Burmese Cat: Cat Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Burmese cats cuddling up
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Burmese cats are medium-sized felines with strong, muscular bodies, rounded heads, and expressive gold eyes. These affectionate, intelligent, and loving kitties were proposed to the Cat Fanciers' Association as a new breed in 1934 and were accepted for registration in 1936.

Breed Overview

Weight: 6 to 14 pounds

Length: 18 inches, head to tail

Coat: Short

Coat Color: Sable, champagne, platinum, and blue (several organizations recognize a wide range of colors)

Eye Color: Green or gold

Life Expectancy: 16 to 18 years

Characteristics of the Burmese

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Vocalize Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Burmese

In Myanmar (formerly called Burma), legend has it that cats of this breed were viewed as sacred and celebrated in temples and monasteries. They were discovered in England in the late 1800s but were not as popular as Siamese.

The Burmese and European Burmese are the two types of this breed recognized by the Cat Fanciers' Association. The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, which sets standards for cats in the UK, recognized the Burmese in 1952. The International Cat Association, an organization at the forefront of keeping genetic registries for cats, accepted the breed in 1979.

According to the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, the breed gradually died out in England and Europe. It was revived in 1930 using the first true Burmese.

The First Burmese Cat

All sources agree that the “founding mother” of the Burmese breed was Wong Mau, a cat who was brought to America from Burma by a sailor in 1930 and given to Dr. Joseph G. Thompson of San Francisco. Wong Mau was described as being walnut brown with darker points, having a more compact body than a Siamese, and possessing a shorter tail. Her unique appearance led Dr. Thompson to a breeding program in which Wong Mau was mated to Tai Mau, a seal point Siamese. Some kittens more closely resembled the Siamese breed and some looked more Burmese. Wong Mau was then bred to a son and kittens of a few different colors resulted, some brown, some dark brown. The dark brown kittens became the foundation of the Burmese breed.

It is said that a wartime sea voyage of three Burmese cats from Burma into America in the 1940s lasted five months, during which time they survived attacks by bombers.

According to the Cat Fanciers' Association, the breeding program demonstrated that these Burmese cats were a distinct breed and ultimately led the breeders to request championship recognition. Along the way, the other colors seen in the Siamese breed were also seen in litters. Over time and with much controversy, these other colors were accepted by Cat Fanciers' Association.

Breed Standards

The Cat Fanciers' Association recognizes four colors: sable, a rich dark brown; champagne, a warm beige; platinum, a pale gray with fawn undertones; and blue, a medium gray with fawn undertones. Cats with sable coats have brown nose leather and paw pads; champagne coats are complemented by light warm brown nose leather and pinkish-tan paw pads. Blue coats have slate gray nose leather and slate gray to pinkish-blue paw pads. Platinum coats have lavender pink nose leather and paw pads.

The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy acknowledges 10 colors: brown, blue, chocolate, lilac, red, cream, brown tortoiseshell, blue tortoiseshell, chocolate tortoiseshell, and lilac tortoiseshell with complementary colors for the nose and paw pads.

Back in England, the first blue Burmese cat was born in 1955, Sealcoat Blue Surprise. Other colors had appeared earlier but were overlooked in favor of the sable varieties. According to the International Cat Association, it is now believed that Wong Mau also carried the genes for dilution and chocolate that resulted in the appearance of chocolate, blue, and lilac kittens. The red factor was added later in Europe.

The International Cat Association recognizes a variety of colors: rich, dark sable brown; a medium, warm blue; a warm, honey beige chocolate with pink or fawn tints; a lilac that ranges in tone from a bright pinkish grey to a silvery platinum with pink tints; reds of a light, golden apricot with melon-orange overtones; rich, warm deep creams with hints of apricot; and the soft mingling of red or cream with sable, chocolate, blue, or lilac found in the tortoiseshells.

Each association has specific standards for the Burmese with points assigned to various characteristics. Overall, the head should be rounded and have full eyes that are round and spaced out well. There should also be a visible nose break and well-spaced ears. The eye color is yellow to gold in all coat colors, and the depth of color is preferred. A medium-sized, muscular, and compact body is preferred with proportionate legs and rounded paws. The tail should be straight and medium in length.

Burmese Care

Burmese coats are short, fine, and have a glossy, silky shine. They require minimal grooming and do not really shed much. Grooming your cat with a rubber brush once a week should be enough to rid the coat of dead hairs and keep it looking lustrous.

It is also important to keep your cat active. Burmese are playful and energetic and do best in active homes with families that are willing to play and interact with their pets. These cats are highly trainable.

The playful personality of the Burmese cat extends from kittenhood to adulthood. They are described as being almost dog-like in their devotion to their humans, following them around, cuddling with them while they are reading or watching TV, and sleeping in their beds at night. Females are more likely to be in charge of the household, while males supervise from the comfort of a lap.

Burmese are compatible with other pets in the household and children as well. They are athletic, playful, and are happiest in an active household. They have a soft, sweet voice and enjoy conversing with their people. 

These cats yearn for attention from humans and can become upset if separated for long periods of time. Burmese grow strong attachments to their owners, and while they may need a couple of weeks to adjust to their new home, these deep bonds develop relatively quickly.

Breeders place kittens in homes between 12 and 16 weeks of age and should be spayed by 6 months of age, especially if sold as pets. Pet Burmese cats typically sell for less than show cats.

Common Health Problems

Burmese are generally healthy, but they can develop an inherited disease called hypokalemia, which causes skeletal muscle weakness. There is a simple DNA test to look familial episodic hypokalemic polymyopathy (the full name of the disorder). It is episodic in nature and can affect the whole animal or may be localized to the neck or limb muscles. As a result, affected cats tend to have problems walking and holding their head correctly.

In addition to hypokalemia, some of the conditions they can be prone to include:

Responsible breeders test their lines for these diseases and offer a health guarantee as part of the sale of their kittens. It is always wise to buy from a breeder who provides a written health guarantee.

Diet and Nutrition

To keep up with their active lifestyle, these cats need plenty of protein and nutrients. It is always best to discuss diet options with your vet to ensure all of your cat's needs are being met. High-quality dry food is helpful in maintaining good oral health and can be supplemented with wet food if you prefer. To prevent your cat from becoming a picky eater, the National Alliance of Burmese Breeders suggests that it is important to switch brands of cat food every now and then so your feline friend does not become accustomed to just one kind.

Pros

  • Burmese are attentive and loyal.

  • Burmese are a long-lived breed.

  • They get along with other cats or dogs and older children.

  • They are active, energetic, and highly trainable.

Cons

  • Burmese are at high risk for hypokalemia, an inherited muscular disease.

  • They can get depressed if left alone for long periods of time.

  • Burmese have a tendency to be demanding and get bossy.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Burmese Cat

You may be able to find a pure-breed Burmese cat through a breeder in your area, but if you would rather adopt from a rescue organization, check out:

More Cat Breeds and Further Research

Interested in learning about other purebred cats? If you like the Burmese, check out these breeds:

Otherwise, check out all of our cat breed profiles.