The very elegant, and mysterious Birman cat traces its origins back to the country of Burma, and are not to be confused with the Burmese, which also is a native cat of that region, but with short hair and yellow/gold eyes. Birmans are known as the Sacred Cat of Burma, and as legend has it, were originally a pure white cat, of which there were one hundred, to guard the temple of the gold, blue-eyed goddess Tsun-Kyan-Tse. Mun-Ha, an aged priest, often knelt in prayer before the goddess, accompanied by Sinh, one of the white temple cats. One night it came about that the aged priest lay dying before the statue, with his beloved Sinh, sitting on his chest. A turning of the cat's head towards their compound gates warned of an impending attack, and the priests were able to save themselves. Mun-Ha died where he lay, and the cat Sinh, gazing at the goddess above, was transformed. His fur became as a golden mist, the colour of his ears, legs, face and tail were the earth beneath the priest, but his feet remained white where they touched his beard, as a sign of purity. And his eyes took on the sapphire blue of the goddess. The next morning, it was discovered that the other 99 temple cats had also become marked as Sinh. Seven days later, Sinh also died, transporting his master's soul to heaven. Charming as the legend is, the "modern" history finds that in the early 1900s, two Europeans, then living in France, were sent a pair of Birmans as a gesture of appreciation by the priests of the temple. The male did not survive the trip, but the female being pregnant, established the breed for the first time in Europe. The modern Birman as we know it, can only be traced back to one pair, from that era, due to lost pedigrees. It was recognized as a breed in France, in 1925. However, the second World War decimated the population, and it is said only one breeding pair were left at that point. Outcrossings were then done to Persian and Siamese to maintain the size and colourpointing. The Birman then went on to be recognized in Britain in 1966 and in the United States in 1967.
PHYSICAL LOOK The first thing someone looking at breeds should know, is that the Birman is often confused with other look-alike or sound alike breeds. Birmans are not: Himalayans- A large, long haired, colour pointed Persian cat with no gloving, and short face. Ragdolls- much larger, longer, different ear sets with bi-colour blazes and no laces. Snowshoe - a variation on the Siamese, also with bi colour blazes, short coats and a distinctive head type. Burmese- short coats, often dark/sable brown, with yellow/gold eyes Balinese- long haired Siamese, with less depth to their coats, and much more wedging to the heads. No gloves or mitts. From the Cat Fanciers Association standard, the Birman is described as: "a color pointed cat with long silky hair and four pure white feet. It is strongly built, elongated and stocky, neither svelte nor cobby. The distinctive head has strong jaws, firm chin, medium length Roman nose with nostrils set low on the nose leather. There should be good width between the ears, which are medium in size. The blue, almost round eyes are set well apart, giving a sweet expression to the face. " An average male Birman can weigh 8-12 lbs. with females being smaller at 7- 9 lbs. It is a colour-pointed cat, in the "Siamese" pattern, having a light coloured body, with a golden mist, and darker patterning on the legs, ears, face, and tail. Birmans come in the tradtional colours of seal,blue, lilac and chocolatepoint, and are now accepted in most associations in the "new" colours of lynx and red factors, which includes cream points and tortiepoints. A Birman's most distinctive feature is its gloving and laces- the white on its four feet, which extends up the hock in an inverted "V" pattern. There should be no other patches of white on its body. However, this does appear occasionally on some Birmans, on the chest and stomach, and is more noticeable on the darker colours. Many breeders are now considering whether there is a genetic reason for this, and if it is in reality, a part of the pattern.
CARE Birmans are an easily maintained cat, since their coats do not matt. A once a week combing is more than adequate. I recommend a greyhound comb, medium teeth, 1" long. Slicker brushes are not adequate for picking up the loose hairs. Bathing is generally once a season, more to keep them used to being bathed, than because they will get dirty. Many breeders have personal preferences in feeding, some using a "natural" diet of raw meats with ground vegetables etc. in it. For pet owners, I always tell them to read the side of the bag/can to see what is in it. Cat foods that are full of corn, by products and soya, are going to create more stools and not give your cat the nutrition it needs. A good brand name chow, with meat, meat meal, rice, wheat, etc. is preferable to the grocery store brands that may be lacking in nutrients and higher in magnesium and ash, which are something to be avoided, particularly with a neutered male cat, where bladder problems and stones can mean costly surgery. Canned food should not be the major part of your Birman's diet. A small amount daily is more than enough. A predominantly dry chow diet is often recommended for their dental health, however there are conflicting studies that have shown cats on all canned diets with teeth as healthy or better than a cat on all dry. The key here is to have your cat's teeth checked annually when it goes for it's vaccinations. There is also concern more recently, about obesity in cats who consume dry chows that are too high in carbohydrates. In our cattery, kittens are given the basic shots. I normally offer the pet buyer the opportunity to decide whether or not to continue the leukemia and rabies vaccines. Due to the controversy over vaccination site sarcomas, I allow them to make that decision, as the leukemia can be given in a hind leg. Should a cancer develop, and surgery be necessary, it is easier done here, than on the back of the neck. Birmans are strictly an indoor cat, for many reasons. Firstly, they are not of the nature to turn and fight, or run forever. They will often crouch when faced with a threat. Therefore, many people do not give the rabies vaccine. However, depending on your area or location, agriculture departments are tracking and recording cases of rabies moving northwards from the U.S; and if there were any chance of the animal escaping, many people do give this shot. Our own cats and kittens, which are kept over 12 weeks, are given the full set of vaccinations, including rabies and leukemia.
TEMPERAMENT Birmans have an incredibly sweet temperament. They are truly a people cat, and will often follow you around the house, or greet you at the door, just to be with their human. They adapt easily to changes in family circumstances and will blend into almost any home environment, including those with dogs. I am always asked whether the male or female is better-natured. And I reply that if altered before sexual maturity, there is basically no difference in their temperament, since there will be no hormonal influences at work on whether they are thinking about breeding, or lap time with you. We however, have always found our male kittens to have a particular charm. But then, we find ALL our kittens charming. Birmans love to play, and can be persistent in getting something they want. They will occupy themselves for hours with a piece of cord, or plastic bottle top. And they adore a big furry mouse, which goes to show that even though they are indoors and domesticated, their hunting instinct is well tuned. Owners who permit it, will often find they have a Birman blanket, at night.