Much speculation surrounds the early development of the Birman breed, a cat that is also popularly known as the ‘Sacred Cat of Burma.’ It is widely believed that the Birman developed in Northern Burma’s Mount of Lugh, where it was selectively bred by temple priests. Like most other varieties, the Birman faced near extinction during WWII but it was resurrected by the careful breeding efforts of Baudoin-Crevoisier who bred from his two remaining Birman. It was thanks to these cats, Orloff and Xenia, that the Birman was not lost altogether. The Cat Fanciers Association recognised the breed in 1967, and the International Cat Association officially recognised it 12 years later.
The original Birman was of a medium size, with moderate length hair, relatively small ears, a pale coat and blue eyes. White gloves are observed in the breed, with any other area of white being considered a fault. The Birman breed standard stipulates that it should have a golden or eggshell coloured coat, with markings in a variety of colours. These include red, chocolate, seal, blue, lilac and cream. Colour pointing appears on the ears, nose and tail and these come about at the age of 1 week (for Birmans of seal-point) and at 14 days (for Birmans of lilac-point). The Birman is only a moderate shedder, making it a suitable breed choice for the house-proud.
The Birman is described as a gentle, affectionate and docile breed with a genuine love of people, especially its owner and family. Highly sociable and inquisitive, the Birman enjoys plenty of interaction and will communicate softly when it wants attention. Compatible with children and other house pets when introduced to them gradually, the Birman is well suited to indoor or outdoor living and benefits from plenty of mental enrichment throughout the day. Interactive toys, scratching posts and lots of space for exercise and play is essential with this breed. On average, a healthy Birman will weigh 6-12 pounds, with a typical life expectancy of 12-16 years.
Certain health complaints are identified in the Birman. These range from mild and treatable to more serious. Potential problems include congenital hypotrichosis – a condition that causes hair loss, thymic aplasia – an immune deficiency, and corneal dermoid – a complaint that is characterised by hair and skin on the surface of the eye, requiring surgical intervention. Sprongform degeneration is also documented in the breed although not with any great prevalence – this is a progressive disease that causes the nervous system to fail.