From glamorous, fluffy cats often featured in cat food commercials, to long, lean, and sharp-featured cats that have been depicted in ancient art, the continent of Asia has produced some incredibly unique cat breeds over the last several centuries. Originating in countries like Japan, China, Iran, Turkey, and Myanmar, many of these kitties were once considered royalty and have had long and fascinating histories spanning centuries.
Learn about well-known Asian cat breeds, like Siamese and Persians, and lesser-known breeds, like the Dragon Li, in this round-up of nine cat breeds that originated in Asia.
01 of 09
Best-known for their striking, tri-color coats and bright, blue eyes, Siamese cats are one of the world's most popular cat breeds today. But did you know they're also considered one of the oldest breeds to originate in Asia? Hailing from Thailand—formerly known as Siam—Siamese cats were once considered royalty, and could only be owned by kings and other members of the royal family. Hundreds of years later, in 1880, the king of Siam gifted an English consul-general a pair of Siamese cats. When he returned to England with his new pets, their popularity boomed, making the Siamese a much sought-after breed.
Weight: 6 to 14 pounds
Length: Up to 14 inches
Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized with long, tapered legs, the Siamese cat can be described as graceful; coat can come in seal, blue, lilac, and chocolate with points around the face, ears, paws, and tail
02 of 09
Originated in Burma—presently known as Myanmar—Burmese cats were believed to be held sacred in temples and monasteries around the country. One cat, however, is considered the "founding mother" of the breed: A cat named Wong Mau was transported from Burma to the United States by a sailor in the 1930s and given to Dr. Joseph G. Thompson in San Francisco. There, Dr. Thompson started a breeding program that propagated the Burmese breed across the country.
Weight: 6 to 14 pounds
Length: Up to 18 inches
Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized, stocky, and muscular, the Burmese is a sturdy cat with a rounded head and big, expressive eyes; coats come in sable, champagne, silver, and blue, among other colors
03 of 09
The Oriental Shorthair is considered part of the Siamese cat family—along with the Siamese, Balinese, and Oriental Longhair—but is actually the result of crossbreeding several cat breeds. During World War II, domestic cat populations were, sadly, dwindling. In order to revive these populations, Siamese cat breeds began introducing other domestic breeds like Russian Blues and Abyssinians into their lines. The result? Kittens with tri-color points, like a Siamese, with coats that came in a wide variety of unique colors.
Weight: 8 to 10 pounds
Length: Up to 18 inches
Physical Characteristics: Long, graceful, and elegant; can come in as many as 300 color variations
04 of 09
Persian cats are probably best-known for glamorous looks and long, silky fur. In fact, their beauty—along with their sweet, calm demeanors—have made them one of the most popular cat breeds in the United States. Although their background is a little unclear, it's commonly believed that Persians originated in Persia (modern-day Iran) or Turkey sometime during the 1600s, and moved into Europe during the crusades. There, they became incredibly popular among nobility, including Queen Victoria.
Weight: 7 to 12 pounds
Length: Between 14 and 18 inches
Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized with long, silky fur that comes in solid colors (like white, black, gray, and cream), tabby, calico, tri-color, and Himalayan, among other color variationsContinue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Although Bengal cats are technically considered modern-day cats, their origins are linked to Asia: Bengals are the result of breeding an Asian leopard cat (Felis bengalensis) with domestic cat, like Abyssinians, Egyptian maus, or American shorthairs. Created by Jean Sudgen Mills in the 1970s, Bengals were bred to have the personality of a house cat, but the exotic look of a wild, big cat.
Weight: 8 to 15 pounds
Length: Up to 18 inches
Physical Characteristics: Long, lean, and wild-looking; well-known for big cat appearance; coats can be spotted or marbled and come in a wide variety of color combinations
06 of 09
The Japanese bobtail's shortened tail—often referred to as a "pom"—is the breed's most distinguishing characteristic. A result of a naturally occurring genetic mutation, the shortened tail can be straight, bent, or kinked. In addition to their interesting appearance, Japanese bobtail's have a fascinating history, which many believe stretches back 1,000 years. While some believe the Japanese bobtail originated in China or Korea over 1,000 years ago, others believe the breed was first introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks who used the cats to protect scrolls from rodents. Regardless of their true origin, history shows that Japanese bobtails were employed to hunt rodents that threatened Japan's silk trade in 1602. It was illegal to own a bobtail as a pet during this time, but over several years, they became domesticated as pets.
Weight: 8 to 10 pounds for males, 5 to 7 pounds for females
Length: About 12 inches
Physical Characteristics: Petite; docked, fluffy tail; coats can come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, including white, black, cream, lilac, red, blue, bi-colored, and tri-colored, among others
07 of 09
Considered one of the most rare cat breeds, the Korat is believed to have originated in Thailand centuries ago. Ancient artifacts dating back to the 13th century show the first references of Korats. Korats were first brought to Europe in the 1800s, where they became known as "blue Siamese," thanks to their blue coats and Siamese-like appearance.
Weight: 6 to 10 pounds
Length: 10 to 12 inches
Physical Characteristics: Very petite with a Siamese-like appearance and muscular body; typically has a short, blue-gray coat and bright green eyes
08 of 09
The Turkish Angora is a naturally occurring breed that is believed to have originated in Turkey sometime during the 15th century. Some origin theories say that the Turkish Angora is the result of a genetic mutation in an African wildcat, while others believe their long, silky coats were developed to protect them from harsh, snowy climates in Ankara (formerly Angora). One legend, however, suggests that Turkish Angoras developed even earlier than the 15th century: It's commonly said that Mohammad (the founder of the Islamic faith) once cut the sleeve off of his robe to avoid disrupting a Turkish Angora that was sleeping on it. Turkish Angoras began to appear in French writing during the 16th century, so it's accepted that the breed began to move through Europe during the late 15th century. Then, in the 1700s, Turkish Angoras were imported to the Americas.
Weight: 5 to 9 pounds
Length: Between 12 and 18 inches
Physical Characteristics: Delicate, graceful cats with long, silky coats; can come in a variety of colors and patterns, like white with lavender, chocolate, or Himalayan markings, tabby or calico; eyes are typically blue, emerald, gold, copper, or two different colorsContinue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Known as the Li Hua Mao—which translates to "fox flower cat" in Chinese—the Dragon Li is thought to be a naturally occurring breed that existed in the wild for centuries. Many believe that the Dragon Li first originated from the Chinese Mountain Cat and domesticated itself over time. The Dragon Li is unofficially considered the national cat of China, and is rarely seen outside its origin country.
Weight: 9 to 12 pounds
Length: 12 inches
Physical Characteristics: A small, muscular cat with a distinctive, wild appearance, wide, round head, and pointed ears with tufts of hair; coats are typically tabby brown with a black-tipped tail