A Complete Breed Guide for Birman Cats
The Birman is a sweet, docile and loving cat whose origins are shrouded in mystery. Known for its pointed longhair coat, bright blue eyes and snow white feet, these friendly felines are a great choice for families and love to share their lives with other animal friends. Read on to learn how to best care for this gorgeous breed.
|Place of origin:
|'Sacred cat of Burma'
|Most likely Burma (now Myanmar) or France
|Tendency to vocalise:
|Many varieties possible including seal, chocolate, blue, lilac, cream, red, tortie, tabby and more
|Long-haired single coat
|Colourpoint with white feet
|Overall grooming needs:
Due to a lack of definitive evidence we will likely never know the exact origin of Birman cats, though there are two main theories.
The first theory is that the Birman originated in Burma, now Myanmar (hence its nickname 'The Sacred Cat of Burma'). Legend has it that the cats lived in temples as companions to priests and acted as temporary vessels for the priests' souls after death. To thank them for their loyalty and devotion, a Burmese goddess gifted these cats their distinctive colouring and white feet, which symbolise purity.
Two Birman cats were then said to have been brought to France in the late 19th/early 20th century. Several variations of this part of the tale exist regarding who brought the cats, but a fairly constant thread is that one of the two, a male, died, while the pregnant female and her litter became the foundation for the breed in France.
The second, much less mystical claim is that the breed was intentionally created in France by crossing a Siamese with a Persian. The exotic Burma legend was then fabricated to make the breed sound more alluring. Interestingly, the official Siamese x Persian cross, the Himalayan, looks quite different to the Birman.
Most sources agree that whatever its origin, the Birman almost died out during World War Two. It was revived and started to become popular in the US in the 1960s and 70s. Today it remains a well-loved breed in the UK, USA and Australia.
Birman Physical Characteristics
The Birman has a striking pointed coat pattern, like the Siamese. This means the fur is mostly light in colour with darker shades on the extremities (face, ears, tail and legs). The 'points' can come in a variety of colours. Birman kittens are born pure white and their pointed patterning gradually becomes more prominent over the first 18 to 24 months of life. Other distinctive Birman traits are a long silky single-layered coat, bright blue eyes and four pure white feet.
The breed is strongly built and long-bodied with a distinct ruff of fur at the neck and a big, bushy tail. The head is rounded with full cheeks, a rounded muzzle and a Roman nose. The large round paws are white, often with longer socks on the two hind feet.
Top Grooming Products For Birman Cats
As their coat is single-layered with no thick undercoat, Birmans shed less than other long-haired breeds and are less prone to tangling or matting. Though not as high maintenance as double-coated Persians or Himalayans, they still need to be thoroughly brushed 1-2 times per week and may require professional clipping in the warmer months to reduce the risk of overheating and heat stroke
The Birman is a gentle, calm and docile breed. Its adaptability makes it suited to a range of different households and environments including families and first time cat owners. While rarely demanding, they are inquisitive and often follow their people around the house, wanting to be a part of whatever's going on. They are quite a sociable breed and many benefit from having another furry friend, whether this be a cat or a dog- they can get along well with either if properly introduced. Birmans are also a good choice for households with children due to their gentleness and tolerance.
Birmans are loving and affectionate and can be 'lap cats', but they also have a playful streak. Their intelligence makes them very trainable and many can easily be trained to walk on a lead, allowing them to safely explore the outside world.
Best Toys for Birmans
Due to their social nature Birmans can fret if left at home without company so keeping them entertained with a range of interactive toys is always recommended. It's also important to ensure they have plenty of high places to explore and appropriate outlets for natural behaviours such as scratching.
Birman Diet and Nutrition
The Birman cat is a unique breed, but is still taxonomically within the domestic feline species, so their nutritional requirements don't differ too much from other cats. Itâs recommended to feed a premium kitten food up until 12 months of age, then controlled amounts of a premium adult diet. You could also consider a 'light' or 'Indoor' formulation which can help with weight control. If your Birman has issues with hairballs, a premium hairball control diet would also be a good option.
Dry food is beneficial for maintaining good dental health, while wet food helps to ensure your Birman is well hydrated, so in a healthy cat we recommend feeding a combination of both.
Best Food for Birman Kittens
Best Food for Adult Birmans
Birman Common Health Concerns
While overall quite a robust breed, Birmans are predisposed to several health conditions. As these are genetic, it's recommended to always choose a reputable breeder and check whether their cats have been screened for inherited diseases.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
HCM is a cardiac disease that Birmans are at higher risk of developing. It causes excessive thickening of the walls of the heart, which reduces the effectiveness of the heart's contractions and eventually leads to heart failure.
Signs of heart failure may not be apparent in the early stages of the disease, however as the condition progresses and heart function deteriorates signs such as rapid breathing, lethargy or loss of appetite may develop.
Unfortunately, heart disease in cats can be difficult to recognise or diagnose and sometimes the first sign is severe illness or even sudden death. An echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) is used to confirm diagnosis and may also be performed as a screening tool in at-risk cats.
This is an uncommon inherited genetic condition causing abnormal hair growth. Affected kittens are born with no or very little hair and may have an impaired immune system that leaves them more susceptible to developing serious infections. Cats with immune system involvement rarely survive to one year of age. As the gene responsible for this defect is recessive, parents that carry the gene can look completely normal. It is recommended to avoid breeding known carriers to prevent the trait from being passed down.
Another uncommon inherited condition in Birman cats is haemophilia B, a blood clotting disorder which involves a deficiency in factor IX, a vital component of the blood clotting pathway. This disorder mostly affects males and can be life threatening. The inability of the blood to clot means that without intervention, any bleeding can continue indefinitely. The condition can be screened for prior to breeding, or prior to any veterinary procedures or surgery.
Birman cats share their pointed pattern with the Siamese and their coat length with other longhairs like the Persian and Himalayan. A short-haired version of the Birman, the Templecat, has also been developed.
Siamese: Perhaps the most famous pointed breed, and believed to be one of the oldest known cat breeds in the world, Siamese are graceful, vocal and affectionate. Their short coats make for much easier grooming than the Birman and they have a lithe, lean physique.
Persian: The Persian is a double-coated long-haired breed known for its dignified manner and flattened facial features. They make an ideal 'lap cat' and due to its popularity and placid nature, the breed is commonly represented in movies and TV shows.
Himalayan: The Himalayan is a cross between the Persian and the Siamese. It has a long, luxurious double coat with pointed 'Siamese' colouring. Despite its similarities to the Birman at first glance, the Himalayan has a flattened face like the Persian, and lacks the white feet of the Birman.
Templecat: This breed is new to the scene and was developed in New Zealand in the 2000s. Most simply, it is the short-haired equivalent of the Birman. Like the Birman, Templecats have blue eyes, pointed colouring and white feet, just with a lower maintenance short coat. They were named for their long-haired relative's legendary association with the temples in Burma.