The Birman, or famously known as the “Sacred Cat of Burma”, is a strikingly gorgeous cat of a lovely legend behind its beauty. These kitties are distinguished by a soft, silky coat, piercing blue eyes, and the elegant, white “gloves” on their paws. Keep reading, the secrets are about to unravel.

Please do not confuse the Birman cat with the Burmese cat, a completely different cat breed of a similar name.

Main features

The Birman is a medium-sized, color-pointed cat often described to resemble the Siamese breed. It has a remarkably stockier and more muscular body than the related breed, however, and a long, silky coat.

They come in all pointed colors, including seal, blue, lilac, cream, chocolate and red. However, the tips of all four paws are always white, a charming trait often referred to as white “gloves” (for the front paws) and “laces” (for the hind paws). The tabby and tortie patterns in seal, chocolate, blue or lilac colors are allowed. Birman kittens are born white and they develop their pointed coloration within the first few weeks of kittenhood. The final coat usually doesn’t reach full development until the age of two years.

Birman’s face is broad and topped with a distinct Roman nose. The ears are tall and wide on the base, placed closer to the top of the head than the sides. The deep, sapphire blue eyes are round in shape. Additionally, although long-haired, unlike Himalayan and Persian cats, Birmans have no undercoat and are thus less prone to matting.

The Birman cat

The Birman cat

Origins

How exactly this breed came to be remains a mystery to this very day. The well-known legend has it that the Birman breed originated over a hundred of years ago from Burmese temple cats at the Temple of Lao-Tsun in the city of Burma. This temple was built for a golden goddess Tsun-Kyan-Kse who was famous for her deep, sapphire blue eyes.

One night, one of the priests named Mun-Ha was kneeling before the goddesses’ statue with one of the temple cats named Sinh sitting by his side. As he was worshipping, raiders broke into the temple and killed the priest. Sinh placed his paws on Mun-Ha as he was dying and looked up to the statue of the goddess.

At this moment, the cat’s body turned from white to gold and his eyes became sapphire blue, just like those of the goddess. His fur became color pointed towards his nuzzle, ears and paws. The tips of his paws touching the priest remained white, though, as a symbol of purity. In the matter of seconds, all the other temple cats changed just like Sinh did. It is believed that Sinh carried Mun-Ha’s soul to paradise, as all the temple cats are thought to bring one of the priest’s soul with them when they die.

Meowgic aside, the modern theories, of course, explain that the breed originates from the crosses of Siamese cats with Angoras or Persians. It remains unclear though when or where those original meetups occurred. It is also not yet agreed on whether the Birman breed was developed in South East Asia or France.

Either way, for the first time the breed was recognized in France in 1925, it was imported to the United States in 1959 and recognized by the Cat Fanciers’ Association in 1967. Regardless of their actual origin, these cats enjoyed an admirable status and role throughout history.

The Birman cat being fed a treat

Personality

The Birman is a docile, witty and patient cat that doesn’t cause lot of trouble. These gentle felines get along well with young children and other pets, and will make for the most purrfect life companions. They are famous for their loving, affectionate nature and their eagerness to be near their favorite hoomans.

As opposed to the close relative – the Siamese – these kitties are actually very quiet and will often greet you with the softest, most adorable low meow. Remember, these friendly cats don’t cope with solitude well and will easily get lonely if left alone for too long. If you choose the Birman for your new furriend, make sure to spoil it with extra hugs and snuggles.

The Birman cat

The Birman cat

Health and care

In contrast with some other breeds, Birmans are more likely to develop early renal failure and feline infectious peritonitis (Paltrinieri et al, 2017), as well as congenital cataracts, and hemophilia B. They are also at higher risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) (The Birman Health Foundation, 2019), the most common heart disease seen in cats, as it is believed this feature is inherited as dominant autosomal trait in this breed.

Fun facts about the mysterious cat of Burma

1. The name of the breed derives from the French word Birmanie, which stands for Burma or Myanmar. Burma is a country in Southeast Asia and a speculated place of the breed’s origin.

2. The breed was first recognized in France by the Cat Club de France in 1925. It wasn’t until 1966 that the breed was also recognized in England by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy and 1967 in US by the Cat Fanciers’ Association. It was finally excepted by the Canadian Cat Association and the International Cat Association in 1979.

3. They are one of the genetically least diverse cat breed out there. A study by Lipinski et al. from 2008 discovered Birmans, alongside Havana Brown, Singapura, and Sokoke had the lowest genetic diversity among the studied breeds. In contrast, Siberians had the highest levels of heterozygosity values (Lipinski et al, 2008).

4. It may take up to two years for your Birman to develop its final coat color. As explained above, Birman kittens are born white and they start developing their pointed coloration within the first few weeks of kittenhood. The final coat usually doesn’t reach full development until the age of two years.

5. Birmans are prone to obesity. Birmans are stocky and muscled, and they love to eat. Thus, you should definitely be careful with dosing their food in order to keep them in a healthy physical condition.

6. They are territorial and can be a tad jealous. Being as social as they are and as attached to their favorite hoomans as they are, the Birman kitties can be jealous if their hooman parent doesn’t pay as much attention to them as they’d hope. They are also territorial, but never aggressive.

The Birman cat

Birman cats are exceptionally loving and affectionate kitties who will make for the most adorable and loyal companions you could ever hope for. Prone to loneliness, these beauties require lots of love and attention. Many would agree that the Birman’s exquisite appearance, mysterious origins and undeniable charm make them for one of the most intriguing cat breeds out there.

Sources:

1. “The Birman Health Foundation“. The Birman Health Foundation. Retrieved 14-Jan-2019.

2. Lipinski, M. J.; Froenicke, L.; Baysac, K. C.; Billings, N. C.; Leutenegger, C. M.; Levy, A. M.; Longeri, M.; Niini, T.; Ozpinar, H.; Slater, M. R.; Pedersen, N. C.; Lyons, L. A. (2008). The ascent of cat breeds: Genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations. Genomics. 91 (1): 12–21. doi:10.1016/j.ygeno.2007.10.009