All About The Burmese Cat

Introduction/History

The Burmese cat is native to Southeast Asia in countries such as Burma (now called Myanmar), Thailand (Siam), and the Malaya Peninsula. According to history, they were bred by priests and kept in temples and palaces for many centuries before being brought to the West. The cats were originally all brown. They were not brought to Britain until the 19th century where they were thought by some people to be brown Siamese. Early attempts to breed them in Britain in the late 19th century resulted in cats that were known as Chocolate Siamese and the cats died out since they were not as popular as the blue-eyed Siamese.

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In 1930 Dr. Joseph Cheesman Thompson imported a cat named Wong Mau to San Francisco. She was brown but her body type was different from the Siamese so Dr. Thompson considered her a good choice for breeding. Bred to Tai Mau, a sealpoint Siamese, and then bred with one of her sons, she produced dark brown kittens that became the foundation of a distinct Burmese breed. The CFA recognized the breed in 1936. Unfortunately, the new breed was repeatedly crossed with Siamese to increase its numbers and lost its unique type. CFA suspended its recognition for a time. Breeders continued to try to revive the breed’s unique type and the breed was finally reinstated. Interest in the breed in the UK had also been revived and the UK’s Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) recognized the breed in 1952. However, the Burmese in Britain and Europe is different from the American Burmese and the two cats have different breed standards. The CFA recognized the British (also called the European or “traditional”) Burmese as a separate breed in the 1980s. TICA recognizes the European Burmese. For many years the GCCF in Britain did not allow Burmese cats imported from the U.S. to be registered. However, this policy has recently changes. GCCF has approved the registration of imported Burmese cats as long as the necessary genetic tests have been completed. This will open up the gene pool for the cats. You can see the approved Registration Policy for the GCCF and Burmese cats here.

The Burmese has been important in developing several other breeds such as the Bombay and the Burmilla. Breed experts say that Wong Mau, the foundation of the Burmese, was genetically a cross between a Siamese and a Burmese in type. This early type found in the breed was important in producing the Tonkinese.

How To Recognize A Burmese

Coloring

At one time all Burmese cats were dark brown (also known as sable or seal). Today the breed is found in a wide variety of colors. The selection of colors depends on the breed standard.

The coat of the Burmese is always short, fine, and silky. It should have a glossy look like satin. The color of the coat should be uniform over the cat’s body, though some lighter shading is allowed underneath. Some cats have pale colorpoint markings (darker ears, legs, etc.) but there should not be any spots or stripes. The cat’s eyes should be green or gold, depending on the coat color and the registry.

The British GCCF standard recognizes solid brown, blue, chocolate, lilac, red, cream, brown tortie, blue tortie, chocolate tortie and lilac tortie . (Note that “lilac” is called “platinum” in the U.S. “Chocolate” is called “champagne.”)

In the U.S., the CFA recognizes sable, champagne, platinum, and blue.

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Other registries and countries recognize the Burmese in other colors such as cinnamon, fawn, apricot, caramel (and with tortoiseshell varieties). Russet is also being developed in New Zealand.

Weight/Size

The Burmese is considered to be a medium-sized breed but people always remark that they are heavier than they look. They are muscular, athletic, elegant cats. One comment refers to them as “bricks wrapped in silk.”

Males typically weigh from 11-14 pounds. Females are smaller, weighing 6 to 9 pounds. Other sources have the cats weighing more, both males and females.

Distinctive Features

You can tell the British (“traditional”) Burmese from the American (“contemporary”) Burmese in several ways. The British cat is usually slender with a long body. They have a wedge-shaped head and ears that are large and pointed. Their muzzle is long and tapering with eyes that are somewhat almond-shaped. Their legs are long with neat oval paws. Their tail tapers to a medium length.

The American cat is much stockier. They have a head that is rounder and broader with round eyes. The muzzle is shorter and more flattened. Their ears are wider at the base. Their legs are proportional to their body and their tail is medium in length. Their paws are also rounded.

In general, the British/European Burmese is more oriental in appearance while the American Burmese is stockier with a rounder head and body.

Temperament

American/contemporary or British/European/traditional, all Burmese are known for being sociable and playful. The Burmese is a love bug. They love to cuddle and they enjoy being with their people as much as possible. They don’t offer slavish devotion but they are wonderful companions. Owners report that they can be stubborn at times and they have strong personalities, so their friendship is offered as an equal.

The Burmese likes being part of the family. They are outgoing and lively. They are known for being good with children and other cats. They even tolerate dogs. They really love human company and they have been compared to dogs. The Burmese will often follow you from room to room to see what you’re doing and spend time with you. They are also very intelligent cats. They are willing to learn tricks and some Burmese even learn to fetch.

Despite having quite a bit of Siamese ancestry, the Burmese is not a very loud cat. They are known for having a soft, sweet voice. However, they will converse if you encourage them and they are more than capable of letting you know what they want.

These are very social cats so this isn’t a breed that you can leave home alone all the time. They are playful, mischievous, and they crave companionship. Burmese kittens can be wild and crazy and they can continue to be playful most of their lives. This is a breed that will enjoy an assortment of toys and games – especially if you play with them.

Living with a Burmese

Humans and Burmese

The Burmese is considered to be a low maintenance cat. With their short, fine coats they don’t require much grooming. Most people get by with petting the cats to remove dead hair or brushing them weekly with a rubber brush. Gently petting your cat will help distribute the oils in the coat. Giving the coat a quick once-over with chamois cloth will bring a high gloss. Most Burmese enjoy time spent grooming them.

Otherwise, this is a breed that craves human attention. They are not a very independent cat, as many cats are. They prefer to be with people. If the people in your home have to work all day, your Burmese may do well with another cat friend in the house. They also like toys and games to keep themselves busy. They are very smart cats so they appreciate things that make them think.

The Burmese is also an active, athletic cat so playing with him and providing perches and a cat tree or kitty condo are also appreciated. In general, female Burmese will take charge of the house while males are content to be more relaxed.

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The Burmese gets along well with children and they are a good choice as a family cat. They are also a good cat for the elderly. They do very well living indoors.

Dogs and Burmese

The Burmese usually gets along well with friendly dogs or at least tolerates them. It’s always important to oversee these relationships, especially in the early days. Many times it’s easier to introduce a small puppy to an older cat since the cat will have the upper paw (so to speak). We do recommend that you keep your cat’s food out of reach of your dog. Most dogs will eat your cat’s food if they have the opportunity.

You should also place your Burmese cat’s litter box in an area that your dog can’t reach. Many dogs have an unsavory habit of eating things out of the litter box when they can. It’s also good to have perches and other high places handy for your cat to escape in case your dog gets pushy.

Other Cats and Burmese

The Burmese usually gets along well with other cats. Since they are so sociable, if you have to be away from home all day, you may want to consider having another cat so your Burmese won’t be lonely during the day.

If you are introducing a new cat into your home, regardless of age, it may take some time for the cats to get to know each other and become friends. You can’t rush these relationships. Cats have to work out who has higher social status, which cat gets the best sleeping spots, and other important details. They will likely become friends eventually so just be patient. You may want to add an extra perch or cat tree when you introduce a new cat to the house so there is less competition for the same spots. Any cat can be jealous at times, especially if they think you are not showing them enough attention. So, if you are bringing a new cat into your home, make sure that you continue to pay attention to your Burmese or you could cause more problems between your cats.

Health

Common Health Problems

According to the sources we checked, a 2008 study, The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide Random-bred Populations by Lipinski et al., conducted at the University of California-Davis, led by feline geneticist Dr. Leslie Lyons found that the American Burmese has the second lowest level of genetic diversity among the cat breeds studied. According to the CFA, breeders are reporting signs of inbreeding depression in the breed, which would back up the report of low genetic diversity. These signs include smaller litters and immune system problems, among other things. In order to improve the health and genetic diversity of the breed, the Burmese breed council is allowing cats to be outcrossed using the Bombay, the Tonkinese, and Burmese type cats imported from southeast Asia.

Per the GCCF, British Burmese cats have had a problem with inherited hypokalaemia. This disease features an episodic skeletal muscle weakness that can affect the whole cat; or it can be isolated to the neck or limb muscles. Affected cats can have trouble walking and holding their head properly. However, there is now a simple DNA test for this disease, allowing cat breeders, owners, and vets to easily test for it.

The Burmese Cat Club in the UK is currently undertaking a health survey of the breed in Great Britain.

The British Burmese is said to be particularly inclined to diabetes mellitus, though this is a common disease for many cats. Flat chest syndrome occurs in some Burmese kittens. FOPS, or Orofacial Pain Syndrome, occurs when there is exaggerated licking, chewing, and pawing at the mouth in kittens. Most kittens outgrow this problem when teething is finished but it can recur when some cats are adults. There are efforts to develop a DNA test for this problem.

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These are the most serious health issues facing Burmese cats. For a full look at health issues in the breed and their genetics, we recommend reading the Burmese Cat Club’s Breeding Policies.

Lifespan

The Burmese tends to be a long-lived cat. Expect most Burmese to live 16-18 years.

Pet Insurance for your Burmese

Considering the health of your Burmese and the cost of vet care today, you may want to investigate pet health insurance. This kind of health insurance allows you to have insurance in place in case your cat has an accident or has certain health problems. Instead of paying the full cost of expensive veterinary care, you would only pay a fraction. You can choose how much coverage you need and pick the plan that works for you and your cat. Veterinary health care can be expensive today so this is something to consider.

Diet and Nutrition

The optimal diet for a Burmese is similar to that of other cats. They need food that is high in meat protein. Many Burmese breeders and owners recommend good quality cat food that has the following:

  • Are high in protein;
  • Uses human grade ingredients;
  • Is grain and potato free;
  • With a preference for moist over hard food as the main source of nutrition

You should also make sure that the food has suitable Vitamin A and taurine. These vitamins and minerals are usually added to all cat foods today. We recommend that any food you buy for your Burmese be AAFCO-approved in the United States. While some people criticize AAFCO for various reasons, it still provides some minimal level of assurance that the food and labeling are meeting requirements. We also suggest that you look for foods that have a minimum of 40 percent protein (DMB). This is higher than AAFCO recommendations which are 26 percent for adult cats and 30 percent for kittens, but it is closer to the protein level a cat would have eating a raw/wild diet.

Best Cat Food For Burmese Cats

Canned food brands we like for Burmeses include Tiki Cat and Wellness CORE Grain Free Indoor Formula.

If you want to put down a dry food for your Burmese, in conjunction with the wet food, you could use Orijen dry cat food.

Be sure to encourage your Burmese to drink plenty of water, especially if you are putting down dry food. Some owners turn the kitchen or bathroom faucet on and let it trickle to encourage their Burmese to drink more water. Drinking fountains are also a popular way to encourage your Burmese to drink. Like many cats, they may not drink enough water if you simply put down a bowl of water.

Conclusion

While some people may think that the Burmese is a “synthetic” or created breed, in actuality these brown cats of Burma have been around for hundreds of years. It simply took a while for breeders in the West to find a way to recognize them and get them to breed true without overwhelming them with Siamese traits. Today all Burmese cats in both the American and British/European Burmese trace back to Wong Mau and her offspring, brought to the U.S. in 1930. The breed does have low genetic diversity at this time but breeders are taking responsible steps to widen the gene pool by bringing in outside genes from other breeds and from southeast Asian cats. By making these sensible choices for the Burmese, we can expect to see this breed flourish for some time to come.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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