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Getting to Know the Burmese

By Erika Graf-Webster
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book Burmese

Bring a Burmese into your house, and you have brought an extra dollop of joy and love into your life. While a rich, glossy brown coat and big gold eyes might be the first thing that attracts you to the breed, it is the Burmese personality that gets you hooked for life. Simply put, Burmese have a heart brimming with love, which they are more than willing to lavish on their human family.

The word that comes to mind when looking at the Burmese is round. Picture a small-to-medium size cat with large, round gold eyes on a round head, sitting on a compact, rounded body. The facial expression of a Burmese is sweet, innocent and unique among pedigreed cats. It has been said that when the Burmese looks at you, it feels like it is "looking into your soul."

The body of the Burmese is akin to that of a little bulldog. There is nothing dainty about a Burmese; it is strong and muscular, with a broad chest. The body feels hard like that of an athlete. What consistently surprises people is how heavy they are, given their relatively small size. There is a lot of muscle and power packed into that small frame.

This little bundle is clothed in a shiny, close-lying coat that feels like satin. The Burmese coat come in four colors: sable, champagne, blue and platinum. Sable is the most common of the four, and is a deep chocolate brown color. Burmese compete in CFA cat shows in two official divisions, the Sable Division and the Dilute Division, which includes the remaining three colors, champagne, blue and platinum.

Their Personality


These are the ultimate companion cats. They love being with people, playing with them, and keeping them entertained. They crave close physical contact and are referred to by some breeders as "Velcro cats." They abhor an empty lap, will follow their humans from room to room, and sleep in bed with them, preferably under the covers, cuddled as close as possible. At play, they will turn around to see if their human is watching and being entertained by their crazy antics.

The love of a Burmese is not based on blind devotion, however. These are very intelligent cats and have strong personalities, often showing considerable stubbornness. Sometimes a situation turns into a battle of wills between a human and his cat. You may tell them twenty times that they must get off the counter and they will try it for the twenty-first time, just to see if they can get away with it. Burmese will, however, become well-behaved members of the household once they fully understand the rules. At times though it is hard to tell who has trained whom, especially when the cat manages to get its human to retrieve its toys and to bring it food. A scratching post should always be available so that they are able to express the stretching and scratching behavior common to all cats.

Both males and females are wonderfully affectionate pets, but there is an interesting difference between them. Males generally do not show a preference for any one member of the family, but females often form a strong bond with a specific person. Males may act as though they are your best buddy and chum, while females tend to be take-charge individuals. It is a true delight to have one of each in the same house to enjoy these charming differences.

Burmese love to be handled. They like being carried around, either in the crook of the arm or on the shoulder. Some Burmese are definitely shoulder cats, so it is important to warn unsuspecting visitors that a Burmese can easily jump on someone's shoulder from the floor.

Caring for a Burmese

These are low maintenance cats, which do not require combing or bathing or any unusual handling. The coat is kept in condition by simply stroking it with your hand and occasionally with a rubber brush, just to remove dead hairs. The rubber brush is recommended in late spring, when all cats shed out their winter coat.

The most important aspect of care is providing high-quality, premium cat food. Quality food is reflected in the high shine of the coat and the tight, muscular body, and it definitely influences the overall appearance. One or two bowls of dry food and water should always be made available. Quality dry food is important for keeping teeth and gums healthy, and also for maintaining good muscle tone. Quality canned food can be used to supplement dry food. The best way to avoid making a Burmese a finicky eater is to provide variety in his meals and not allow the cat to become addicted to one particular food. Kittens should be allowed to eat as much as they want. Adults should not be allowed to become seriously overweight by over-feeding. If an adult bulges out beyond the hips on the side, or if the belly has a noticeable hang, then the cat is overweight and must be fed less. Good veterinary care is important for all cats. It is very helpful to find a veterinarian who has treated Burmese cats before and understands the breed.

New owners of Burmese need to be aware of one aspect of their personality: they resist strong restraint. A Burmese will resent being held with force in order to do something possibly unpleasant, such as a trip to the veterinary clinic. The least amount of restraint necessary is always the best approach with this breed. It is also a good idea to get a Burmese used to such events as getting nails clipped or being transported in a cat carrier. These and other activities possibly not to their liking should be introduced in short spurts as soon as possible, even if the cat is still a kitten.

Because Burmese often form a strong attachment to their environment as well as to their human family, moving to a new house may require a period of adjustment, until they feel as comfortable in their new environment as they were in the previous home. This usually takes one to three weeks.

Burmese should not be confined and separated from human contact for more than a few hours at a time. They crave human contact, and if they are denied it for long periods, they will become withdrawn, and may even lose their affectionate personality. Breeders recommend that people who work full-time and are away from the house for several hours every day get a pair of kittens or start with an adult Burmese. It is easier and more fun to have two Burmese than one. Not only will they keep each other company but will provide endless entertainment for their humans through their play.

The most striking aspect of these cats is how much they love their human family. Burmese are generally acknowledged as the most affectionate of all the cat breeds. Their personality is maintained by offering close human contact in a loving home.

When selecting a pet kitten, bear in mind that Burmese are slow to mature which makes them look smaller for their age than most other breeds. A Burmese should be between three and four months of age before going to a new home as a pet and should weigh approximately three pounds. Because of their slow maturation, kittens younger than three months are simply not physically and socially mature enough to leave their mothers.

Do not be concerned if a Burmese kitten has a slight discharge from its eyes. Since Burmese eyes are very large and somewhat protruding, blinking generates a clear discharge as a mechanism for clearing the large surface. A clear discharge is nothing more than the cleansing of the eye. Sometimes the discharge hardens into a small bit of brown matter at the inner corner of the eye. Although this is normal and not harmful, it is best to gently remove it with a tissue. A small, clear discharge is normal but a white or yellow discharge is not, and should be looked at by a veterinarian.

Burmese kittens do not reach their full adult color until they are approximately one year old. Sable brown kittens, for example, are medium beige when they are born. They will darken to a light to medium brown by three or four months of age but are still a long way from the rich, dark-chocolate adult color. The dilute colors follow a similar darkening process.

Finding an adult Burmese for your home is usually easy because many breeders retire their breeding and show cats. A beautiful adult makes a great pet, is usually less expensive than a kitten, and has many years ahead to be a happy member of a new household.

Burmese live long lives and age gracefully. It is almost impossible to tell whether an adult is four or twelve years old because they appear to be in their prime for a long time. Most Burmese develop white whiskers in the later years, but this is often the only indication of their advancing age. Some of the most famous show winners and prolific studs have lived to be eighteen and nineteen years old. They usually enjoy good health until the end of their lives, spending just a few months at the end with reduced physical capabilities. Older Burmese are usually very sweet, very needy of their people and engender great dedication and affection from their owners.

Breed History

The Burmese breed as we know it today was developed in the United States from a single cat, Wong Mau, who in 1930 was brought from the orient to New Orleans by a sailor, and given to a doctor in San Francisco. Wong Mau was described as "a rather small cat, fine boned, but with a more compact body than that of a Siamese, with shorter tail, a rounded, short-muzzled head, with greater width between rounded eyes." Her color was described as walnut-brown, with darker brown points. Selective breeding later demonstrated that Wong Mau herself was a hybrid, i.e., a Burmese - Siamese cross (just like today's Tonkinese breed). Her dark brown kittens bred true, however, producing only dark brown kittens, and thus established the Burmese breed.

Early Burmese in the late 1930s and early 1940s caused quite a stir in the show circuit, and gained considerable popularity. A great demand for Burmese kittens developed. Breeders continued to use Siamese to increase the very limited breeding stock, thereby producing a large number of hybrids. Eventually, CFA put a stop to this, and suspended registration of Burmese in 1947. CFA ruled that there had to be three generations of pure Burmese (not hybrids) in the pedigree to be registered as "Burmese." This was quite disheartening to the breeders, because of the great difficulty in maintaining breeding stock. However, serious breeders took it to heart, stopped using the hybrids, and concentrated on breeding the type of cat that made the Burmese unique. Achieving the three-generation "pure" pedigree was slow, but finally accomplished for three cats in 1956. By late 1957, there were sufficient numbers and CFA resumed registration of the Burmese.

In 1958, the newly formed United Burmese Cat Fanciers set a goal of developing a single standard for Burmese that would be accepted by all the cat fancier organizations. The standard was adopted by CFA in 1959, and, except for some refinement of wording and an addition to the "penalize" section, has stood unchanged since then, maintaining the vision of the Burmese as a "round" cat throughout the years.

Burmese were highly successful in the show ring from the outset, reaching the peak of their popularity in the 1970s, when they were the third most popular breed behind Persians and Siamese. For a breed that had started in the United States with one cat in 1930, the Burmese had become solidly established as a highly popular and successful member of the cat fancy.

What one receives from a Burmese is love, lots of it, but without submissiveness. Living with a Burmese is like living with a small person who has a mind of her own, but whose love for you is boundless. The Burmese is a breed to be cherished, and gives joy to all who share their lives with these captivating creatures.

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