Vital Stats:Life Span: 12 to 16 years
A beautiful cat deserves a beautiful legend of origin. The Sacred Cat of Burma, as the Birman is sometimes called, is said to have acquired his striking appearance through the intervention of a blue-eyed goddess, who rewarded a temple cat’s love for and devotion to his priest by turning his white coat golden and changing his yellow eyes to blue. His paws remained white as a symbol of his purity. Ever since, the temple cats have borne the goddess’s marks of favor, and it was said that priests who died were reborn into the cats’ bodies.
How the cats really came to be is unknown. Theories include crosses of Siamese with Angoras or Persians, but when or where those original meetups occurred is unknown. They may have taken place in southeast Asia, between various cats who carried the genes for a pointed pattern, long hair and blue eyes, or the breed may have been created in France from cats imported by two Europeans, a Frenchman named Auguste Pavie, and a Major Gordon Russell, who were given a pair of temple cats in 1919 as a reward for aiding the priests. The cats were shipped to France, but the male did not make it there alive. Before he died, however, he had impregnated the female, and her kittens helped to establish the breed in Europe. It was recognized in France in 1925 as the Sacre de Birmanie, from which comes the current breed name, Birman.
The cats were first imported to the United States in 1959 and were recognized by the Cat Fanciers Association in 1967. They are also recognized by the American Cat Fanciers Association, the Canadian Cat Association, the Cat Fanciers Federation and The International Cat Association.
Birmans typically weigh 6 to 12 pounds.
If you like the pointed pattern of the Siamese but not the yowly voice, a Birman might be the cat for you. He is a docile, quiet cat who loves people and will follow them from room to room. Expect the Birman to want to be involved in what you’re doing, and be grateful that he’s not as bossy as the Siamese.
Docile doesn’t mean dumb. The Birman is a smart cat and, of course, curious. He likes to explore his environment and has been known to get trapped underneath floors that are being replaced or to accidentally (maybe on purpose) go for a ride on top of a car. It’s a good idea to always keep tabs on where he is.
He communicates in a soft voice, mainly to remind you that perhaps it’s time for dinner or maybe for a nice cuddle on the sofa. He enjoys being held and will relax in your arms like a furry baby.
Both pedigreed cats and mixed-breed cats have varying incidences of health problems that may be genetic in nature. Problems that may affect the Birman include the following:
- Congenital hypotrichosis, which causes them to be born with no hair, and thymic aplasia, an immune deficiency that leads to increased risk of infection and death. Fortunately, these conditions are rare.
- Corneal dermoid, the presence of skin and hair on the surface of the cornea (the clear front of the eye) of one or both eyes. It can be corrected surgically.
- Spongiform degeneration, a progressive degenerative disease of the central nervous system causing signs that include hind-limb weakness and uncoordinated movement.
- Shaking and trembling in kittens. This condition begins in some kittens when they are about 10 days old and lasts until they are about 12 weeks old. The cause is unknown and recovery occurs spontaneously.
- Unusually high concentrations of urea and/or creatinine in the blood, which may or may not indicate kidney dysfunction.
Despite the length of the Birman’s coat, it has a silky texture that doesn’t mat easily. Comb it weekly to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils. Birmans shed their winter coat in the spring, so you may want to comb more frequently then to remove loose hair. A warm bath can also help to loosen and remove the shedding coat. To accomplish a Birman bath, wetting the cat with a hand-held shower nozzle is often preferable to immersing him in a tub of water.
Brush the teeth to prevent periodontal disease. Daily dental hygiene is best, but weekly brushing is better than nothing. Trim the nails every couple of weeks. 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 Birman’s litter box spotlessly clean. Cats are very particular about bathroom hygiene, and a clean litter box will help to keep the coat clean as well.
It’s a good idea to keep a Birman 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. Birmans 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 Birman has a silky, medium-length coat in the pointed pattern of the Siamese (meaning that the color is darker on the face, ears, legs and tail), a broad, rounded head topped with medium-size ears, bright blue eyes that give him a sweet expression, and four white feet that give him the appearance of wearing little white mittens. This is a medium-size to large cat with a stocky, powerful body that belies his gentle demeanor.
The medium-long to long coat has a silky texture and little undercoat, which means that it rarely mats. It forms a heavy ruff around the neck and is wavy on the belly.
A pale body, which varies in shade depending on the cat’s color, is set off by darker points. For instance, a seal point Birman has a body that is a pale fawn to cream color with a warm tone, gradually shading to a lighter color on the belly and chest. The points are a deep seal brown. On the front and back paws are white “gloves” ending in an even line across the paw. On the back paws, the gloves extend up the back of the leg (called laces) and end in a point or an inverted V shape. In the show ring, the symmetry of the “gloves and laces” are an important factor and may mean the difference between a kitten going on to a career as a show cat or as a pet.
Besides seal point, Birmans come in blue point, chocolate point, lilac point, and various parti-color point and lynx point colors. Lynx point Birmans have a clearly defined M marking on the forehead, light markings that resemble eyeglasses around the eyes, spotted whisker pads, solid-colored ears with no stripes, and “thumb marks” on the back of the ears. The legs and tail have stripes and rings.
Children And Other Pets
The friendly, laidback Birman is a perfect choice for families with children and cat-friendly dogs. He loves the attention he receives from children who treat him politely and with respect, and he doesn’t mind playing dress-up or going for a ride in a baby buggy.
He is happy to live with cat-friendly dogs, too, thanks to his amiable disposition. Introduce pets slowly and in controlled circumstances to ensure that they learn to get along together.