The Burmese is a stocky, smooth-coated cat that descends from ancient cats of Asia. It has become quite popular because of its delightful personality, friendly conversational skills and low-maintenance coat. Burmese are small to medium-sized cats, with broad chests and strong shoulders. They typically weigh much more than one would expect, due to their heavily muscled physique. Burmese are more substantial than their Siamese cousins, although fanciers of the breed may restate this as being fluffier, rather than fatter. British Burmese cats often have longer facial features and a more lithe body structure than the North American Burmese, which have a shorter nose and amore square body shape.
Burmese cats have compact, round heads and faces with fairly short muzzles, firm chins and well-spaced, rounded ears. Their large, wide-set, yellow to golden eyes slant inward towards their nose along the top line and are rounded along the bottom. This gives the Burmese a uniquely exotic facial expression. Their eyes have been aptly described as "great pools of innocence and seductive appeal, irresistible in effect." Burmese also have a distinctive nose, which has an obvious break, or bend, when viewed in profile from the side. Burmese have well-developed and well-proportioned legs, which are a tad longer in front than in rear. Their paws are oval and tidy, and their tail is medium in length, straight and tapers to a somewhat rounded tip. Kinked tails are not permitted in the American show ring.
The coat of the modern Burmese is extremely fine, short and satiny, and it only requires minimal care. The underlying fur on most of the solid colored Burmese is lighter in shade than that of their outer hairs. Many solid colored Burmese cats retain faintly darker markings on their ears, face (mask), legs and tails, reminiscent of the markings of their Seal Point Siamese ancestors. Young Burmese kittens of all colors are often pale when born and display some tabby markings. These usually disappear with maturity.
The modern Burmese comes in a variety of colors. Those presently recognized by the American Cat Fanciers' Association (the CFA) are the Sable, Champagne, Blue and Platinum. Here are the colors of the Burmese:
Brown (Sable) Burmese – This is the "usual," or original, color of the Burmese that we know today. Sable Burmese are warm and rich in color, with matching seal-brown paw pads and noses. They can be slightly paler on the underside and can have marginally darker points on the mask and ears. The Sable Burmese is the most popular and well-known color variety of this distinctive breed.
Blue Burmese – Reports suggest that the first true Blue Burmese was born to a litter of Burmese in 1955 in Great Britain, sired by an imported American cat of this breed. The first recorded Blue is Sealcoat Blue Surprise, who apparently came from that litter. The Blue Burmese is ideally a very soft, silvery, slate-blue in color. It has been described as being "antique silver." The Blue was recognized in Great Britain in 1970. They took longer to gain a following in America, and elsewhere.
Lilac (Platinum) Burmese – The Lilac or Platinum Burmese is basically a dilute version of the Chocolate or Champagne variety of this breed. It is a pleasing, delicate shade of pinkish dove-grey. The pads of these cats start as shell-pink and eventually turn to a more lavender-pink shade. Champagne and Sable Burmese were exported from the United States to Great Britain in the late 1960s, which gave rise to the development and ultimate acceptance of this beautiful, unusual color variation in this breed. The Lilac/Platinum color became accepted in the 1970s.
Chocolate (Champagne) Burmese – The coat of the Chocolate variety of the Burmese is a much warmer, milky-chocolate color than is that of the richly colored Brown, or Sable, Burmese. The distinction is much like the distinction between dark chocolate and milk chocolate. This variation in the breed was first exported from America to Britain in the late 1960s.
Red Burmese – The Red Burmese is a uniquely tangerine-colored cat that is lightly orange rather than really red in color. It almost always has tabby striped markings on the face, due to the orange gene which brings out the tabby pattern. However, the rest of its body should be solid in shade. This variety of the Burmese is more popular in the United Kingdom than it is in the United States and is not yet recognized for showing in conformation classes by the CFA.
Cream Burmese – This color variation in the modern Burmese was developed in Great Britain starting in the 1960s. It is reported to have resulted from an unplanned breeding between a Red Tabby and a Blue Burmese in or around 1964. The Cream Burmese finally was recognized in the United Kingdom in 1970. This is a dilute version of the Red Burmese, much like the Lilac is a dilute version of the Chocolate. Deep gold eyes, rather than lighter yellow eyes, are highly prized in this color, especially in the show ring. The Cream Burmese has not yet been accepted by the CFA for registration in the United States.
Burmese also come in even more exotic colors, such as chocolate-tortie, lavender-cream, blue-cream and brown-tortie, among others.
Burmese cats are all descended from copper-colored cats from Thailand dating back to the 16th century, and probably even earlier. According to some of the earliest reports, a small brown cat described as a "Chocolate Siamese" was brought from Burma to England in the early 1900s and probably was among the modern Burmese ancestors, or at least quite similar in type. The North American Burmese line can be specifically traced to the early 1930s, when Dr. Joseph Thompson crossed a small, walnut-brown female of Burmese origin (named Wong Mau) with a Seal Point Siamese male. Wong Mau is thought to have been a Siamese-Burmese hybrid of the type known today as the Tonkinese. In any event, the breeding took place in San Francisco, California. Some of the offspring from that cross were a dark, glossy brown; it was these animals that formed the foundation of the modern purebred pedigreed Burmese cat. Wong Mau was bred several times, and many of her offspring were later out-crossed and/or inbred back to Wong Mau herself.
The American Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) recognized the beautiful dark chocolate Burmese for registration shortly thereafter, in 1936. The breed rapidly gained popularity and acceptance in Great Britain throughout the 1940s. Many lighter kittens born from these breedings were well-accepted, as well. Initially, they were recognized as a dilute color variety of the Burmese and were registered as Malayans. Eventually, the CFA and the British cat registry recognized these lighter cats as dilute variations of the Burmese.
Burmese have the average life span of most other healthy domestic breeds, averaging about 15 years. Health concerns for this breed may include cardiovascular conditions such as dilated cardiomyopathy (more common in males) and endocardial fibroelastosis (thought to be inherited in this breed and typically seen in young cats under 6 months of age). Rarely, Burmese seem prone to dermatological (skin) conditions and/or musculoskeletal conditions, but when these do occur they usually are not serious. Some Burmese are predisposed to developing neurological conditions such as congenital vestibular disease (signs are usually seen at less than 3 months of age), congenital deafness, hyperaesthesia syndrome and meningoencephalocoele (this is a lethal anatomical malformation that reportedly has a high rate of carriers in the Burmese breed).
Burmese also are reported to occasionally suffer from abnormal ocular (eye) conditions such as corneal and lateral limbal dermoids, prolapse or eversion of the gland or cartilage of the nictitating membrane ("cherry eye"), and corneal sequestration. Burmese are reported to have a higher incidence of developing calcium oxalate urolithiasis (calcium oxalate bladder stones) than do some other breeds. They also are prone to a congenital respiratory condition called agenesis of the nares, which is present at birth in affected cats and basically is an abnormal or incomplete development of the nostrils or openings of the cat's nose.
As one of the most sociable and people-oriented of all domestic cat breeds, the Burmese enjoys forming very close bonds with its owners, primary caretakers and other pets in the household. These cats are known for having especially delightful personalities. They are described as being dog-like and sunny of temperament, because by nature they are friendly, kind, gentle and outgoing. Burmese also are usually quite playful, well into adulthood. Given their Siamese ancestors, Burmese can be more vocal than many other domestic feline breeds. However, they tend to be quieter-voiced than the Siamese and typically have a softer, less raucous and more pleasant-sounding meow (with no offense meant to Siamese fanciers, to whom the Siamese voice understandably sounds like the calling of angels). Burmese enjoy having conversations with their people, whether in the home or wherever else they may be. This is a highly intelligent, thoughtful breed. Burmese are known to be extremely affectionate, and they love to snuggle and cuddle with their favorite people.
Burmese are moderately active cats, especially when they are kittens. Young Burmese tend to be somewhat clumsy, falling over themselves as they learn about their own agility and strength. However, as they mature, they become extremely athletic and agile. They are by nature an inquisitive breed which, combined with their natural intelligence and curiosity, makes them inclined to explore new areas and situations when given the opportunity. Burmese are unusually heavy for their apparent size, which among some fanciers has given them the name "bricks wrapped in silk."
Burmese cats have amazing, huge, provocative eyes. While normally experts would not talk about eyes as a "behavioral trait," the expression from the eyes of the Burmese are widely recognized as being one of the many things in their arsenal of traits that can hypnotize and ultimately ensnare their owners into a life-long love affair of affection and endearment. Burmese tend to take over and rule a household with gentleness, love and affection, guiding other household members with the expression from their amazing eyes. They take well to dogs, cats and other household pets. If introduced to it early enough, and with kindness, they also take well to traveling by car.
Burmese typically follow their owners around like shadows. They want to give and receive affection at every opportunity. They frequently learn to retrieve and play fetch, and enjoy helping their owner sort through papers or otherwise reorganize cupboards or cabinets. They are among the most affectionate of lap cats, despite their endearing ability to quickly leave the lap to leap onto another place in the household to explore something of interest. They can be strong-willed.
Male Burmese tend to be rather laid back, preferring to supervise household activities from a lap or warm pillow rather than taking charge. Females, on the other hand, tend to be more opinionated and like to rule the proverbial roost. Either way, people who spend any amount of quality time with this breed almost always are forever endeared to it.
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