Vital Stats:Life Span: 10 to 16 years
The ancestors of the Burmese are the Siamese and the “copper cat” of Burma (now known as Myanmar). It’s thought that they were temple and palace cats bred and kept by priests. The matriarch of the modern Burmese was a small, dark-brown cat named Wong Mau. She belonged to Dr. Joseph Thompson, who either acquired her from a sailor or brought her back himself from his travels, depending on which story you believe.
Wong Mau was at first thought to be a Siamese with a chocolate-colored coat. Such Siamese weren’t unheard of. “Chocolate Siamese” were described in the 1880s. Their bodies were tan or brown, and they had seal-brown or nearly black points. The seal-point Siamese, also known as royal Siamese, had lighter bodies that contrasted with their dark points and were preferred by breeders and the public. The chocolate-colored cats eventually disappeared in Britain, but they still existed in Thailand and Burma (now known as Myanmar), where they were probably the offspring of natural (as opposed to human-directed) matings between free-roaming Siamese (pointed) and solid-colored Burmese cats. Wong Mau was one of them. It was her destiny to become the matriarch of two new breeds: the Burmese and, later, the Tonkinese.
Dr. Thompson bred Wong Mau to a seal-point Siamese named Tai Mau. His breeding program, in conjunction with breeders Virginia Cobb and Billie Gerst and geneticist Clyde Keeler, produced kittens with beige, brown and pointed coats. The results, including the discovery of the Burmese gene, were so interesting that Thompson published an article on the subject in a 1943 issue of the Journal of Heredity, the first such piece on feline genetics.
The Cat Fanciers Association began registering Burmese in 1936 but suspended registrations in 1947 because breeders were still using Siamese in their breeding programs. Registrations resumed in 1953 after the practice was stopped. Today the Burmese is a popular breed among cat lovers.
The Burmese is energetic and friendly. He has the charm and determination of his Siamese ancestors, and enjoys conversation as much as that breed, but his voice is soft and sweet, belying his tendency to run the household with an iron paw sheathed in velvety fur. He is highly intelligent and seeks out human companionship, so he’s not best suited to a home where he will be left alone much of the day. If no humans will be around to engage his intellect, be sure he has the company of another pet. He gets along well with other cats and with dogs, but of course another Burmese will be his best pal.
The Burmese is about as curious as cats come. Expect him to explore your home thoroughly and know all of its nooks and crannies. He is playful and remains so into adulthood. Tease his clever mind with interactive toys, and teach him tricks that will allow him to show off for an audience. Besides sit, roll over, wave and come, he can learn to fetch a small toy or walk on a leash. With proper early conditioning, car rides and vet visits will be a breeze.
A Burmese is a good choice if you don’t object to complete loss of privacy. This cat will want to be involved in everything you do, from reading the newspaper and working at the computer to preparing meals and watching television. He will, of course, sleep on the bed with you and may even snuggle under the covers. When you are sitting down, he will be in your lap or right next to you, waiting expectantly to be petted. You will be scolded if you ignore him. Guests will receive his full attention, and it is likely that he will win over even those who claim to dislike cats.
A female Burmese is the very definition of queenliness. She likes attention and she likes to be in charge. Males are more restful, satisfied to fill a lap. Whichever you choose, it’s likely that you will soon find yourself yearning for another.
Both pedigreed cats and mixed-breed cats have varying incidences of health problems that may be genetic in nature. Burmese are generally healthy, although they can be prone to gingivitis and may be sensitive to anesthesia. The following diseases have also been seen in Burmese:
- Lipemia of the aqueous humor, a transient milky appearance of the eye during kittenhood, which usually resolves on its own.
- Corneal dermoid, the presence of skin and hair on the surface of the cornea, which can be successfully corrected surgically.
- Orofacial pain syndrome, indicated by exaggerated licking and chewing motions and pawing at the mouth. The discomfort can increase when the cat is excited or stressed, and the cats often are reluctant to eat because the activity is painful. Some cats must wear an Elizabethan collar and have their paws bandaged so they don’t hurt themselves. Some cases resolve on their own, then recur. The cause and the mode of inheritance are unknown. Pain medications and anti-seizure drugs can help, as can consultation with a veterinary dentist to rule out dental disease.
- Congenital peripheral vestibular disease, causing head tilting, poor balance, rapid eye movements and uncoordinated walking in kittens. Some kittens with the condition may also be deaf.
- Burmese head defect, a craniofacial abnormality.
- Hypokalemic polymyopathy, muscle weakness caused by low levels of potassium in the blood, which is sometimes seen in Burmese kittens. Signs include general weakness, a stiff gait, reluctance to walk, and head tremors. It can be treated with potassium supplements given orally.
- Flat-chested kitten syndrome, a deformity that can range from mild to severe. Kittens who survive to adulthood usually show no signs once they reach maturity.
- Kinked tail, usually as a result of a deformity of the tailbone. It causes no pain or discomfort.
- Elbow osteoarthritis, an early onset of arthritis in the elbow, limiting the cat’s activity or mobility.
- Endocardial fibroelastosis, a heart condition in which the left ventricle of the heart thickens, stretching the heart muscle. Signs usually develop when a kitten is 3 weeks to 4 months old, good reason to wait until 4 months to bring a kitten home.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart.
- Diabetes mellitus, an endocrine condition caused by a defect in insulin secretion or insulin action that results in high levels of sugar in the blood.
The soft, short coat of the Burmese is easily cared for with weekly brushing or combing to remove dead hair and distribute skin oil. A bath is rarely necessary.
Brush the teeth to prevent periodontal disease. Daily dental hygiene is best, but weekly brushing is better than nothing. Wipe the corners of the eyes with a soft, damp cloth to remove any discharge. Use a separate area of the cloth for each eye so you don’t run the risk of spreading any infection. Check the ears weekly. If they look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball or soft damp cloth moistened with a 50-50 mixture of cider vinegar and warm water. Avoid using cotton swabs, which can damage the interior of the ear.
Keep the litter box spotlessly clean. Like all cats, Burmese are very particular about bathroom hygiene.
It’s a good idea to keep a Burmese as an indoor-only cat to protect him from diseases spread by other cats, attacks by dogs or coyotes, and the other dangers that face cats who go outdoors, such as being hit by a car. Burmese who go outdoors also run the risk of being stolen by someone who would like to have such a beautiful cat without paying for it.
Coat Color And Grooming
The Burmese is often described as a “brick wrapped in silk,” a testament to his solid, muscular body. While the original Burmese was a dark solid-brown color known as sable, he now comes in other shades as well, including blue, champagne and platinum. The cats have a compact body with a rounded head; large, expressive eyes in gold or yellow; and medium-size ears that are rounded at the tips and tilt slightly forward.
The coat is short and satiny. The traditional sable is a rich, warm brown, slightly lighter on the underbody. A kitten’s coat darkens as it matures. Nose leather and paw pads are brown. A champagne-colored Burmese is a warm honey-beige shading to a pale gold-tan on the underside. Nose leather is a light warm brown and paw pads are a warm pinkish tan. Blue Burmese have a medium-blue coat with a slightly lighter belly. Nose leather and paw pads are slate gray. Platinum Burmese are a pale silvery-gray with light fawn undertones and a slightly lighter color on the underbody. The nose leather and paw pads are a pretty lavender-pink. Some associations permit other colors, including tortoiseshell, lilac and red.
Children And Other Pets
The active and social Burmese is a perfect choice for families with children and cat-friendly dogs. He will play fetch as well as any retriever, learns tricks easily and loves the attention he receives from children who treat him politely and with respect. He lives peacefully with cats and dogs who respect his authority. Always introduce pets slowly and in controlled circumstances to ensure that they learn to get along together.