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Getting to Know the Oriental

By Bob Agresta and Joann Kultala
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book Oriental Longhair

The Oriental is a magical breed of variety and color. It starts with the essence of a Siamese and adds the sprinkled flavorings of the Rainbow. Orientals are referred to by many cat lovers as the Rainbow Cat and are often portrayed as having an infinite number of color and pattern combinations. Perhaps the quaintest descriptive phrase is "a Siamese in designer genes."

In all of this, there lies an element of truth. The Oriental has all the physical characteristics of a Siamese cat; long, elegant legs, a long tubular body; a wedge- shaped head and almond shaped eyes. It is a picture of elegance. It is, and will continue to be, a replica of its parent breed. Where it parts company is in the variety of colors and patterns with which it is adorned.

In choosing an Oriental, most find themselves captivated by a specific color or pattern. Imagine, for a moment, a Siamese wearing a coat of a single color. These "solids" come in white, red, cream, ebony, blue, chestnut, lavender, cinnamon or fawn. The nine basic colors lay the foundation for the rest of the patterns. For a sparkling undercoat, stir in the silver gene (to all but the white), and voila: the smoke Oriental. Restrict the color to the tips of the hair, with distinctive mascara marks around the eyes: the shaded Oriental. Paint splashes of red or cream on any of these coats and you have a parti-color.

Want stripes? Then look to the tabbies. They come in four basic patterns ; classic, mackerel, spotted, or ticked. Cross the four patterns with the eight available colors and 32 combinations emerge. Add patches of red or cream and you have the popular "Patched Tabby" and another 24 combinations. Finally, layer in the sparkle of the silver gene, and count 56 more. That is 112 Tabby combinations in total.

The bi-color pattern is one of the latest additions to the accepted CFA colors, and essentially puts a tuxedo pattern on the cat. With the clear white underside, legs, chest and inverted white V on the face, these distinctly marked members of the breed have already developed a following of devoted fans. Bi-color Orientals come combined with any of the above colors and patterns, and recently added the pointed and white pattern to their repertoire. This unique look demonstrates the Oriental's genetic diversity as it continues to demonstrate the breadth of its breed.

Finally, one can choose a coat length. Shorthaired and longhaired Orientals parallel their paired counterparts; the Siamese and the Balinese, and the Colorpoint Shorthair and the Javanese. For the shorthaired Oriental the coat appears painted on and is soft and satin-like to the touch. Its narrow, long whippy tail seems to go on forever. The longhaired Orientals carry the same graceful bodies with the addition of a long silky coat, goatee, and beautifully plumed tail.

What makes an Oriental interesting? It is that forever-popular combination of personality and good looks.

Their Personality


The antics of the Oriental are well documented. They are closely linked to the people they claim as their own. At your busiest moments, they'll find a way to interrupt your activities; a little nudge while you eat, a close examination of your tooth brush prior to use, or some help tying your shoes before you leave in the morning. It is understood you will need help deciding which items to select from the refrigerator. In the calmest of times, they will share the warmth of your lap, provide a comforting purr, and nuzzle your chin when you need it the most.

They eagerly greet you at the door and tell you all about their day. If you are late, they will scold you and tell you how worried they were that you did not call. Did you hide or mislay their favorite toy? They'll find it. Curiosity and intelligence combine, providing them a means of finding anything and everything. They have been known to open a drawer, or empty your purse to discover a pen or a crumpled up piece of paper that they can chase around the kitchen. Give them the attention and affection they so desperately need, and they will do anything to please you. Ignore them, and they will droop with despair.


Grooming needs for the Oriental are based on their coat length, but the basics of grooming these cats for pet life or the show ring are as follows:

Clip all claws on the front and back feet. The mechanics here are simpler than one might imagine. Tuck the cat between your body and your arm. Hold each paw separately and press it between your thumb and finger. This will extend the claws from their sheath. Using a standard nail clipper designed for cats, clip off the sharp tip.

Clean their ears with a moist cotton swab. As with humans, concentrate on the external parts of the ear. Brush your cat well. The preferred type of brush for an Oriental with a short coat is the solid rubber curry type available from vendors at shows and in most pet supply stores. Lay the brush in the palm of your hand, curved side out, and use it to "pet" your cat firmly in long sweeping strokes in the direction the hair grows. The curved side of the brush is designed to remove loose, dead or extra "plush " hair and has the added benefit of giving your cat the massage of his life.

For longhairs, a quality steel comb can provide the same effect as the brush, since the longer hairs are more easily split or broken. Sometimes just a damp cloth run over the body is an effective way of gathering the loose hairs. Brushing or combing is a wonderful way to bond with your pet, and most cats look forward to a serious grooming session.

Finally, wipe the cat down either with your hands or a natural chamois to remove the hairs loosened by brushing. Again, do this in the direction the hairs grow so that you have laid them down smoothly. The result, if done properly, is a cat with the high-gloss glow of fine satin.

For an Oriental, any form of handling is special. They are hands-on cats that crave attention. In the show halls, they are judged for their long tubular bodies, so it is not unusual to see them stretched out between the judge's hands or reaching up the entire length of a pole or scratching post. The Oriental is equally at home curled up on the couch, in your lap or by any source of heat. Talk to them, and they will talk back. These cats are "low maintenance," high involvement members of the family.

Breed History

Literary references to the "Self Colored" (solid color) Oriental date back to the late 1800's in the writings of the "Cats of Siam." The development and recognition of the Oriental breed began in earnest in the 1950's in Europe but did not generate much interest at the time. It took a full decade for chestnut solid, lavender solid and white solid Orientals to be accepted by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, a European registry. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, some breeders in the United States attempted to repeat the earlier efforts in England, but their efforts were fragmented across the continent. The breed needed an organized group to bring it to full CFA recognition. Referred to with the breed's original name, the Oriental Shorthair International club (OSI) can claim credit for putting the Oriental on the map. OSI, formed in 1973, became the motivation behind the plan, and by 1974 had achieved CFA registration status for the breed. They progressed to Provisional status in 1976 and full Championship status in 1977.

This highly focused team of people had achieved the impossible: Recognition of the Oriental with 50 different color and pattern combinations in two years. No other breed had advanced through the steps so quickly, and this was only the beginning. Throughout the 80's and 90's, the Oriental breeders have increased the number of recognized colors from seven to nine, adding the cinnamon and fawn. All the colors have been expanded into each of the pattern groups of solids, smokes, parti-colors, tabbies, shadeds and bi-colors. In 1995, the Oriental added the longhaired variety into its arsenal of alternatives. All of these activities have helped to sustain the Oriental as one of CFA's more popular breeds.

Orientals represent the best of the best for grace, beauty, variety and affection. They offer a high degree of loyalty to their owners and return the attention they receive five fold. If you are looking for an active participant in your daily life, a graceful, visual attraction in your home, or a warm friend to share the comfort of your lap at the end of a long day, then you need look no further. The Oriental is the custom-made cat for you.

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