Cat Breeds 101: The Burmese

burmese sable cats kittens

These Burmese cats demonstrate the traditional sable coloring of the breed

The Burmese originates from Burma, Thailand. The first Burmese was brought to the U.S. in the 30s and has become a favored breed among cat enthusiasts ever since. They are a talkative and social breed that comes in many colors. Oddly enough, the Burmese is one of the only cat breeds with different standards in the U.S. and U.K. Here, we’re going to explore everything that makes this breed so beloved throughout the world.

Where do Burmese come from?

The first appearance of a Burmese-like breed was back in 1871 at a cat show at the Crystal Palace. Two Siamese cats were shown, and both demonstrated a build more similar to that of today’s American Burmese than that of Siamese of the time. British breeders then attempted to develop Burmese, but the program fell apart.

Fast forward to 1930: a female cat named Wong Mau was brought from Burma to the U.S. Wong Mau was bred with a Siamese to produce the first Burmese breed line. Wong Mau then bred with one of her kittens from that first litter to produce dark brown kittens- a distinct strain of Burmese kittens. These kittens were finally different enough than the Siamese so much that they were granted breed recognition by the Cat Fanciers Association. In order to extensively grow the breed, many purebred Burmese were mated with Siamese, leading to the CFA suspending the breed recognition only ten years later.

The American breeders were too stubborn to let the Burmese breed die, and by 1954, the breed was back on the CFA’s map. Across the ocean, British breeders were building their own Burmese breed standard. Still today, the American and British Burmese cats are two separate and distinct bloodlines. The CFA uses the American breed standards in most cases today.

What do Burmese look like?

The biggest difference between the British Burmese and the American Burmese is the shape of their head and body. Their size and coat are quite standard.

British: The British Burmese is slender with a long and lanky body. Their heads are wedge-shaped, topped with large pointy ears. Their muzzles are more tapered, complimented with their large almond-shaped eyes. Their long legs end with oval-shaped paws, and their tails are medium-length and taper towards the end.

American: The American Burmese head is broader and bolder. Their eyes are less almond shaped and more round. As opposed to a tapered muzzle, the American’s muzzle is flat. Their ears are wider and more bulbous. As opposed to long lanky legs, their legs are proportionate and relatively stocky, as is their tail.

Regardless of being American or British, the Burmese breed is always a small/medium breed, weighing 8-10lbs. They should look lightweight and docile, but have a nice hefty weight to them when picked up. Their coats are short and glossy; full yet fine. The color of a Burmese should be uniform and only lighter in the underparts. Green and gold are the breed standard color of eyes for the Burmese.

burmese cats kittens cat

Burmese cats can come in a variety of colors

The original breed color is a rich dark brown, often referred to as sable, brown, or seal. They get their distinct color from the Burmese gene, a gene that causes a reduction in pigment. This gene causes any black to turn brown, and all other colors to pale. This gene is related to albinism and also causes the colorpoint pattern that is often observed. Today, Burmese can be many colors, including brown, chocolate, blue, lilac, cream, red, and tortoiseshell. The Cat Fanciers Association recognizes sable, blue, champagne, and platinum as well.

What do Burmese act like?

Burmese take after their Siamese heritage (link), but only to an extent. They are notorious for being human-oriented, making them great cats for families. They are dog-like and ready to learn to play games like fetch and tag. Like their Siamese relatives, they are very talkative, but have been observed to possess a softer and sweeter voice, unlike their shrill relatives.

The Burmese breed is notoriously needy, and not the best choice for people who aren’t home often. Cats are known to be a self-reliant species, but certain breeds need more attention than others. Burmese are prone to becoming depressed (link) if left alone for extended periods of time. This depression can manifest as starvation, destruction of property, and changes in sleep patterns.

A cat’s behavior has everything to do with their upbringing, regardless of their breed. Many of these traits may be common for Burmese cats, but it is important for any cat to be socialized as a kitten.

What is the health of a Burmese like?

The Burmese breed has an extremely low genetic diversity rating, only second to the Singapura. Because of this lack of genetic diversity, they are prone to a variety of health problems including:

Diabetes mellitus: Type 2 diabetes; manifests as high blood sugar
Hypokalaemia: A recessive gene that causes low levels of serum potassium
Teething issues: Burmese kittens have problems with painful teething that often causes them to scratch at their faces. This does not cause oral problems; only cosmetic issues from scarring from the scratches.
Feline hyperaesthesia syndrome: This causes increased sensitivity to touch and can make small gestures feel very painful to the cat
Glaucoma: An eye condition that can result in blindness
Calcium oxalate urolithiasis: Painful bladder stones
Agenesis of the nares: Incomplete development of the nostrils

With any cat, there is no guarantee that they will or will not have these problems. Many health problems can be tested for, which is why it is a good idea with any breed to have a relationship with your veterinarian and report any changes in behavior.

If you are interested in bringing a Burmese into your family, there are a few ways to go about adopting one. It is certainly possible to keep an eye out at your local shelter for a Burmese, but you’ll more likely come across one at a dedicated Burmese rescue. These rescues often rehome Burmese who’s owners have unexpectedly passed away or can no longer care for their pets. Burmese rescues go out of their way to find Burmese cats and kittens and work to find great homes for cats of all ages.

If you do decide to purchase from a breeder, you are looking to spend $400-700 for a Burmese kitten. If you are going to purchase from a breeder, make sure that they practice responsible breeding and are open and honest throughout the process. Bringing a Burmese into your home will bring your household great entertainment and a new furry friend for years to come.