Originally, Burmese cats were exclusively brown (sable), but years of selective breeding have produced a wide variety of colours. Different associations have different rules about which of these count as Burmese. Burmese cats are known for being sociable and friendly with humans, as well as intelligent. They are very vocal, and often call to their owners.
Burmese are vocal like the Siamese but have softer, sweeter meows. They are people oriented, forming strong bonds with their owners, gravitating toward all human activity. The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) breed information on the Burmese implies that all survival instinct of flight or fight seems to have been bred out of them. However, other sources note that, while rarely aggressive with humans, Burmese cats tend to be able to defend themselves quite well against other cats, even those larger than themselves.
Burmese maintain kitten interests and energy throughout their adulthood and are very athletic and playful. In some instances they even retrieve items as part of a game.
In 1871, Harrison Weir organised a cat show at the Crystal Palace. A pair of Siamese cats were on display that closely resembled modern American Burmese cats in build, although Siamese in marking. After this, cat fancy began with cat clubs and cat shows forming, although it took many years for breeds to be worked-out and developed. The first Burmese cats in the late 19th century in Britain were considered Chocolate Siamese rather than a breed in their own right, and this view persisted for many years, encouraging cross-breeding between Burmese and Siamese and attempts to breed Burmese to more closely conform with the Siamese build. The breed slowly died out in Britain.
Dr. Joseph Cressman Thompson imported Wong Mau, a brown female cat, into San Francisco in 1930. As had happened earlier, many breeders considered the cat simply to be a colour variant of the Siamese, but Dr Thompson considered the build sufficiently different to be something else. Without any male of a similar type, Wong Mau was bred with Tai Mau, a sealpoint Siamese from Thailand. Wong Mau was then bred with her son to produce dark brown kittens that were called Burmese cats. In 1936, the Cat Fancier's Association granted recognition to the Burmese breed.
However, due to the extensive breeding with Siamese cats that had been used to increase the population, the original type was overwhelmed. CFA, the leading US cat registry, suspended recognition of the Burmese as a purebred cat on May 8th, 1947. Other American cat registries continued to register the Burmese in America. In 1954, CFA lifted the suspension, and Gerstdale's The Princess of Re-Ru and Hassayampa Spi-Dar of Regal were entered in the Foundation Record of CFA. In 1958, the unaffiliated breed club, United Burmese Cat Fanciers (UBCF) wrote a single standard that was to be used for judging ideal Burmese in all registries. The UBCF standard has remained essentially unchanged since its adoption. This standard is used in all American registries, but European registries maintained their own standard. Recently, The International Cat Association (TICA) and CFA clubs have started holding shows in Europe and use the American breed standard for judging the Burmese in Europe. During the early period of breed development, it became clear that Wong Mau herself was genetically a hybrid between a Siamese and Burmese type. Such hybrids were later developed as a separate breed, known today as the Tonkinese.
The history of the breed unfolded differently in England. The breed didn't take off in Britain until after 1945, when soldiers returning from Burma brought home cats. The breed was recognized by the United Kingdom Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) in 1952. From about 1949 to 1956, the British Burmese population was being enriched with cats imported from America. The cats which fed the British breeding programme were of a variety of builds. By 1952, three generations had been produced in Britain and official recognition was granted by the GCCF and the breed was accorded the breed number 27. Until the late 1960s, the gene pool in Britain was very small, with most Burmese being descended from 6 initial imports and a Burmese/Chinese hybrid from Singapore. In 1969, more were brought over from Canada, and the genepool was widened.
The first blue Burmese was born in 1955 in England. This was to be followed by red, cream, and tortoiseshell kittens over the next couple of decades. Much effort was put in to remove banding patterns from the coats, and to decide whether these new colours counted as Burmese. Champagne coloured cats (known as "chocolate" in the UK) appeared in America, but breeding was impeded by the refusal of breed clubs to acknowledge that Burmese cats could be any colour other than Brown. In 1971, the first lilac kitten was born, being the latest solid colour introduced in Burmese. Throughout the 1970s, brown, chocolate (champagne), blue, and lilac tortoiseshell types were developed in England. In America, the chocolate (champagne), blue, and lilac (platinum) colors were accepted for registration as a separate breed, the Malayan in 1979. In 1984, the champagnes, platinums, and blues were accepted for registration as Burmese. CFA organizes the champagne, blue, and platinums in the "dilute" division and the sables in the sable division. Cinnamon, Fawn, Caramel, and Apricot Burmese were developed in New Zealand from a breeding programme initiated by geneticist Dr Rod Hitchmough. The first cinnamon Burmese was Arsenios Cinnamon Dream Boy.
From the 1950s onwards, countries in the Commonwealth and Europe started importing Burmese cats from Britain. As a result, most countries based their Standard of Points for this breed on the British model, rather than the American.
Ever since varieties other than sable/brown have existed, there has been conflicts in the world of cat fancy as to which varieties are considered Burmese. In Britain, all the colours listed below are recognised by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, Britain's ruling cat association. In the USA, which colours are acceptable depends on which cat registry the cat is registered with. For example, the Cat Fancier's Association only recognises the first four colours below. All varieties should gradually shade from darker backs to lighter underparts. There should be no barring or spotting.
Varieties with more limited recognition:
The Burmese Brown coat is caused by the Burmese gene (cb), part of the albino series, which causes a reduction in the amount of pigment produced converting black into brown, and all the other colours into a paler, more delicate shade of their full colour equivalents. The action of the gene causes pigment production to be most limited in the warmest parts of the body, so in some varieties darker areas of pigment are obvious on the colder parts of the body such as the face and ears, the tail and the feet. The effect of restricted pigment is significantly more visible in young kittens.
The Burmese gene is also present in some other cat breeds, particularly the established rex breeds, where it can be fully expressed in its homozygous form (cbcb) and referred to as Burmese Colour Restriction or Sepia, or can be combined with the Siamese gene (cbcs) to form Mink or Darker Points. The Singapura is always homozygous for the Burmese gene, combining it with a ticked tabby pattern and Snow Bengals with eye colours other than blue also have the gene. A breed of cat exists called the Asian which is a breed related to the Burmese, having the same physical type, but occurring in a range of other patterns and colours not recognised as part of the Burmese breed.
The controversy revolves around the fact that "contemporary Burmese" sometimes carry alleles for the "Head Fault", a lethal head defect. The head fault rarely occurs with "traditional Burmese". Its widespread presence in the American lineages goes back to a cat named Good Fortune Fortunatas, a fine example of the "contemporary" body/head type, although the defect was present in Burmese cats before Fortunatas. This individual was extensively mated to Burmese cats in the USA, and today's show-type American Burmese cats can usually trace their lineage back to it.
"Contemporary Burmese" Breeders have continued with their stock because defective kittens are stillborn or euthanized soon after birth, and because sterilization of all possible head fault carriers would decimate the U.S. Burmese gene pool. While the average, non-breeding pet owner does not ever have to deal with the head fault, it is hoped that the "head fault" allele will eventually be eliminated by a yet-undiscovered genetic test, and then by years of controlled breeding.
Leslie A. Lyons, Ph.D. from University of California, Davis is doing research to locate the gene mutation that is causing the head fault. Resolving these problems would be highly useful, as the "head fault" allele appears to be expressed in recessive or epistatic manner. Therefore, eliminating it from the gene pool by simply culling affected animals is likely a prolonged process, if it can at all be successful (recessive alleles are rarely ever entirely eliminated from all but the most inbred gene pools). A genetic test for the presence of the allele would enormously speed up the process.
No claws for alarm with our pussycats; Purrfect pals: Mojo the Asian/ Burmese cat gets cosy with a fledgling bird.
Sep 19, 2007; I'M NOT surprised that Lily, the lovely tortoiseshell cat (Mail), showsno inclination to hurt the mouse playing in front of her....