the Siamese is surrounded by legend and whole books have been devoted to the fact and fiction surrounding the breed. It is probably the most recognizable breed, even to noncat-fanciers. The kinked tail (a widespread genetic mutation in Asia) seen in the early imports was attributed to a princess putting her rings on her cat's tail while she bathed; supposedly, the young lady tied a knot in the cat's tail to prevent the rings from falling off. Others wrote that the Siamese cat resulted from crossing the sacred cats of Burma and the Annamite cats when the Siamese and the Annamese conquered the Khmer empire.

Colorpointed cats were among the varieties described and illustrated in manuscripts called Tamra Maew (Cat Poems), written between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. One of these manuscripts, dating from 1350, pictures a palecoated cat with a black mask, tail, feet, and ears. Early descriptions of the sealpoint Siamese in 1676 call it Vichien Mas (or Wichien-Maat). Over the years, other names for cats considered ancestral to the Siamese include Singhasep, Annamese, Laotian Lynx, and Gould's Cat.

The enigmatic and elegant Siamese continued to attract myths into the twentieth century. Due to its distinctive appearances and voice, as late as the 1920s, some fanciers claimed the Siamese to be the product of a mating between domestic cats and, variously, the Indian (yellow-throated) marten, the civet, the Bay Cat, or Temminck's Golden Cat (Asian Golden Cat). Siamese cat fancier Lilian J. Veley (1926) remained adamant that the Siamese had traits inherited from some type of viverrine, possibly one unknown to science, that lived in its native country.

During the British exploration and colonization of Asia in the 1800s, it became common to bring back treasures and curiosities. One of those curiosities was a cat who was described by the father of the modern cat fancy, Harrison Weir, as "the nightmare cat." Its unusual color and type shocked a cat fancy that was accustomed to the round-headed and heavily built Persians and British Shorthairs.

Two Siamese cats were exhibited at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in 1871, where they were considered "ugly" and "frightening" by many, but attracted enough attention that another Siamese was exhibited at the 1872 Cat Show. It appears that these early imports were not used for breeding, but were exhibited as curiosities. In 1878, the wife of American President Rutherford B. Hayes received a Siamese cat as a gift from the American Consul in Bangkok; this is the first documented Siamese in the United States, but again was not used for breeding. In 1879, a writer for the (London) Daily Telegraph was unimpressed by the unfamiliar Siamese, referring to them as having "black muzzles, ears, feet and tail setting off a close, yellowish drab coat and completing the resemblance of the little brutes to a pair of pug puppies."

The first breeding imports were a pair of sealpointed Siamese in 1884. These were exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1885 and attracted enough attention that more were imported. It is likely that other Siamese cats did not survive the long journey to England, whereas those who did were considered delicate in health. Blue-pointed Siamese occurred naturally in litters due to recessive genes and appeared in England in 1894, but early breeders did not consider them worth retaining. In 1896, Louis Wain, another founding father of the cat fancy, refused to judge a Siamese on grounds that it was blue rather than seal. Chocolate point Siamese were initially considered badly colored Sealpoints Bibleand appear traceable to a cat called Prince of Siam imported in 1897. These other colors could only be shown in "Any Other Variety" classes. Many Siamese fanciers dismissed "any other color" Siamese as freakish crossbreeds.

Right from the start, these cats were described as highly intelligent and doglike in their affection and devotion to their owners. They were also found to be formidable fighters, great hunters, and to have a cry like a human infant. Although Siamese cats were reportedly prolific breeders in their home country, a high kitten mortality rate was reported by early breeders in the United Kingdom.

Although Harrison Weir encountered both the colorpointed and the chocolate variety (which later became the Burmese), he favored the "Royal Siamese," which were described as light gray, fawn, or dun with black or dark chocolate points and blue eyes, and it was this type that early breeders concentrated their efforts on, forming the first Siamese cat club in 1902.

Cat fanciers were also fascinated by claims that the only pure Siamese cats were kept at the King of Siam's palace and were very difficult to obtain, especially male cats, because the King did not want the Royal cats to be bred outside of his palace. Supposedly to gain a cat, these travelers either had to do some favor for the king or steal a cat from the palace. An early champion, Wankee, bred in Hong Kong in 1895 was allegedly the offspring of a female kitten stolen from the palace.

Early descriptions indicate different conformations ranging from slight to substantial. Some were described as delicately made cats with a curiously elongated "wedge-shaped" or "martenlike" face. Part of this delicacy, both in conformation and health, can be attributed to inbreeding during the late 1890s; this was overcome by further imports and crossing to other shorthairs. In 1903, Frances Simpson mentioned crossing Siamese to a blue-eyed white cat. On the other hand, one male Siamese was described as "massive." All that can be said for sure is that early Siamese cats varied in body type and that the exaggerated long, lithe look was not set until the twentieth century.

In 1903, Frances Simpson's The Book of the Cat had stated the tail kink to be a peculiarity of the breed and therefore desirable, not a defect. By the 1930s, American breeders declared the kinked tail to be a fault, insisting that true Royal Siamese cats did not have kinked tails-any kink-tailed Siamese in the United States were therefore the result of sailors picking up common street cats! Dr. Hugh M. Smith, Adviser in Fisheries to His Siamese Majesty's Government between 1923 and 1934, wrote that there were no "palace" or "royal" cats in Siam-colorpointed cats could be owned by anyone as a household pet. A Siamese prince visiting London was apparently interviewed by a Siamese cat fancier and replied that there were more Siamese cats in London than in all Siam. In 1939, the American authority on cats Ida M. Mellen reiterated this as "any Royal Palace can have stray cats."

Siamese cats were continually imported into the United States and United Kingdom throughout the early and mid-twentieth century, and show halls, homes, and popular culture quickly became filled with these elegant blue-eyed beauties. The move toward the extreme type began in earnest during the early 1960s. Although pet owners often preferred a moderate cat, breeders and exhibitors preferred an extremely slender cat with a very long head, almond-shaped eyes, and flaring ears. A cat of this type, called Fan Tee Cee, greatly impressed show judges, and his name appears many times in some pedigrees, changing the look (and breed standard) of the Siamese cat into the breed we now see.

By the 1930s, the four original colors-sealpoint, chocolate point, blue point, and "frost point" (lilac, or lavender, point)-were well established in the breed in the United Kingdom and United States. Breeders started to imagine the Siamese in an even wider variety of colors. Breeders introduced these colors by crossing Siamese to Abyssinians, American Shorthairs, and red domestic shorthairs.

The first "new" color to be pursued was the red point (and the associated, but considered less desirable at the time, tortoiseshell point), originally called the "Red Concha." These new colors were declared "heretical" by more conservative Siamese breeders who refused to allow them to be recognized as Siamese. The name Colorpoint Shorthair was adopted for the new colors in the United States; these included the Red (or Flame) and Cream Points, the Tortoiseshell Points, and the Tabby (or Lynx) Points. After almost half a century of breeding only to Siamese cats, only one registry in the world does not currently recognize these cats as Siamese, and they must be registered separately as Colorpoint Shorthairs. Meanwhile, Tabby Point Siamese had been mentioned as early as 1902 and were being were bred in Scotland as Silverpoint Siamese in the 1940s.

In the United States, the CFA is a "genotypical registry" (or pedigree-based registry), accepting cats based on their genetic make-up rather than their appearance. Only cats bred from eight generations of registered Siamese, and in the original four colors, can be registered as Siamese. The CFA considers all other colors and patterns to be evidence of hybridization because they were not present in original imports (although such colors and patterns occur naturally in Thailand and neighboring countries), and they can only be registered as Colorpoint Shorthairs. All other registries consider them a single breed-the Siamese-although not all registries recognize all colors or patterns.

Physical description

The original conformation of the Siamese is a frequent bone of contention. Original imports included small, delicate Siamese, long, lithe Siamese, and even a Siamese male who early fanciers referred to as massive. The wedgeshaped muzzle, pronounced pointed ears, and lithe body have been traits of the Siamese breed since the first imports. However, selective breeding has made the modern exhibition Siamese much more extreme in type, with an exaggerated wedge-shaped head, large ears, and long tubular body. Nothing about the modern Siamese is round-it is angular in every way. Once common traits such as cross-eyes (resulting from crossed optic nerves), kinked tail, and white toes have largely been bred out.

Sharp delineation between the dark colored points and a light colored body is an important focus of the breed standard. The semi-albinism that produces this color is temperature-related and affected by environment and age. The color develops on the cooler extremities of the body. Kittens are born white, gaining their point color in the first two weeks of life, and older cats tend to have a darker body. The coat is very short, sleek, and glossy.

Admirers of the less-extreme type of the original imports may call their cats "traditional" or "oldstyle" Siamese, although the recent acceptance of Biblethe "Thai" breed by some registries has given these cats recognition in their own right. Cats referred to as "apple-headed Siamese" were created by crossing imported cats with domestic shorthairs in order to meet increasing public demand for these cats as pets, especially in the 1980s. For a while, colorpointed cats with the American Shorthair conformation were known as the Opal, whereas in the United Kingdom, the Colorpoint British Shorthair combined the British Shorthair conformation with the pointed pattern of the Siamese cat. The Tonkinese, derived from Siamese-Burmese crosses in the cat fancy, also appeals to lovers of the "older style."

Colors and varieties

Originally accepted by the cat fancy only in the "Royal" color of sealpoint, Siamese of other colors soon emerged, including blue point, chocolate point, and lilac (frost) point. Crossing with other shorthaired cats expanded the palette to include pointed colors of red, cream, tortoiseshell, tabby, silver-tabby, smoke, and even bicolor points. Other colors, such as fawn, caramel, apricot, and cinnamon may not be recognized by all registries.

Temperament

Intelligent, affectionate, and mischievous, the personality of the Siamese is as unique as its coloration. These are highly social cats who appreciate the companionship of other cats to the extent that pictures of large numbers of these cats intertwined with each other in a single small cat bed are legendary. They are very people-oriented cats, and their vocal nature only seems to further connect them with their equally loyal owners. Many are extroverts, while others are more nervous and sensitive and bond closely with a single person.

They are good with children and other pets. Although a Siamese can entertain itself, many owners consider it better to have two so they can entertain each other whenever the owner is out. Many Siamese are natural retrievers and will play "fetch" with the owner. They can often be trained to walk on a leash and have been popular in films due to their distinctive looks and trainable nature.

Activity level

High

Vocal level

High; Siamese are generally extremely vocal, with a loud, low-pitched voice that is sometimes mistaken for the cry of a human baby. Owners of Siamese enjoy talking to their cats, who obligingly talk right back to them.

Special needs

The coat needs occasional brushing with the short side of a small rubber brush to remove loose hair. The coat can be smoothed using a chamois cloth. Some lines of Siamese may have sensitive digestive systems that require special dietary considerations. There also appears to be a higher incidence of cancer in Siamese than in other breeds.

Variations

The Siamese has been very influential in the cat fancy. In addition to its Colorpoint Shorthair cousin, it has been used in developing an array of other breeds, the most popular of which have separate entries in this book.

Semi-longhaired kittens have appeared in Siamese litters since the early days and are recognized as the Balinese breed. The semi-longhair form of the Colorpoint Shorthair is known as the Javanese by the CFA in the United States (the term Javanese is used in Europe and New Zealand for nonpointed Oriental-type cats).

The pointed color of the Siamese breed is caused by a recessive mutation for semi-albinism; however, some carry a recessive mutation for full albinism. Albino Siamese have no pigmentation at all. They have white fur and pinkish-blue eyes instead of the normal blue color of the pointed Siamese. These albino Siamese are photosensitive and `avoid bright light.

The albino Siamese is not to be confused with the Foreign White or white Oriental Shorthair, which have the dominant-white color mutation.

Crossing Siamese to American Shorthairs produced the bicolor-pointed Snowshoe in the 1960s and the Opal (Colorpointed American Shorthair) in the 1990s.

In the early days, some Siamese cats had white toes; this was considered a serious fault that breeders worked hard to eliminate. When Bicolor-Pointed Siamese were developed, some European registries declared that Siamese cats with color-and-white points could not be called Siamese in case they reintroduced the problematical white toes. These were recognized under the name Seychellois by some registries, whereas others recognize them as Bicolor Oriental Shorthairs or Bicolor-Point Siamese. A few breeders prefer the name Snowshoe Siamese. Confusingly, the Seychellois name has also been used for noncolorpointed Van-pattern Oriental Shorthairs!

The original imports of Siamese were more moderate in type than the modern exhibition Siamese. Breeders in England, continental Europe, and North America returned to Thailand in recent years and imported Thai cats in an effort to preserve the Wichien-Maat (or Vichien Mas) cat in its original form. Modern Siamese have been used as outcrosses to develop the population of these cats, but the standard for the "Thai" (or "Thai Siamese") breed recaptures the style of the early imports that captivated, or horrified, fanciers in the late 1800s. However, some registries use the name "Thai" to refer to the naturally occurring pointed or lilac offspring of Korat cats. Thai Bobtails, combining the colorpointed pattern with the bobtailed trait common throughout Asia, have also been bred.

The colorpoint pattern has been introduced into a number of breeds by crossing with the Siamese. Some, such as the Snowshoe and Colorpoint Persian (Himalayan), are formally recognized whereas others, such as the Si-Manx are not. It should be warned that less scrupulous cat owners sometimes advertise for sale Siamese crossbreeds or randombred colorpoints as Si-something or Somethingamese to give the impression of a controlled breeding program or rare variety.

Seal Tabby Siamese

Brown Siamese

Blue Point Siamese

Lavender Siamese

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

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