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April 18, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 5 Faves: 0

The Birman

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Feline 101 Blog Series

Birman CatBirman Cat Stats

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Cat of the Week: The Birman

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Birman Cats

Birman Cat

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Fun Facts About Birman Cats

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  • As is the case with many ancient cat breeds, the origins of the Birman (not be confused with the Burmese), depend on whom you are speaking to. In the Birman’s case, there are three main stories circulating to explain their unique look.
  • My favorite starts centuries ago in the Buddhist temples of Burma (now called Myanmar). There, the legend goes, under the guidance and protection of Tsun-Kyan-Kse, the goddess of transmutation, priests who passed away were reborn as the pure white temple cats. Among these, was Shin, a faithful companion to Mun-Ha, a priest and particularly devoted worshiper of Tsun-Kyan-Kse. Every day Shin would follow Mun-Ha through his priestly duties, and every night Shin would pray alongside him to the goddess. That is until one day, when thieves came to steal from the temple and struck down Mun-Ha as he tried to protect it.  As Mun-Ha lay dying on the temple floor, heartbroken Shin came to him, placing his paws on his face and looking to the statue of Tsun-Kyan-Kse pleading for her mercy. As he did, Shin began to Birman Cat Legendchange. The goddess, pleased by Shin’s loyalty, dusted his fur with gold, changed his yellow eyes to brightest sapphire, and made his face, tail, and legs brown like the stable, and constant earth. Only Shin’s feet, still touching his friend remained white – a mark of Mun-Ha’s purity. As Shin refused food or water for the next seven days, all the other temple cats changed as he did, and when he finally died, Shin carried Mun-Ha’s spirit into paradise.
  • Today, the Birman cats are commonly referred to as “Sacred Cats of Burma.”
  • The other two more scientific accounts of the modern Birman’s origins begin the same with two cats’ trip from Tibet to France in 1919, but they differ in their reason for the cats going there. One says the cats were a gift to a French couple for aiding in the escape of Tibetan priests. Others claim a disgruntled servant in the Lao-Tsun temple sold them to a gentleman that was visiting there. The two stories converge once again however, in saying that while the female Birman, Sita, arrived in France pregnant with the male Birman, Maldapour’s kittens, Maldapour died on his way to France. Those kittens became the European foundation for the breed and the multicultural breeding program.
  • The Cat Fanciers’ Association asserts that Birmans carry characteristics from all countries that played a part in the modern Birman’s development. On their website they describe its traits this way - “The countries that nourished the Birman cat have imparted their national traits to this mysterious breed: the French, their flair for drama; the Gallic, their loving and affectionate nature; the English, their dignity and reserve; the Germans, their patience and practicality; the Australians, their adventurous spirit; and the Americans, their ingenuity. Add a touch of Far Eastern inscrutability, stir them together, and what you get is a Birman.”
  • Because of their French roots, many Birman breeders follow the French tradition of naming kittens by starting with the letter assigned to the year they were born. 2013 is a ‘K’ year. 2014 will be a ‘L’ year, 2015 is an 'M' year and so on, and so forth.

Birman Kittens

Birman Kitten

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How to Spot a Birman Cat

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Gloved FeetGloved Feet. I must admit, cat lady that I am, even I would have trouble telling a color-pointed Ragdoll from a Birman cat IF it weren’t for those adorable mitted feet - and not simply mitted, “gloved” and “laced” as well. Seriously. I’m not making that up. It’s the official language used to describe the breed’s marking standards and curiously, it’s also a breed standard which for all my looking, seems to be reserved specifically for Birmans! Apparently, while mitted feet are simply white, the ideal “gloved” feet feature white back feet markings which Birman Kitten with Gloved Feetstretch up the foot slightly to make a sort of elongated tear drop formation. The top portion of the teardrop marking is, presumably, the “lacing.” (As shown right.) However, as with Siamese cats, Birmans are born white and only later develop the dark leg marking which define their gloves.

Long Color-Pointed Fur. Love long-haired cats, but dread the grooming and potential for mats?  The Birman may be the perfect cat for you! Breed standards call for a medium long to long coat of silken fur that ruffs around the neck and does not mat. As for color, while all Birmans have the primarily white “gold dusted” body, point colors do vary. TICA recognizes a large variety of color and patterns, pointed, tortie particolor, lynx particolor, and torbi particolor in seal, blue, chocolate, lilac, Roman Cat Nosecinnamon, fawn, red, and cream. The CFA however, recognizes just one pattern – pointed – and just four colors – seal, blue, chocolate, and lilac.

Round Blue Eyes, Roman Nose. If you’re looking at a golden or green eyed kitty, chances are, it’s not a Birman. While colors and patterns can vary from Birman to Birman, the eyes should only be one color – brilliant jewel blue – the deeper and more violet toned in appearance, the better according to breed standards. Another giveaway?  Their profile. While many people mistake the Birman for the Himalayan, Himalayans are flat faced cats. The Birman has a “Roman shaped” profile with a gently sloping nose.

Birman Cats

Birman Cat

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What to Expect from a  Birman Cat

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A Docile Cat. While some cats are totally independent-minded, accepting attention only on their terms, and squirming and evading attempts to hold them, Birman cats, like the Ragdolls that resemble them, are EXTREMELY docile. Combined with the fact that they’re very friendly and not especially energetic, if you want pick up a Birman, rub their tummy, or even make them do a little kitty dance, they probably won’t fight you.

A Quiet Cat. Unlike the most famous cat breed originating from Asia - the Siamese - the Birman tends to be a very quiet cat. When they do speak, the CFA describes their voices as “soft” and “chirp-like, ” but they’re more likely to use their body language and beautiful face to get what they want.

A People Cat. Yes, just as there are “cat people”, there are “people cats”, and the Birman definitely falls into this category! Whether you’re lying down with a good book or making dinner in the kitchen, these are cats that want to be with you. And their friendliness is not just for their family either. Unlike many breeds, Birmans greet strangers rather than hide from them and don’t particularly like being only pets. They’ll want a dog or another kitty friend to keep them company. Perhaps, originating as sacred temple cats they are just used to be adored, but whatever the reason, the Birman loves to be loved. And really, who could resist?

Birman Kittens

Birman Kittens

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More Birman Cats!!!

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Birman Kitten

Birman Cat

Birman Cat

Birman Kitten

SOURCES

VetStreet: Birman

Animal Planet: Cat Breed Directory: Birman

The Cat Fanciers’ Association: Birman Breed Profile

PHOTO CREDIT

St. Ifferini Birman

Janicskovskt@flickr

mwri@flickr

Gianluca Neri@flickr

taytomFFM@flickr

caludiabirmans@flickr

SacroBirmania.com@flickr

jjgod@flickr

Nik Morris (van Leiden)@flickr

scadwell@flickr

Michael Needs More Photo Time@flickr

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5 Comments

  • Wait... what's with the French tradition of naming kittens by corresponding the chronology of the alphabet with each new year? Is this how they name their humans too???

    If so, I feel really bad for their kindergarten teachers.

  • I believe this tradition is just for animals, but it's entirely possible there are people in France that extend it to their own children. haha

  • I'm in LOVE! I would love to have a Birman! Great article.

  • Thanks, Victoria! I have more cats than I really need already, but I'd love to have one too. They're gorgeous and I love their history. :)

  • I love the eyes on these kitty pics! so so cute.

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