19 Feb 2024 | The name ‘Sacred Cat of Burma’ causes real confusion, therefore this cat breed is known as the ‘Birman’ in English. However, don’t confuse it with the Burmese! In fact, the Birman cat comes from a French breeding programme that was carried out in the 20th century. Here you can find out more about the breed that combines the best of the Persian and Siamese cat!
© Mikkel Bigandt / stock.adobe.com
Full body shot of pedigree cat isolated on black background indoors in studio.
The appearance of Birman cats is based on a cross between Siamese and Persian cats in France in the 20th century, so it’s not surprising that they are stunning cats in terms of both looks and character!
The semi-long coat is predominantly white and only darker at the tips, such as the snout, legs, tail and ears. This colouration is described as ‘point’. According to genetic principles, the cat’s base colour is only evident on the cooler parts of the body – the so-called points. The rest of the body is mainly white in colour.
This colouration is one of the most important standards for this breed. However, not every point cat with white paws and semi-long fur is a Birman! Birman cats need to have an elongated but muscular and medium-sized body, supported by short stocky legs. The tail is bushy and the head is strong with a pronounced chin. The deep blue round eyes are simply stunning! The Birman’s coat is semi-long and silky. In contrast to the Persian, Birman cats have very little undercoat.
As point cats, all point colours are allowed for the Birman breed. Based on genetic principles, each fur colour can also be a point colour. Black and red are particularly common, as well as their dilutions blue and cream, chocolate and cinnamon and lilac and fawn.
The Sacred Cat of Burma’s colours are described as follows depending on their base colour:
Seal-point: Seal-point Birmans have a black base colouration
Blue-point: Black base colour diluted to blue
Chocolate-point: A brown base colour is evident in chocolate-point Sacred Cats of Burma
Cinnamon-point: Red base colour only visible in the tips
Fawn-point: The base colour in cinnamon is diluted to fawn
Lilac-point: The dilution of brown is labelled lilac, and is of course only visible in the tips
Red-point: Red is the basic colour of red-point Birmans
Creme-point: Cream-point Birmans are cream in colour
The tips can even be stripy! This is known as ‘tabby’ in colouration terms. Examples include Birman seal tortie-points, blue tortie-points or chocolate tortie-points. Even a red tortoise shell effect described as ‘tortie’ is allowed according to the breed standard. There are even lilac tortie-tabby-point Birman cats!
The cause for the discolouration of the head fur is well-known: a mutation that leads to defective function of the tyrosinase enzyme and thereby disrupts production of the basic pigment melanin, causing so-called ‘partial-albinism’. In addition the Birman has pure white paws known as ‘spores’. This peculiarity was genetically explained in 2009: a mutation in the v-Kit Hardy-Zuckerman 4 feline sarcoma viral oncogene homolog (KIT) gene is responsible for the eye-catching paws. But that’s enough about the Birman cat’s genetic anomalies!
The Sacred Cat of Burma’s character confirms what cat lovers already suspected from its appearance. These friendly, affectionate and good-natured cats love spending time with ‘their’ people and are the result of cross-breeding Siamese and Persian cats. Birman cats are very people-friendly and are often sold as perfect animals for families with children. Cats and children make a good team when both know the rules. Before your cat moves into your home, you should explain to your child that cats aren’t cuddly toys, but that a well-treated cat that has its own space will be more than happy for your child to cuddle, snuggle and play with it. Even if it sounds strange, approach your child and your cat getting used to each other as socialising two different animal breeds. With a bit of patience and intuition, the two will become best friends!
Many cat owners report that Birmans even trust strangers, are happy to jump up and let themselves be stroked and will even get into strange cars… Please get a microchip for your cat and register it on a domestic animal register, so that you can be reunited quickly should the worst happen! Your trusted vet can place the microchip in the shoulder area quickly and pain-free, with no health risks.
The Birman’s sociability applies to other animals too and especially to other cats. Like all other cats, Birmans should ideally be kept in twos, especially if you don’t have much spare time for your feline family member!
As incredibly gentle animals with medium exercise requirements, they are also suitable to be kept as indoor cats as long as there are sufficient stimulants in the home. A scratching post and sufficient hiding places and viewpoints are essential, as well as regular playtime with humans.
There are numerous reports about the origin of the Birman cat. One is definitely true: the ancestors of the breed officially called the Sacred Cat of Burma are Siamese and Persian cats. There is, however, uncertainty as to how this pairing came about.
Some sources describe an industrialist who brought a few Siamese cats from the Orient in 1919. The tomcat didn’t consider the crossing, so the female’s descendants must have been crossed with Persian cats. Other stories suspect that the Sacred Cat of Burma’s forefathers were Burmese temple cats.
Conversely, recognition of the breed can be easily be traced, occurring in France in 1925. The breed has also been recognised by the FIFe since 1964.
The Birman breed ended up in Germany too. The first official Sacred Cat of Burma in Germany was the tomcat ‘Timour de Madalapour’. There is a photo of this cat from 1933. However, the Second World War brought the breed to a standstill. After the war targeted breeding programmes recommenced, with the breed population recovered by 1955. The classic seal-point and blue-point colours were favoured for breeding in Europe and the USA, whilst breeders in England struck out in a new direction and introduced chocolate-point and lilac-point Birmans to the gene pool.
In the meantime, further new colour varieties of the Birman cat have come along, such as red-point and its dilution cream-point. There are even tabby and tortie Sacred Cats of Burma. As with all Birman cats, these markings are only evident in the ‘points’, or the tips.
Health and Care
Birman cats are robust and healthy. Their semi-long fur contains little undercoat and rarely gets matted. Thoroughly brushing the Birman just once or twice a week is often sufficient. Treat your cat to brushes and combs from its youngest years and you’ll make caring for its fur much easier later on!
Healthy nutrition is the best antidote to diseases and the best guarantee of a long and healthy life. The basis of feline nutrition is high-quality wet food with a high proportion of meat and animal protein. Scientific studies have confirmed that cats prefer food with a composition equating to that of a mouse. The cat’s average prey is generally made up of 50 to 60 percent protein, 20 to 30 percent fat and three to eight precent carbohydrates from the animal’s digestive tract.
Based on legal regulations, the ingredients list on the packaging label is ordered quantitatively, hence it’s no surprise for meat to feature in first place on the list.
Species-appropriate cat food helps to keep your cat healthy, but unfortunately doesn’t protect against hereditary diseases. Many breeders and Birman cat owners describe numerous eye inflammations and a tendency to squint. Dermoid cysts can also occur, particularly on the ovaries and testicles, but also in the head area.
Hypomyelination is a disease that can only be combatted by excluding affected animals from breeding. This gene defect also regularly occurs amongst Burmese cats, with those affected being prone to strong jitters and spastic fits due to disruption to cellular communication. This disease can often be recognised at just three weeks of age, with affected kittens suffering from spasms or lack of coordination, abnormal shaking and tremors. The symptoms are often accompanied by loss of hearing or a low life expectancy. However, these problems can be tackled in exceptional cases during the growth phase, therefore are often not taken seriously – a fatal error! Hypomyelination is hereditary, even when the breeding animals themselves no longer show any symptoms.
How to find the right breeder
The occurrence of hereditary diseases demonstrates time and again the importance of breeding selection and sensible pairing. Breeders who care for the wellbeing of their animals invest in potential genetic tests and don’t hesitate to exclude sick animals from breeding. For you as a cat lover, this means that you should only trust professional breeders who can present you with medical records of the results or possible genetic tests. The breeders don’t just focus on quantity but invest in good health provision for their animals, high-quality food and decent socialisation. This includes never letting kittens go off to a new home before the age of 12 weeks! This ‘conditioning phase’ is essential for the cat’s physical and mental health, since in the first few weeks it learns the basics needed to live a healthy, well-balanced life. By doing so, a good breeder also gives the mothers time to recover after a draining pregnancy and birth and often only allows one litter per year. A serious breeder will be a member of one of the breeding associations and will act according to animal protection law.
All of this of course has an impact on the price… The actual family tree itself doesn’t account for the price that you pay for a pedigree cat. In fact, this is down to the breeder’s experience and the care they give to their animals.
As a result, don’t trust adverts offering ‘cheap Birman cats without documentation’. Most such cases involve breeders who focus on quantity and especially profit at the expense of the health of their animals.
It’s understandable that you might not want to or be able to spend between 500 to 1000 euros on a cat. Animal shelter cats are therefore are a great alternative, with many cats of all ages and breeds waiting for a good new home. Maybe you’ll find your dream cat there!