Foreign Burmese: Cat Breed FAQ

Author: Gail Francois, Gitalaya Cattery, South Africa (francx@pixie.co.za)

Table of Contents

Introduction

Although there are two different Breed Standards for Burmese, it is an undisputed fact that all Burmese bred today can trace their ancestry back to a single cat known as Wong Mau. Ten colours of Burmese are recognised in the Western world with the exception of the United States and Canada.

Therefore,Burmese are split into two groups: Burmese and Foreign Burmese. This article concentrates on the latter group.

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Breed Features

The Burmese is considered to be a "Foreign". Its coat, regardless of colour, is smooth, satin like in texture, close lying and glossy. It is a medium sized cat with males tending to be slightly larger. It is muscular and well developed. When picking up a Burmese, one should be astonished at its weight. The head is rounded with the overall emphasis of roundness. The ears are well placed with rounded tips in profile. The eyes have a rounded lower line with the upper having a slight oriental slant. The muzzle is blunt, allowing a completely rounded look to the head. Eyes of golden yellow are preferred; however, any shade of yellow is acceptable.

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Coat Colour Description

Brown (27)
Original Burmese colouring, genetically black but for the addition of the "Burmese" gene; a 'seal' brown.

Blue (27a)
Naturally occurring dilute form of Brown - a dark grey

Chocolate (27b)
Modified form of Brown (not a dilution of Brown) - a warm 'milky coffee' shade of Brown.

Lilac (27c)
Dilute form of Chocolate - a light silvery grey with pinkish overtones.

Red (27d)
Sex-linked orange gene - a very light coloured 'cream' with tangerine ears, forehead and tail.

Cream (27f)
Dilute form of Red.

Brown Tortie (27e)
a mixture of Brown and Red.

Blue Tortie (27g)
a mixture of blue and cream

Chocolate Tortie (27h)
a mixture of chocolate and red

Lilac Tortie (27j)
a subtle mixture of lilac and cream.

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Reds, Creams & Torties

Breeders in Britain were primarily responsible for the development of the remaining six colour Burmese. They were Mrs. Robine Pocock, Mrs. Joyce Dell, Mrs. Evely, Joyce Westacott and Dorothy Blackman. To produce the Reds, Creams and Torties, other breeds of necessity, had to be used. The programme began accidentally in 1964 when a Blue Burmese queen escaped while in call and was mated by a shorthaired red tabby. A deliberate mating of a Brown queen to a Red Point Siamese was undertaken. A third line was established when a tortie and white farm cat (who unknowingly carried the Siamese gene) was mated to a Brown Burmese Stud carrying blue.

The first 'accidental' mating produced "a lithe, outstandingly elegant black and red tortoiseshell, of good foreign type", "Wavermouse Galapagos" (Pagan to her friends). From the second mating, a Burmese/ Siamese tortoiseshell hybrid was retained. A male kitten was kept as a stud from the third 'farm-cat mating'. Recognition was sought from the Governing Council for the Reds, Creams and Torties by the Burmese Cat Club (U.K.); and Championship status was awarded 1973 to the Creams - the Torties being given recognition finally in 1977.

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Genetics of Reds, Creams, and Torties

A cat has 19 pairs of chromosomes, ie 38. One pair determines sex - the female cat has xx and the male xy chromosomes. Therefore the male always determines the sex of the kitten. This is because the gametes (sperm and egg) only carry 19 chromosomes, due to a process known as meiosis (reduction and division) which takes place in the ovaries or testicles.

The male can have sperm carrying either the x chromosome or the y chromosome, whereas the female's eggs can only carry the x chromosome. Thus, on conception, the fertilised ovum is either xx (female) or xy (male).

The red colour of cats is sex-linked, which means that the gene is on the x chromosome. Geneticists call the gene Orange and use the symbol o.

Female are xoxo red, xx non-red or xox tortoiseshell.

The males can be xoy red, or xy non-red. (Tortoiseshell males are very rare, usually sterile and, therefore can be ignored).

Crosses involving red are easily predicted, eg Tortie female x red male, that is xox by xoy.

xoxo      red female
xox       tortie female
xoy       red male
xy        non-red male

Other colours are produced from combinations of blue and red, so in Burmese we have:

dd             blue
xoxo & xoy     red
xox            tortoiseshell
xoxdd & xoydd  cream, ie blue and red together
xoxdd          blue cream, i.e. blue and tortie together.

Conclusion : A most intelligent, superior, sophistiCATed and loveable feline companion. The magnetism and appeal of this enchanting breed has to be experienced! Why not adopt a Burmese today?!

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Breeding with Burmese

Burmese queens tend to be precocious and some have been known to start calling as early as four months and less! Most queens breed readily; the average sized litter is four to six kittens. However, both in South Africa and in the United Kingdom, larger litters have been recorded of between eight and twelve. Burmese are very good mothers, and have little problem producing their young. The kittens are born with fine 'downy' coats and therefore, care must be taken to ensure that the kittening box is placed in warm, draught free environment. Kittens can lose body heat rapidly, become chilled and die from pneumonia. With large litters care must be exercised to ensure that each kitten has sufficient nourishment from the queen, as the strongest will push the smallest aside. Most queens cope well with four to six kittens.

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Breed History

Full credit must be given to Dr. Joseph Thompson who bravely decided to pursue his breeding programme with Wong Mau in the 1930s. However, consideration must be given to theories of "Burmese" appearing in England long before the pair imported by Mr. & Mrs. S. France in 1949.

It is generally recognised that the Burmese is a manmade 'American' breed with a distinct Malaysian connection, developed by Dr. Joseph Thompson (and colleagues) in the 30s from the cat known as Wong Mau. Some reports suggest that she was given to him by a renowned collector of wild animals Buck "BRING 'EM BACK ALIVE" Wilson, while others suggest Thompson travelled back from the Far East with her as he had been employed as a ship's doctor.

Wong Mau, the accredited "ancestor" of the modern Burmese breed, arrived on the West Coast of America in 1930. Cats Magazine (January 1948) published an account by a Major Finch who had been stationed in the Far East during World War II, of "Rajah" cats found in the region as 'being a recognised breed' whose characteristics appear to have matched those of Wong Mau. Major Finch returned to the USA with a cat similar to Wong Mau called "Simbuni".

As noted earlier, speculation exists that Burmese have been around for a lot longer than most surmise. Turn of the century periodicals found, not too long ago in England, have chronicled reports by various breed experts of the day and the conclusions drawn cannot be ignored. The opening pages of "Burmese Cats in Camera" as well as the recent (1991 revised) edition of "The Burmese Cat" book, relate some of these theories.

In 1903, Frances Simpson described two variants of Siamese being exhibited in England at the time; the preferred "Royal Cat of Siam", a cream coloured cat showing distinct points with blue eyes was more popular than the 'Chocolate'. The 'Chocolates' were characterised as "subtly shaded" cats, and were identical in all aspects to the Royals except for their coat colour. They were reported to be "a deep brown with hardly any markings". Whereas the "Rajah" type, (coincidentally similar terminology as used by Major Finch) appeared to be an uniform chocolate shade with eyes described as a deep amber colour. (Harrison-Weir in 1889). Overall, there was some confusion, regarding eye colour as descriptions varied from fancier to fancier. When considering the present day 'type' of both breeds, one must remember that the early Siamese bore a far closer resemblance to our "modern" Burmese.

Fables of the origins of the Siamese abound; the Burmese legends exist too and have also been romanticised. As with the Siamese, the Burmese were temple cats. Apparently each cat was assigned a student monk whose duties were 'to cater to, and indulge their every whim'. Further suggestions have been that the Burmese were the 'traditional pets of Royalty and the Nobility' long before the Siamese.

It has also been recorded by people who have lived in Burma and travellers who have visited Malaysia reported that Brown cats were an exception as the common domestic cats seen in the streets and alleys were no different from the many other moggies encountered around the world with variations in head and body shapes but seemingly with a high preponderance of kinks and other tail defects in the indigenous cat population.

But, let's get back to the tale of Wong Mau. In 1930 Wong Mau was the only cat of her 'type' around, so Dr. Thompson with the help of his geneticist colleagues - Virginia C. Cobb, Clyde E. Keeler and Madeleine Dmytryk - planned and mated her to a Seal Point Siamese, Tai. A scientific paper on their work, entitled "Genetics of the Burmese" was published in 1933 in the "Journal of Heredity".

When she was bred, she produced three types of kittens: some with Siamese colouring, sable or brown kittens and kittens similar to herself what Tonkinese fanciers would call "natural mink". The brown kittens were retained and selected as proving to be homozygous Burmese coloured cats to perpetuate the programme, the intermediate and Siamese coloured cats were quickly eliminated. When the brown offspring were mated to each other, they produced only brown kittens which proved the breed to be distinctive with a sound genetic background. (They were subsequently proved correct by further trial matings).

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Acknowledgements / References

Burmese Cats (Price Milburn [NZ] - 1970) author: Grace Burgess.

The Burmese Cat (Batsford Press - 1975.) Co-authors: Dorothy Silkstone Richards, Robine Pocock, Moira Swift and Vic Watson.

Burmese Cats - (Batsford Press). Author: Moira K. Swift.

Extract from The Burmese Cat Club - Silver Jubilee and the Story of the Club (Published in 1980)

Breeding Red, Cream and Tortie Burmese author: Robine Pocock Cats and Catdom Annual - 1980

Burmese Cats in Camera (Panther Photographic - 1989). Co-authors: Moira Swift, Robine Pocock and Christina Payne.

Harper's Illustrated Hand book of CATS.

The Burmese Cat - (Unwin Brothers Ltd). Edited by Robine Pocock of The Burmese Cat Club 1991 (UK) for the Burmese Cat Club Benevolent Fund.

Breeders of all breeds of cats may be found through the Fanciers breeder listing page

With help and grateful thanks to Lorraine Shelton and thanks to Barb French for her encouragement!

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Copyright © 1996 Gail Francois, francx@pixie.co.za. Text may not be copied or used without permission of the author, but feel free to link to this document. [an error occurred while processing this directive]