At a glance
The Burmese (ทองแดง or ศุภลักษณ์) is a domestic breed of cat which originated in Burma (now Myanmar) and was developed in the United States and the United Kingdom. Their laid-back personality, and ability to get along with children and other pets make them one of the most popular cat breeds in the world.
Named after their country of origin Burma, the exact history of the Burmese is shrouded in mystery. There is mention of a copper-coloured cat in the ancient Thai Cat Book which was written during the Ayudhya Period, stretching from 1350 to 1767.
In 1930 Dr Joseph Cheeseman Thompson imported a small brown (sable) coloured female cat named Wong Mau to San Francisco. Dr Thompson, a retired naval officer and practising psychiatrist was a breeder of Siamese cats under the prefix, Mau Tien.
A breeding programme was established in an attempt to produce offspring which bred true. Dr Thompson enlisted the help of Virginia Cobb (Newton cattery), Billie Gerst (Gerstdale cattery), and Dr Clyde E. Keeler. Wong Mau was mated to a seal point Siamese called Tai Mau, and the resulting litter contained hybrids similar to Wong Mau and seal point Siamese kittens. When mated to her son Yen Yen Mau, which produced three types of kittens, Siamese, brown kittens like Wong Mau and dark brown kittens. The dark brown kittens bred true and became the founding cats for the Burmese breed. It is now accepted that Wong Mau was Tonkinese, which is a hybrid of the Siamese and Burmese.
The Burmese were accepted for registration by the Cat Fanciers Association in 1936, however, the breed was suspended in 1947 due to breeders mating Burmese with Siamese. The CFA stated that the breed must be three generations of pure Burmese which was achieved by 1956 and the breed was once again accepted for registration in 1957.
All Burmese cats should be able to be traced back to Wong Mau. Dr Thompson authored an article on Burmese genetics in 1943, which can be read here.
There are now two types of Burmese, the European Burmese, and the American Burmese. While they share many common traits, the American Burmese has a rounder face compared to the European Burmese.
Body: The Burmese is a medium size with a strong and athletic and well-muscled, compact body. The chest is rounded in profile and the back is straight from the shoulder to the rump. Burmese are often described as a ‘brick wrapped in silk’ which is very accurate; they feel surprisingly heavy when picked up. Males can weigh between 5-6 kg (11-13 oz) and females 4-5 kg (8.8-11 oz).
Head: The head is in proportion to the body with wide cheekbones which taper to a blunt muzzle. The top of the head between the ears is gently curved with wide-set ears. In profile, the head shows a good depth between the skull and lower jaw with a slightly rounded brow. There is a distinct nose break followed by a straight nose, which ends with the tip of the nose in the same vertical plane as the chin. The expressive eyes are a beautiful golden colour, large and widely spaced. Their body is medium in length and well-muscled, and the chest is strong and round. Legs are slender, and the feet are oval in shape and small.
Coat: The low-shed coat is short, satin-like and close-lying with almost no undercoat.
The Burmese carries a tyrosinase mutation (cb) that is part of the albino series. This mutation causes a washing out of the colour on warmer parts of the body, but the typical mask can be seen on the face, ears and extremities with some Burmese colours. Tyrosine is an enzyme necessary for the production of melanin, the major pigment in the cat’s skin, hair and eyes which gives it its colour. Pointed cats have a defective form of tyrosine which does not function at normal body temperature. Burmese is an allelic variant that is less temperature-sensitive, producing more pigment throughout the torso than Siamese and less of a contrast between the points.
Brown (sable) is the original Burmese coat colour, however, due to cross-breeding with Siamese, new colours were introduced to the breed. Currently, the following colours are now recognised. *
- Brown (known as sable in the US)
- Chocolate (known as champagne in the US)
- Red *
- Cream *
- Cinnamon *
- Fawn *
- Apricot *
Female Burmese also come in additional colours
- Brown tortie
- Chocolate tortie
- Lilac tortie
- Blue tortie
- Red tortie *
- Cream tortie *
* Not all cat registries accept all colours; some only recognise the original four colours of brown, chocolate, lilac and blue.
A relatively new coat colour that appeared in a litter of kittens born in New Zealand in 2007 and is a mutation in the gene MC1R and is a deletion (c.439_441del) of the extension gene. The colour develops with age and is characterized by progressive amounts of red pigment on the head and dorsal surfaces.
Cinnamon and fawn:
These two relatively new colours have been developed in both the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Cat breeder and geneticist Dr Rod Hitchmough identified a different colour in a honey-coloured chocolate Burmese, Rafoej Xena who wondered if she may be cinnamon instead of chocolate. Test matings proved that Xena’s colour was not the result of a cinnamon gene, and a breeding programme was developed to introduce cinnamon to the Burmese gene pool. The first mating was between the daughter of Rafoej Xena, Rafoej Almira (Mira) and a black Oriental Shorthair carrying cinnamon. Mira’s black Mandalay daughter was mated to a ruddy Abyssinian which produced three kittens who became the foundation cats for the cinnamon (and fawn) colours.
The cinnamon gene (bl) is a member of the same genetic series as the chocolate gene (b). Chocolate is recessive to black, and cinnamon is recessive to both black and chocolate.
The Burmese are laid back, people-oriented, intelligent, gentle and sweet cats. They remain playful well into adulthood but are not constantly on the go like other active breeds. Once they have worn themselves out, they love nothing more than sleeping on their human companion’s lap. With a dog-like personality, a Burmese will follow you around the house all day long, hoping to get a pat or stroke. This is a breed that gets along with everyone, including children and other pets.
The curious nature of the Burmese can sometimes border on intrusive when they insist on checking out the contents of a visitors handbag or toolkit. But that shouldn’t pose too much of a problem as they can work their charm even on non-cat-lovers.
Burmese cats make an exceptional family pet. They thrive on company and don’t like to be alone for extended periods. If you are out of the house for long periods, consider two cats.
Buying a Burmese cat
Always choose a registered breeder when purchasing purebred cats. Check to see which cat council they are with Where possible, visit the breeder’s premises to meet the cat as well as his parents (if possible). The premises should be clean and the cats all healthy. Be wary of cats with eye or nasal discharge. Cats should be friendly.
I like to buy kittens who have been raised underfoot, which means they are raised in the home with the family. If you are looking for an older Burmese, breeders sometimes rehome former breeding cats. You may also check to see if there is a Burmese rescue group in your area.
Kittens should not leave the breeder until they are at least 12 weeks of age and have had their first two vaccinations as well as regular worming and flea treatment. Many breeders also prefer to desex (spay/neuter) kittens before they go to their new home.
Burmese kitten weight chart
|0 – 1 week||80 – 150 grams||2.8 – 5.2 ounces|
|1 – 2 weeks||150 – 250 grams||5.2 – 8.8 ounces|
|2 – 3 weeks||250 – 350 grams||8.8 ounces – 12.3 ounces|
|3 – 4 weeks||350 – 450 grams||12.3 -15.8 ounces|
|4 – 5 weeks||450 – 550 grams||15.8 ounces – 1.2 pounds|
|5 – 8 weeks||550 – 850 grams||1.2 – 1.8 pounds|
|8 – 10 weeks||850 grams – 1.4 kg||1.8 – 3.0 pounds|
|10 – 12 weeks||1.4 kg – 1.8 kg||3.0 – 3.9 pounds|
|12 – 16 weeks||1.8 kg – 2.4 kg||3.9 – 5.2 pounds|
As with all breeds, there can be an increased incidence of certain diseases, this may include:
- Kidney disease: A progressive deterioration of the kidneys, which happens over a period of time and leads to a build-up of toxins in the blood. There is an increased incidence in Maine coon, Abyssinian, Siamese, Russian blue, and Burmese.
- Diabetes mellitus: Researchers have found diabetes is four times more common among European and Australian Burmese cats.
- Feline orofacial pain syndrome (FOPS): Acute and severe oral-facial pain which presents as face and tongue mutilation due to abnormal nervous system processing of pain messages.
- Inherited hypokalemia: A deficiency of potassium in the blood plasma, the straw-coloured, liquid part of the blood, which makes up approximately 55% of the blood volume. Low potassium levels interfere with the contractibility of skeletal, cardiac and smooth muscles.
- Endocardial fibroelastosis: A rare heart disorder characterised by a thickening of the ventricular endocardium affecting some lines of Burmese and Siamese cats.
- Gangliosidosis 2: A fatal degenerative disease of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. GM2 is an autosomal recessive disease that develops in kittens from two months.
- Craniofacial defect: An inherited disorder which was originated in the United States by a single male cat in the late 1970s who was used to develop the Contemporary Burmese. The deformity is also called incomplete conjoined twinning which duplicates the upper maxillary (upper jaw). Cats with a single copy of the gene may appear brachycephalic (shortened face and a rounded skull), those with two copies of the gene are severely affected. Abnormalities include malformation of the lower jaw and nostrils, incomplete formation of the skull, protrusion of the brain, ocular degeneration, duplication of the whisker pads and canine teeth.
- Kinked tail: A tailbone deformity that presents as a kink in the last bone of the tail. Kinked tails are cosmetic only, and have no health impact on the cat.
DNA tests are available to screen for Burmese hypokalemia, GM2 gangliosidosis and craniofacial defect which enables breeders to remove cats carrying the mutated genes from the breeding pool.
Diabetes mellitus can be controlled if it is detected early which highlights the importance of regular veterinary checks and bloodwork. Risk factors include obesity and gum disease which both increase a cat’s chances of developing diabetes.
Burmese cats are low maintenance. Brush the coat once a week to remove loose hairs. Indoor cats may need to have their claws trimmed every few weeks. Dental care is important, especially for the Burmese who are prone to gum disease, brush their teeth once a day with a suitable pet toothbrush and toothpaste.
Annual health checks are a must, that should increase to bi-annual once the Burmese reaches seven.
All kittens should receive a course of three vaccinations starting at six weeks and spaced four weeks apart. This protects against the pathogens responsible for cat flu, which can be lethal in young kittens. Additional vaccinations may be recommended depending on local laws and the cat’s risk factors.
Everyone, Burmese cats are very friendly and people-oriented. They thrive in the company of others. If I had to recommend one breed, it would be the Burmese.
- Tonkinese: The Tonkinese is a cross between a Siamese and Burmese and carries the best of both breeds.
- Burmilla: The Burmilla came about as the result of an accidental mating between a Lilac Burmese female (Bambino Lilac Faberge) and a Silver Chinchilla male (Jemari Sanquist). The result of this mating produced 4 female kittens, all short-haired and Black Shaded Silver.
- Australian Mist: A relative newcomer to the cat fancy is the Australian Mist. Developed by Dr Truda Straede of Nintu Cattery. It began in 1977, when Dr Straede wanted to develop an Australian cat with the characteristics of both the Burmese and the Abyssinian, also incorporating the domestic shorthair into the mix.
Burmese cat FAQ
What is the lifespan of a Burmese cat? Burmese cats can live up to 18 plus years.
Are Burmese cats affectionate? The Burmese are extremely affectionate and thrive on human companionship.
Do Burmese cats shed a lot? All cats shed, however shedding in the Burmese cat is not excessive.
Are Burmese cats vocal? The Burmese will talk when they have something to say, but they are not overly talkative.
Are Burmese cats hypoallergenic? There is no evidence to suggest the Burmese are hypoallergenic.