Siamese vs Burmese Cat: What is the Difference?

The Siamese and Burmese are two of the most popular and recognisable cat breeds that originated in Southeast Asia. Both breeds are popular for their outgoing and friendly nature. We take a look at the physical differences by reviewing the breed standards, as well as the personality traits of each breed.

Siamese

Siamese cat

Siamese
  • Lifespan: 15-20 years
  • Energy:  High
  • Temperament: Independent, friendly, easygoing, loyal, vocal
    Weight: Males 5-6 kg (11-13.2 lbs), females 4-5 kg (8.8-11 lbs)
  • Colours: Seal, blue, chocolate and lilac point (traditional)
    Grooming:  Requires weekly grooming
  • Other names: –
  • Family-friendly: Yes

History

The Siamese cat has a rich history that traces back to ancient Siam, present-day Thailand. There, they were highly revered and often found in royal palaces and Buddhist temples. Ancient manuscripts from the 14th century, such as the Tamra Maew (Cat Poems), depict cats with slender bodies and pointed colouration, characteristics synonymous with the Siamese breed. The Siamese cat’s journey to the Western world began in the late 19th century when they were gifted to diplomats and, subsequently, presented in cat shows. The breed quickly gained popularity in Europe and North America, becoming one of the most beloved and recognisable cat breeds worldwide.

Appearance

Siamese cats have a long, sleek appearance with a tubular body and long, tapering tail, and slender, wedge-shaped head, and large, wide-set ears. The most prominent feature of the Siamese is the pointed coat colour which consists of dark points on an ivory or cream body. This unusual coat colouration is a form of partial albinism. The enzyme responsible for producing pigment (tyrosinase) is less active at the cat’s normal body temperature but becomes more active in cooler areas, which leads to the production of dark pigments in those regions. In addition to the striking coat colouration, the Siamese is known for its striking almond-shaped blue eyes.

The appearance of the Siamese has changed over the decades. The original Siamese had two types, now known as the ‘applehead’ and ‘classic’. The applehead Siamese had a much broader head and sturdier body, while the classic Siamese was finer. Some breeders continue to breed these ‘Traditional Siamese’.

Siamese originally had four colours, seal, blue, chocolate and lilac and some cat councils only recognise these colours. However, other colours have been introduced and are accepted by a number of cat councils.

Temperament

Siamese cats are known for their extremely affectionate nature. They tend to bond strongly with one member of the family, and will happily follow them from room to room giving them a running commentary along the way. Due to their strong connection with people, Siamese cats don’t do well if they are left on their own for extended periods.

One of the most intelligent cat breeds, Siamese cats are easy to train to walk on a leash or play a game of fetch. Their intelligence makes them easily bored if left to their own devices, and pet owners should provide plenty of play opportunities.

Health

While the Siamese is an overall healthy breed that can live up to 20 years, there is an increased risk of the following health conditions:

  • Convergent strabismus (cross eyes): A cosmetic-only condition due to the effects of the Himalayan gene which gives the Siamese cat its unique appearance also involves the eyes. The eyes of cats with strabismus do not line up with each other, instead of facing forward, the eyes turn inward (exotropia) due to abnormal wiring between the eyes and the brain.
  • Kinked tail (cosmetic only): Some Siamese (and Burmese) will have a slight kink or bend in the last bone of the tail. There is scant information on this, but tail ‘abnormalities’ are commonly seen in Asian cats and are presumably inherited.
  • Hemophilia B: Factor IX deficiency: An inherited bleeding disorder in which the blood doesn’t clot properly due to a lack of clotting proteins (coagulation factors).
  • Familial amyloidosis: A build-up of amyloid proteins in the heart, kidneys, liver or other organs. Amyloid is an abnormally folded protein produced in the bone marrow and deposited in tissues or organs causing damage by displacing normal cells. The liver is typically affected in Siamese cats.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus: An inflammatory disease that is caused by the cat’s own immune system attacking the tissues when the body produces antibodies against itself (known as auto-antibodies), attacking various systems including the skin, joints, blood vessels, kidneys, heart, and lungs.
  • Feline hyperesthesia syndrome: A condition characterised by unusual behaviour which may include: rippling skin along the back, sudden bouts of frantic biting and licking at the tail, pelvis or flank, eyes wide open, dilated pupils and aggression. During an attack, your cat will behave as if he is reacting to hallucinatory stimuli.
  • Pica and wool sucking: A potentially serious condition where they have an abnormal compulsion to eat non-food substances such as clothing, plastic, wool etc. The preferred food choice is generally reserved for the same object.
  • Mammary (breast) cancer: The third most common tumour in the cat. 85-95% of mammary gland tumours are malignant, and adenocarcinomas are the most common type of malignant neoplasm of mammary gland cancer. Siamese cats have twice the risk of developing mammary cancer than all other breeds combined.
  • Mast cell tumour: Skin tumours that have arisen from mast cells, which are a type of white blood cell formed in the bone marrow. These cells are found throughout the body but concentrate at points of contact between the cat and the outside world, especially the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and conjunctiva.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy: A disease that results in the degeneration and atrophy of the retina, which is made of photosensitive cells known as rods and cones which convert light into electrical impulses and transport them to the brain via the optic nerve. The disease is caused by a mutation of the CEP290 gene, which encodes for the centrosomal protein 290 kDa which maintains the important structure known as the cilium in rod photoreceptors.

Burmese

Chocolate Burmese cat

History

The Burmese originated in Southeast Asia, particularly in Burma (modern-day Myanmar), and are believed to have been highly treasured by Burmese royalty and monks for centuries. The modern Burmese cat breed was developed in the United States and Europe from a single cat named Wong Mau, who was brought to the United States from Burma in the 1930s by Dr Joseph Thompson.

Wong Mau was initially thought to be a dark Siamese. However, Dr Thompson believed that Wong Mau represented a distinct breed. A breeding programme was established and Dr Thompsom bred Wong Mau with a seal-point Siamese. The resulting litter consisted of kittens with both dark brown coats like Wong Mau and seal-point colouring like the Siamese. It was eventually established that Wong Mau was a Tonkinese (Siamese x Burmese).

Appearance

The Burmese are a sleek and elegant cat with a compact, muscular and medium-sized body and short, fine close-lying coat. Burmese cats are surprisingly heavy for their appearance, and are often described as ‘bricks wrapped in silk’.

Originally, the Burmese were a rich, dark brown colour, also known as sable. Over the years, other colours such as chocolate, blue and lilac have been accepted. The head is rounded, with a short nose, large, rounded ears and expressive round wide-set eyes that are typically gold to deep yellow. Legs are medium length, and the paws are small and round.

The Burmese have changed over the years, as the head has become shorter and rounder in the United States. There are now two distinct types of Burmese, the American Burmese and the European Burmese, with an appearance more in line with the original Burmese.

Temperament

The Burmese is well known for its affectionate, and people-loving nature. This is a breed that forms strong bonds with their human family, but unlike the Siamese, who often choose one member of the family, Burmese cats bond with everyone.

The Burmese cat is celebrated for its affectionate and sociable temperament. Often described as “people-oriented,” Burmese cats form strong bonds with their human companions and thrive on interaction and affection. They are known to be lap cats and frequently seek out the warmth and comfort of sitting with their owners. With a playful and curious nature, Burmese cats remain kitten-like well into their adult years, engaging in play and exploration. They are also notably vocal, but unlike the loud calls of the Siamese, the Burmese have a softer, sweeter voice, often “talking” to their owners in a gentle murmur. This breed is not known for being aloof; instead, Burmese cats are often underfoot and involved in whatever activity is happening in the home. Their sociability extends to other pets as well, and they generally do well in homes with other cats or even dogs. Their loving and engaging personality makes them a favourite for those seeking a truly companionable pet.

Health

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, and 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.

Difference between the Siamese and Burmese cat


Siamese cat

Burmese cat
Origin Thailand (formerly known as Siam). Southeast Asia, particularly Burma (Myanmar).
Body Medium to long, slender and tubular
body.
Compact, rounded, strong muscular but
not cobby.
Head The head is a long, tapering wedge that starts at the
nose and flares out a straight line to the tips of the ears, to form a
triangle.
Burmese cats have a rounder head with a good breadth
between the ears, wide cheek bones.The Burmese should have a sweet and
open expression.
Nose Long and straight. The nose should be
a continuation of the forehead with no break.
Medium length nose with a definite
break in the profile.
Eyes Large, almond-shaped, deep blue. Round, wide-set, usually gold or yellow.
Ears Large, pointed at the tip, wide at
base. The ears continue the lines of the wedge.
Medium, well set apart, broad at the
base and slightly rounded at the tips. In profile, the ears are slightly
forward tilted.
Coat Short, fine, glossy. Short, fine, glossy, with a satin-like texture.
Coat colour Ivory or cream-colored body with
darker coloured points (ears, face, paws, tail).
Typically solid sable brown; some
variations like champagne, blue, and platinum. Some Burmese also display
point colouration, but it is not as significant as that of the Siamese.
The body colour is a paler version of the point colour (ie; dark brown
points, light brown body, chocolate points, light chocolate body etc).
Personality Vocal, social, affectionate, intelligent, tends to bond
with one member of the family.
Affectionate, playful, curious, less vocal than Siamese,
bonds with almost everybody.
Grooming Needs Low; regular brushing is usually
sufficient.
Low; regular brushing is usually
sufficient.
Lifespan 10-15 years. 10-15 years.
Activity level High. Medium to high.
Vocalisation Extremely vocal, with a loud, distinct meow. More softly vocal, with a sweet, softer voice.

Which is the right breed for you?

Both breeds make exceptional pets due to people-loving natures. The Siamese has a higher tendency to bond with one family member, while Burmese love everybody. It has to be noted that while cat breeds do often have certain personality traits, this doesn’t always occur. For example, we adopted a very shy Burmese female, which is somewhat unusual for the breed.

Burmese cats love absolutely everybody and make a great family pet. They get along well with children and other animals. Siamese cats can also make a great family pet, but won’t always make a strong connection with all family members. They tend to be more dog-like in personality and like to follow you from room to room. The Burmese tend to be slightly less ‘needy’, but will take any opportunity to jump on your lap the moment you sit down.

As always, it is important to spend time researching cat breeds and speak to breeders. Always meet the cats in person and where possible, meet the parents too. This can provide a window into what the kitten may be like as an adult.

If you still can’t decide between the two breeds, then consider the Tonkinese, which is a cross between a Siamese and a Burmese. Pictured below are my two Tonkinese cats, Calvin and Norman. They have similar markings to the Siamese, but the body type of a Burmese.

Tonkinese cats

 

Author

    by
  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio