From glamorous, fluffy cats highlighted in cat food commercials to long, lean, and sharp-featured cats depicted in ancient art, the continent of Asia has produced some incredibly unique cat breeds over the last several centuries. These felines come from all over the continent, from Japan and China to Myanmar and Singapore; some of these kitties were once considered royalty. Others have had long and fascinating histories spanning centuries.
Purebred kitties can cost thousands of dollars. If you're looking to save some money but are stuck on a particular breed, see if there is a breed rescue near you. Local animal shelters often rescue purebreds too, although more rarely.
About half of the Asian cat breeds come from similar origins. Siamese, Persians, and Angoras are among the oldest breeds and are the foundational stock for several Asian-based cats. Angoras are playful, intelligent, athletic, and like to perch on high and observe the entire room. Similarly, Siamese cats are active and inquisitive; they are also vocal kitties. Meanwhile, Persians are quiet, affectionate, and would instead take a cat nap than monitor a room and the goings-on. The cat breeds that were developed from those popular breeds carry on some of those traits.
Take a look at these 14 Asian cat breeds that include popular Siamese and Persian breeds and the lesser-known Dragon Li and Tonkinese breeds.
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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. They also one of the oldest breeds to originate in Asia. They hail from Thailand—formerly known as Siam. Siamese cats were once considered royalty and could only be owned by kings and other royal family members. 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
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Persian cats are probably best-known for glamorous looks and long, silky fur. Their beauty—along with their sweet, calm demeanors—have made them one of the most popular cat breeds in the United States. Their background is a little unclear, but it's commonly believed that Persians originated in Persia (modern-day Iran) or Turkey sometime during the 1600s and moved into Europe. They were incredibly popular among the 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 variations
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The Turkish Angora is a naturally occurring breed believed to have originated in Turkey during the 15th century. Some origin theories say that the Turkish Angora results from a genetic mutation in an African wildcat. Conversely, others believe the cats developed their long, silky coats to protect them from harsh, snowy climates in Ankara (formerly Angora). One legend, however, suggests that Turkish Angoras developed earlier than the 15th century. It's commonly said that the Islamic prophet Muhammad once cut the sleeve off of his robe to avoid disrupting an 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 started to move through Europe during the late 15th century. 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 colors
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Although Bengal cats are technically considered modern-day cats, their origins are linked to Asia. Bengals result from breeding an Asian leopard cat (Felis bengalensis) with domestic cats like Abyssinians, Egyptian maus, or American shorthairs. Created by Jean Sudgen Mills in the 1970s, she bred Bengals 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 combinationsContinue to 5 of 14 below.
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The Japanese bobtail's shortened tail—often referred to as a "pom"—is the breed's most distinguishing characteristic. The result of a naturally occurring genetic mutation, the shortened tail can be straight, bent, or kinked. In addition to their unique appearance, Japanese bobtails have a fascinating history, which many believe stretches back to China or Korea over 1,000 years ago. Some 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.
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
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Considered one of the rarest cat breeds, the Korat originated in Thailand centuries ago. Ancient artifacts dating back to the 13th century show the first references of Korats. This cat was brought to Europe in the 1800s, where they became known as "blue Siamese" for 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
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Called "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
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Originated in Burma—presently known as Myanmar—Burmese cats were 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 crossbreeding Wong Mau with a Siamese to establish the Burmese breed further.
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 colorsContinue to 9 of 14 below.
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The Oriental shorthair is considered an offshoot of the Siamese cat family, including the Balinese and Oriental longhair. During World War II, domestic cat populations were, sadly, dwindling. Siamese cat breeds began introducing other domestic breeds like Russian blues and Abyssinians into their lines to revive these populations. The result was 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
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Known as the smallest domestic cat breed, the Singapura, or Pura, shines with its unique looks and loving personality. This breed only weighs 4 to 8 pounds when fully grown and sports large, round eyes, big ears, and a sepia-colored coat. Once a common street cat in Singapore, these purebred felines are now prized pets.
Weight: 4 to 8 pounds
Length: 9 to 12 inches
Physical Characteristics: Short coat in sepia agouti with green, hazel, or yellow large eyes
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A Tonkinese is a Siamese and Burmese cat lover's dream. It is the product when the two breeds are mixed. It exhibits the best of both breeds: It's smart, sweet, and social. The cat is a beautiful pointed cat with soft, diluted colors and a stunningly unique personality.
Weight: 6 to 12 pounds
Length: Varies greatly
Physical Characteristics: Short coat in various colors, such as platinum, champagne, blue, and natural, including solid, mink, and pointed patterns
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The Birman breed likely came into existence after being transported from Burma (now Myanmar) to France. People bred that Burma-native cat with other cats in France, often Siamese. The Birman is a chatty cat (like Siamese) with a softer voice that frequently chirps and converses with his people. The Birman’s long coat is single-length with no undercoat.
Weight: 10 to 12 pounds
Length: 15 to 18 inches
Physical Characteristics: Long and silky coat in seal, blue, red, chocolate, cream, tortie, including standard and lynx pattern points; deep blue eye colorContinue to 13 of 14 below.
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The breed arose due to a spontaneous genetic mutation in a purebred Siamese that caused the cats to develop a longer coat type. The Balinese cat does not have any links with Indonesia (Siamese cats are from Thailand). Breeders created the Balinese name since they thought the cat's grace and elegance mirrored that of the temple dancers of Bali.
Weight: 6 to 11 pounds
Length: 18 inches
Physical Characteristics: Long coat; creamy white body with a variety of possible color points on the face, ears, legs, and tail; deep vivid blue eyes
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The Himalayan breed is a hybrid of Persian and Siamese cats. The result is a beautiful feline with a long, silky, Persian-like coat and Siamese-like pointed coloring and bright blue eyes. This breed is stockier, thicker-bodied; it is considered the "gentle giant" of the feline world.
Weight: 7 to 12 pounds
Length: 17 to 19 inches
Physical Characteristics: Wide-set chest and round abdomen; dense undercoat with a long overcoat that comes in pointed colors and patterns; colors include gray, blue, chocolate, lilac, and cream
Breeds to Avoid
If you prefer to have fewer kitty scratch marks on your arms, there are some breeds to avoid. Cats do swipe, knead, or scratch. Some kitties like Siamese and the Korat will paw or knead at your arm to get attention. The Singapura is a static cling breed, preferring to climb onto their person like a cat tree and hang out. The Bengal is an exotic, wild-looking hybrid breed, only a few steps removed from a big cat. It tends to swipe more and may exhibit some untamed habits, such as spray marking, clawing its surroundings, and biting.