It's really hard not to immediately like Burmese cats. Intelligent, playful little dynamos, Burmese are incredibly social to humans and will quickly learn to play interactive games like fetch or tag. They also make excellent ambassadors for any self-professed “non-cat people,” thanks to their affectionate, almost dog-like personalities and their giant, expressive eyes that make the Burmese look like it was ripped straight out of a Margaret Keane painting.
So this is going to differ slightly, depending on where you live. There are, in point of fact, two Burmese cats. Though they originated from the same stock and most cat registries don’t consider them to be genetically different breeds, there are still distinct differences between the American and European Burmese.
The European (sometimes called “traditional”) Brumese is the more slender of the two, with a wedge-shaped head, small, pointed ears, and almond-shaped eyes. Meanwhile, the American (or “contemporary”) Burmese is notably stockier with a wider head, ears that are slightly wider at the base than the European, and with eyes that are much rounder and more expressive.
Regardless of standard, all Burmese cats come with very short, silky coats, traditionally of a single, solid color. Originally, all Burmese were sable, but throughout the middle of the 20th century, Burmese cats were seen in colors such as fawn, blue, and lilac. Currently, the British standard recognizes solid brown, chocolate, blue, lilac, red, and cream, as well as the tortoiseshell pattern on a base of brown, chocolate, blue, or lilac, while the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s (CFA) standard still recognises the Burmese only in solid sable, blue, champagne (chocolate), and platinum (lilac).
Burmese cats are loving, playful, and highly social. Expressing a number of tendencies that have been described as “dog-like,” Burmese tend to develop strong loyalty bonds with their humans and have been described as a “Velcro cat,” wanting to spend as much time as possible around their people. As such, Burmese aren’t as well suited to isolation as some other breeds, and may develop stress behaviors such as aggressive grooming if left alone for extended periods of time.
Burmese revel in the company of humans, be they seniors, children, or somewhere in between. They also do extremely well in multi-cat households and can even fairly quickly learn to (at very least) tolerate the family dog.
Burmese are very bright cats and enjoy performing for their people. Owners have reported having their Burmese stop in the middle of some spirited play to look back and see if their humans are watching them before continuing. Additionally, they are more heavily disposed to playing games with their people than many other breeds, quickly picking up the nuances of fetch, tag, hide and seek, and other games.
Additionally, if cat shows are your thing, Burmese cats are well recognized for their willingness to be shown. They enjoy being the center of attention and like performing for a crowd.
One potential caveat for owners: the Burmese is not a quiet cat. True to the Siamese traces in their lineage, the Burmese is always more than happy to talk you through their day, though they have a softer, less intense voice than their Siamese cousins.
Whether they are playing or just sitting on the couch, the biggest factor in having a happy Burmese is going to be proximity to you. They develop loyalty bonds quickly and want to be wherever you are.
They should, under no circumstances be allowed to venture outside, as the breed has virtually no street smarts, and they do not do particularly well if they are left alone for more than a few hours at a time. Their naturally social nature can be tended to by other cats if you’re not around, but a solitary Burmese is apt to become a stressed Burmese.
Their super short coats and relative lack of shedding make the Burmese a breeze to groom. Brushing and bathing should be virtually nonexistent, save for a little combing during traditional shedding seasons, but even those times should be fairly light.
Burmese are a fairly healthy breed. European Burmese tend to have a higher propensity of diabetes mellitus than most breeds, and both standards of Burmese can be susceptible to hypokalemia, which is a condition connected to a low potassium level in the blood serum. In many cases, these conditions and several others can be helped through diet.
“There are veterinary food companies that have veterinary nutritionists who formulate prescription diets, specifically for a given disease,” explains Michelle Beck, DVM, CCRT, CVA, of the Backlund Animal Clinic in Omaha, Neb. “For diabetic cats, for example, higher protein diets work well. Cats with chronic kidney disease, we’ve found that giving cats a diet with a high quality but low percentage of protein works well.”
The Burmese Breed Council has also recently started allowing outcrossing with Bombay and Tonkinese cats in an effort to build up the Burmese breed’s genetic diversity. A 2008 study found the American Burmese to be one of the least genetically diverse breeds in the world, and in 2012 the CFA stated that "breeders are reporting less hearty litters, smaller adults, smaller litters, and immune system problems, all of which point towards inbreeding depression becoming more common."
The Burmese as we know and love it today can trace its entire lineage back to a single cat: a brown female named Wong Mau who was imported to San Francisco from Burma in 1930. Wong Mau was bred with Tai Mau, a seal point Siamese, then bred back to the males of that litter, and the Burmese breed was off and running.
The CFA recognized the breed in 1936 but, in a rare move, actually suspended the breed’s recognition in 1946 due to extensive outcrossing with Siamese in an effort to increase the breed’s numbers. After breeders were able to report three successive generations of pure Burmese litters, the breed’s recognition was restored in 1954.
Meanwhile, the European Burmese was being developed throughout the 1940s, mostly through crossbreeding Tonkinese, Siamese and a few American Burmese who had been imported. By 1952 the breed had been sufficiently established to gain recognition from the United Kingdom's Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, and today most European and Commonwealth countries raise Burmese to the British standard.