The Birman should not be confused with the Burmese Cat. Although their names may seem similar, they are completed different. The French word for Burma is Birmanie and Birman is simply the English version of this word. The Birman is still known as the Sacred Cat of Burma, and this relates back to the Kymer people of Burma who built temples for their Goddess Tsun-Kyan-Kse. In one such temple they had a solid gold statue with sapphire blue eyes. The priests that occupied these temples also kept white cats and legend has it that the head priest kept one of these cats, called “Sinh” as a close companion . After a raid on the temple, the elderly priest lay mortally injured and his cat came and stood on his body. As the priest died and his soul entered Sinh in front of the statue of the Goddess, the cats coat changed to the colour of a seal-point Birman with gold tipped coat and sapphire blue eyes and its paws turned white. Sinh lived for a week after the priest’s death, when the cat died and his soul and that of the priest entered into the afterlife, it is said that the very next day all the white cats in the temple also changed colour. This is when they became known as the Sacred Cats of Burma.
Whether you believe this legend or not, the first documented history does show that they originated in Burma – a female cat, heavily pregnant was taken to France from Burma in or around 1920. This cat looked very much like today’s Birmans so could possibly be the beginning of the Birmans we know and love today. During the 2nd World War the cat nearly became extinct, but after the war secret breeding took place in France and it wasn’t until around the mid 1960s that this breed came to the UK with the help of Elsie Fisher, who went on to form the Birman Cat Club in the UK. Elsie Fisher first came across the breed at a Paris Cat Show, fell in love with the breed and with her friend Margaret Richards imported one Seal point male and two Blue point females. “Paranjoti” then became the prefix for the start of the breed in the UK. In the late 1960s Elsie and Margaret started breeding Birmans under their own prefixes of “Praha” and “Mei hua” respectively.
They are a clever cat with a gentle personality, although a fairly quiet cat they do make conversation and are always interested in what you are doing. They enjoy playing and are very quick at picking up new tricks.
Birmans don’t generally have any serious health problems, but as with all cats they should be innoculated against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, and if they go outside they should be innoculated against Feline Leukaemia. Birmans have been known to live to the ripe old age of20, but as a general rule live to around 15 years.
Food and Diet
Birmans can become overweight, so keep an eye on the quantities you feed them. They are not considered to be fussy eaters, unless, of course, you let them be! As with some cats, cow’s milk can cause stomach upsets, so better to have water available at all times.
The Birman has no undercoat so although they have a thick coat it needs very little care. They are considered a semi-longhaired breed and knots and matts can form, but these can easily be prevented by a simple comb through every one or two days and this will keep their coat in a silky condition.
As we mention above, Birmans can be kept as house cats and will generally be happier at floor level and are unlikely to jump on to high perches. House cats are restricted by living space and will be less active, so you should keep a strict eye on what they eat to avoid them becoming overweight. If your Birman does go outside they will tend to keep themselves fit and active, so may not be as likely to put on weight as a cat that is kept purely indoors.
Birmans are quick to catch on to new tricks and will happily retrieve a toy for you. They are hugely interested in everything you do and will happily converse with you.