A seal point Birman
|Alternative names||Sacred Birman, Sacred Cat of Burma|
|Domestic cat (Felis catus)|
The Birman, also called the "Sacred Cat of Burma", is a domestic cat breed. The Birman is a long-haired, colorpointed cat distinguished by a silky coat, deep blue eyes and contrasting white "gloves" or "socks" on each paw.
The breed name is derived from Birmanie, the French form of Burma. The Birman breed was first recognized in France by the Cat Club de France in 1925, then in England by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) in 1966 and in United States by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in 1967. It is also recognized by the Canadian Cat Association (CCA), and by The International Cat Association (TICA) in 1979.
There is no clear record of the breed's origin. They are most often claimed to have originated as the companions of temple priests in Northern Burma in the Mount of Lugh. There are many stories extant of how the cats first came to France, including pairs of cats being given as a reward for helping defend a temple, or being smuggled out of Burma by a Vanderbilt. Another pair of Birmans (or a pregnant female called Poupée de Maldapour) were said to have been stolen and later imported to France by Thadde Haddisch. The first traces of historical Birmans go back to a Mme Leotardi in the city of Nice in France.
Birmans were almost wiped out as a breed during World War II. Only two cats were alive in Europe at the end of the war, a pair named Orloff and Xenia de Kaabaa, both belonging to Baudoin-Crevoisier. The foundation of the breed in postwar France were offspring of this pair. They had to be heavily outcrossed with long-hair breeds such as Persian and Siamese to rebuild the Birman breed. By the early 1950s, pure Birman litters were once again being produced. The restored breed was recognized in Britain in 1965 and by the CFA in 1966  The first Birman cats were seal point. The blue point colour was introduced in 1959 using blue Persian lines. New colours were later added by English breeders including chocolate, red, and lynx (tabby) points. Birmans have also been used in the development of new breeds, notably including the Ragdoll.
Birmans have a medium-sized, rectangular body with a broad face and distinct Roman nose. Their ears are ideally as wide on the base as they are tall and should be set as much on top of the head as on the side. The eyes are rounded and should be a deep sapphire blue.
The Birman's fur is medium-long and should have a silky texture. Unlike a Persian or Himalayan, they have no undercoat, and are thus much less prone to matting. Coat colour is always pointed, save for the contrasting pure white, symmetrical "gloves" on each paw that are the trademark of the breed. The white must involve all toes and in front must stop at the articulation or at the transition of toes to metacarpals. These gloves should extend noticeably further up the back of the leg (referred to as the "laces"), finishing with an inverted V extended 1/2 to 3/4 up the hock. Any other spot of white on the points is considered a serious fault. The base body colour is white to cream, with a wash of color that corresponds to the points but is much paler.
Recognized point colours are seal, chocolate, blue, lilac (a softer silver-grey), red or cream. Tabby and tortie variations in seal, chocolate, blue or lilac are also allowed; other colours are in development.
Like all colourpoint breeds, Birman kittens are born white and begin developing their points after one week if a dark color (i.e. seal point) and 14 days or more if the points are "clear" or lighter-colored (i.e. lilac point). Their coat does not reach full development until the cat is two years old.
The 2008 study The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide Random-bred Populations by Lipinski et al. conducted at UC Davis by the team led by leading feline geneticist Dr Leslie Lyons found that the Birman has one of the lowest levels of genetic diversity of all the breeds studied.
The most severe threat is feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart disease seen in cats. In Birman cats, it is thought to be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. HCM is a progressive disease and can result in heart failure, paralysis of the hind legs due to clot embolization originating in the heart, and sudden death.
Birman naming conventions
Many Birman breeders follow the French tradition of assigning all kittens born in a particular year given names that begin with the same letter of the alphabet. Countries with breeders using this convention include Canada, France, UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand.
Kittens born in 2014 would be L, and in 2015 M, and so on.
- Cat Fanciers Association Breed Article: The Sacred Cats of Burma Retrieved Apr 16, 2010
- "Governing Counil of the Cat Fancy". Retrieved 8 October 2014.
- TICA. "The International Cat Association". Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- Le Chat. Races - Élevage - Maladies Paris: Vinot Frères ed. 1926, pp.40-41. Dr. Philippe Jumaud
- Les races de ChatsSaint Raphaêl: 1930: Ed. des Tablettes, pp.52 Dr. Philippe Jumaud
- Interview of Simone Poirier by Gisele Barnay Interview from the book Les Secrets du Chat Sacré de Birmanie ISBN 2-85182-335-3
- 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. PMC 2267438. PMID 18060738.
- "The Birman Health Foundation". The Birman Health Foundation. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
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