Birman Cats are a beautiful and mysterious breed of cat whose origins are shrouded in legends, though even the ‘true’ story is a bit of an unknown! Birmans are also called the Sacred Cat of Burma.
Birmans are known for their long silky coats, their point coloring, pure white paws, beautiful eyes, and sweet nature. Birman cats are also a larger breed of cat which takes a longer time to mature. They are relatively quiet, enjoy being around people, and are even sociable with other pets! Altogether, this beautiful and gentle cat has become a well-loved pet.
What else should you know about the Birman cat and is this the right pet for you?
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The History of the Birman Cat
There are a couple of stories around the Birman cat. The legend goes that priests of the Temple of Lao-Tsun, worshippers of the goddess Tsim-Kyan-Kse, were accompanied by pure white temple cats who were believed to be carriers of the souls of worthy priests who had departed. The Goddess Tsim-Kyan-Kse was the Goddess of transmutation, and she was depicted as a golden statue with golden sapphire eyes. An honorable priest named Mun-Ha was worshipping at the temple with his companion Sinh, one of the hundred sacred white cats.
During one of his evening prayers, the temple was raided, and Mun-Ha was killed. As he died, Sinh put his paws on Mun-ha’s head and looked upon the statue of Tsim-Kyan-Kse. The cat’s white fur changed to a golden hue, the tail, face, and legs darkened to brown, and his eyes changed to a deep sapphire, but his paws remained white to honor Mun-Ha’s spirit. By morning, all 99 other cats had undergone the same transformation. Sadly, Sinh pined after his master and passed away seven days later, believed to then be ferrying his master to their final resting place.
So, the legend goes. The actual origins of this cat are still fairly unknown, other than the fact that they came out of Burma into France in 1919, either given as gifts when two people helped priest of the temple fend off raiders or they were purchased from a disgruntled servant of said temple. Either way, the cats were shipped to France, but only the female, pregnant, survived, becoming the foundation for the breed to be recognized.
Like many breeds, it nearly went extinct in World War II and the breed had to be built up again from a single pair. It’s likely that Persians and Siamese, possibly Turkish Angora, were breeds to help rebuild it, though again, we don’t know for certain. By 1955, the breed was back to healthy numbers and by 1959, they had arrived in the United States. It was recognized as a breed in North America in 1967.
Today, the Birman is one of the most popular of the longhaired breeds of cat due to their beauty and sweet nature. While they are called Birmans here, in their homeland and all over Europe, they are often still referred to as the Sacred Cat of Burma.
Common Characteristics of the Birman Cat
Birman cats have a very distinctive appearance and a lovely one at that! Common physical features are:
- Birmans are a fairly large cat, almost a foot tall in many cases and upwards of twelve pounds. As a result, they usually take about three years to mature! They have an elongated body and tend towards being muscular.
- A beautiful cream coal with points on the face, tail and legs that can be chocolate, lilac, lynx, or parti-color. There is a clear definition between the light body and darker points with no white hairs in the points. They always have white paws and bright blue eyes. Their fur is long and silky
- Birmans have a broad and round head with a wider nose and fuller cheeks.
- That long coat usually requires regular grooming in order to remove shedding hair. You should also make sure to regularly brush their teeth to prevent periodontal disease
- The coat of a Birman is a single lengthen one with no undercoat. They have a very fluffy tail and are not prone to matting, though they will shed and getting rid of the dead hair will make them more comfortable.
- Kittens are always born pure white and then their colors will come through as they grow up.
Birman cats are absolutely beautiful cats with their vivid blue eyes and long silky, seal point colored fur. Despite their build, they also tend to be rather dainty. They have a life expectancy of between twelve and sixteen years, though due to being a purebred cat, there are several health conditions you may have to watch out for, especially if you aren’t careful about the breeder. Although large, they are only somewhat sturdy and can fall prey to a number of health conditions.
Birman cats can also become overweight if you aren’t careful. They need to be fed quality food and have regular exercise to stave this off and keep them physically and mentally stimulated. If you leave them alone, they will tend to sleep or loaf a lot, which can cause health problems later in life.
What is the Temperament of the Birman Cat?
Birman cats are popular not only because of their looks, but also because of their temperament. They have a lot of the same beautiful looks of Siamese cats, but they aren’t nearly as bossy or vocal. Instead, they are laidback and not nearly as vocal, preferring to ‘chirp’ to talk to their humans rather than meow or yowl. Birmans are also very adaptable and enjoy a busy household with lots of people and even other animals (including dogs!) Birmans even enjoy being around children, so long as they are respectful (or at least well supervised).
Birman cats love people, so they are sometimes the victims of cat-napping. As a result, it’s a good idea to keep these cats indoors so that they can stay safe and healthy, and part of your family. They even enjoy being carried, cuddled, hugged, and cradled. (One could argue they are vaguely ridiculous in their love of attention and snuggles). They will follow people around the house, but they aren’t too demanding. They can be left alone for a few hours or more a day, though they will want plenty of attention once you get back.
Birman cats are known for following people around as they do their chores – they like hanging out while you are cooking, doing laundry or working (or gaming) on a computer, they may chirp at you to chat, and they like to loaf beside their humans while relaxing. Unlike many other breeds of cat, many of them also enjoy being picked up and hauled around, making them ideal for children who might treat them more like a stuffed animal!
Although quite laid back, Birman cats should still be introduced carefully to other cats and dogs, just be sure that everyone gets a safe chance to know one another. This is particularly important if your Birman isn’t fixed as that can engender some negative behaviors.
Birman cats are relatively intelligent, and they can be trained to do things like walk on a harness and leash, go on road trips, and sit in a cat carrier. Not all cats will enjoy this though, so it’s important to take it slowly and carefully. Some cats may never enjoy it and would prefer to stay at home with a cat-sitter (remember, people are all good for these cats!)
There is one thing to keep in mind with Birmans and that is that they can be somewhat territorial. They aren’t aggressive about it, but they can get slightly jealous if they don’t get enough attention. After all, they are the descendants of sacred temple cats!
Health and Common Conditions of the Birman Cat
One of the issues with purebred cats is the sheer number of health issues they can have. Birman cats are not exceptions to this and that means you have to be careful about the breeder you go through and proper testing. It’s also a good idea to budget money for extra vet visits above and beyond annual check-ups because Birmans are prone to several serious health conditions.
Minor issues that can come up include shaking and trembling in young kittens and kidney dysfunction. Birman cats are also prone to:
- Congenital hypotrichosis (condition of no hair growth)
- Thymic aplasia (no thymus which cascades into other health issues)
- Corneal dermoid (hair growing in the eyes which requires surgery to remove and usually regular follow-up)
- Spongiform degeneration (brain degeneration, leading to dementia and other mental health issues)
These are issues that will require the assistance of a vet to deal with and should be dealt with as soon as you notice symptoms or any of these things could make your cat seriously ill or even become fatal.
Male cats should be neutered or else they can be more aggressive to other male cats or wander off, as well as spray urine. Female cats can be noisy and prone to fighting if they live with another female cat, especially if they aren’t spayed. In either case, it’s a very good idea to spay or neuter your cat as it cuts down on the chances of many health conditions, makes them less likely to wander off, and make them less noisy.
It is extremely important, when looking at Birman kittens, to make sure you go through a reputable breeder. Not only will this ensure that you are actually getting what you pay for, but you can also ask after health records and try to minimize genetic illnesses and defect (as much as anything like that can be minimized). You also want to be sure that you aren’t going through a backyard breeder or one that doesn’t really know what they are doing.
Reputable breeders generally have a waiting list, so you will probably have to be patient before getting your kitten. In order to ensure a well adjusted pet, kittens are left with their mothers for at least twelve weeks before being sent to their new homes. This simple measure helps to ensure that kittens are more sociable and friendly.
What Type of Owner is the Birman Cat Best Suited For?
Birman cats are pretty good for many different types of owners, including those with larger families and lots of kids, people who work a normal sort of schedule and people with other pets like other cats and dogs. Birmans tend to be laid back and while they don’t want to be left alone for long periods of time, they can usually handle a workday and then give you very happy greetings when you get home.
Because Birman cats can be a bit territorial and love human attention, they shouldn’t be left alone for longer than the period of a workday without someone to check in. They also don’t do as well with other territorial cats, particularly females who are prone to squabbling. Other laid back animals are going to be best, along with a house where there is generally at least one other person there at all times – kids included.
People who travel frequently or don’t have the ability to bring in a trusted sitter is not going to be a good fit for this breed as they really like to be around people.
Although Birman cats are laid back and enjoy attention, it’s still a good idea to make sure they have somewhere safe to go ‘lair’ if they decide they want a rest from the social whirl. These cats also benefit from things like ‘catios’ or at least lots of windows so they can survey their kingdom and watch people and animals go by.
The Beautiful Birman Cat!
The Birman cat is one of the most popular long hair cats for a reason: they are beautiful, and they are very docile, getting along even with children. They are also fairly easy to groom, so long as it is done regularly. However, they usually require more vet visits than many other breeds (and certainly more than mixed breeds), which is something you’ll want to take into account when it comes planning for your cat’s life. You also usually have to be patient when waiting to get one as they tend to go fast from reputable breeders!
Assuming you are prepared to deal with the vet regularly, the Birman cat will pay you back in spades. They are gentle, affectionate, patient, and silky soft cats who love to be the center of attention. To quote Terry Pratchett, “In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” Given that they are still referred to as sacred, Birmans definitely understand their place is at the center of their household’s world! And really, who can blame them?
Do you have a Birman cat or want one now? What has your experiences been?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.