The Birman cat breed, also known as the Sacred Cat of Burma, is a medium to large, semi-longhaired, ivory-colored cat with darker color points on the ears, face, legs and tail and an overall golden sheen. Among its most distinctive features are pure white paws on all four feet called "gloves," which preferably are symmetrical. Birmans also have white, v-shaped areas on the hind legs that come to a point on the back of the hock; these are called "laces." Only Birmans with near-perfect glove and lace markings are competitive in the show ring.
The Birman's silky coat is less prone to matting than that of the Persian or Himalayan, although it does require more attention than the coat of a short-haired cat. Birmans come in a number of beautiful colors, including: solid color points in seal, blue, chocolate, lilac, red and cream; parti-points in seal-tortie, blue-cream, chocolate-tortie and lilac-cream; and lynx-points in seal, chocolate, blue, lilac, red, cream, seal-tortie, chocolate-tortie, blue-cream and lilac-cream. Kittens are born almost entirely white. They develop their darker points of whatever color over time.
Birmans have round, deep blue eyes set widely above high cheekbones and a slightly Roman-shaped nose. This gives them an especially sweet facial expression. This is a strikingly beautiful breed that gives an overall impression of power and balance.
The Birman is believed to have originated in Burma, where it was the sacred companion of Kittah priests. Sometime in or around 1919, a pair of seal-pointed Birmans was shipped from Burma to France with a French explorer and an Englishman. Unfortunately, the male did not survive the voyage. Happily, the female did, and she was confirmed pregnant upon her arrival in Europe. Her offspring formed the foundation for all of today's Birman cats. In 1925, the Birman was officially recognized as a distinct breed by the French cat registry. Although it is not native to France, this is considered by most feline fanciers to be a French breed.
By the end of World War II, only a handful of Birmans remained on the European continent. Outcrossing with other long-haired and short-haired breeds became necessary to reestablish the breed. The few remaining Birmans reportedly were crossed with Siamese and bi-colored Persians. Most cat breed registries require four or five generations of pure breeding following an outcrossing before a breed can be considered "pure," and therefore eligible for registration and championship competition.
The first Birmans apparently were exported to the United States in 1959 and to Great Britain in 1965. The breed was recognized by the British cat registry in 1966 and by the American Cat Fanciers' Association in 1967. It is now recognized and well-known throughout most of the world.
Birmans are susceptible to a dermatological condition called congenital hypotrichosis, which is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait in this breed. They also can be predisposed to tail-tip necrosis and hemophilia B (also called Christmas disease), which is inherited as a sex-linked trait. Another medical condition seen in Birmans is aplasia of the thymus gland, usually noticeable by 3 months of age. Birmans are predisposed to certain eye conditions, including corneal sequestration, congenital cataracts, and rarely corneal dermoid formation. Some young Birman kittens have developed neurological conditions, such as spongiform degeneration and so-called Birman cat distal polyneuropathy, although these are not common. Birmans also can inherit an autosomal recessive trait that causes abnormal granulation of certain white blood cells called neutrophils. Fortunately, this condition is not known to be associated with any functional disease.
Birmans have marvelous dispositions. They are friendly, self-assured, extremely inquisitive and playfully outgoing, without being overly pushy. They are known to follow their owners around the house like puppies. Birmans need and appreciate human companionship, and are especially fond of children. This is a happy, trusting and adaptable breed. Its incredible beauty is just icing on the cake.
Birmans are moderately active cats, but at the same time they are fairly quiet and gentle in nature. Most owners of Birmans keep their cats exclusively indoors, to protect them from parasites, cat fights, automobile accidents and exposure to infectious diseases. Housing them indoors also helps to prevent tangling and matting of their exquisite glistening coats.
Birmans are extremely loyal to the people in their lives. This is not a cat to be left alone for prolonged periods of time, because they crave attention and affection. Birmans are quieter and less vocal than their Siamese cousins, but they are not as docile or placid as the Persian. The females of this breed mature unusually early, and can reproduce typically by seven or eight months of age. Birman females are known for being extremely devoted mothers. Birman males are equally renowned for their kind, loving temperaments, with their offspring and with almost all other two- and four-legged friends.
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