Siamese Shorthair Cats
The Siamese is one of the first distinctly recognized breeds of Oriental cat. The breed originated in Thailand (formerly known as Siam), where they are one of several native breeds and are called Wichian Mat (a name meaning “moon diamond”). In the 20th century the Siamese cat became one of the most popular breeds in Europe and North America.
The pointed cat known in the West as “Siamese”, recognized for its distinctive markings, is one of several breeds of cats from Siam described and illustrated in manuscripts called “Tamra Maew” (Cat Poems), estimated to have been written from the 14th to the 18th century.
It is often said that the breed was first seen outside their Asian home in 1884, when the British Consul-General in Bangkok, Edward Blencowe Gould (1847-1916), brought a breeding pair of the cats, Pho and Mia, back to Britain as a gift for his sister, Lilian Jane Veley (who went on to co-found the Siamese Cat Club in 1901). However, in 1878, U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes received “Siam”, a gift from the American Consul in Bangkok; this cat was also the first documented Siamese to reach the United States, and predates the Siamese’s arrival in the UK by 6 years.
In 1885, Veley’s UK cats Pho and Mia produced three Siamese kittens. These kittens, Duen Ngai, Kalohom, and Khromata, and their parents were shown that same year at London’s Crystal Palace Show, where their unique appearance and distinct behavior made a huge impression. Unfortunately, all three of the kittens died soon after the show. The reason for their deaths is not documented.
By 1886, another pair (with kittens) was imported to the UK by a Mrs. Vyvyan and her sister. Compared to the British Shorthair and Persian cats that were familiar to most Britons, these Siamese imports were longer and less “cobby” in body types, had heads that were less rounded with wedge-shaped muzzles and had larger ears. These differences and the pointed coat pattern, which had not been seen before in cats by Westerners, produced a strong impression, one early viewer described them as “an unnatural nightmare of a cat.” These striking cats also won some devoted fans and over the next several years, fanciers imported a small number of cats, which together formed the base breeding pool for the entire breed in Britain. It is believed that most Siamese in Britain today are descended from about eleven of these original imports. In their early days in Britain, they were called the “Royal Cat of Siam,” reflecting reports that they had previously been kept only by Siamese royalty. Later research has not shown evidence of any organised royal breeding programme in Siam.
The original Siamese imports were, like their descendants in Thailand today, medium-sized, rather long-bodied, muscular, graceful cats with moderately wedge-shaped heads and ears that were comparatively large but in proportion to the size of the head. The cats ranged from rather substantial to rather slender but were not extreme in either way.
While this show quality specimen from 1960 still exhibits relatively moderate characteristics, the breed standard was setting the stage for the modern Siamese, with its call for a “dainty, long and svelte” body, a long head that “tapers in straight lines from the ears to a narrow muzzle”, “ears large and pricked, wide at the base” and tail “long and tapering”.
In the 1950s – 1960s, as the Siamese was increasing in popularity, many breeders and cat show judges began to favor the more slender look. As a result of generations of selective breeding, they created increasingly long, fine-boned, narrow-headed cats; eventually the modern show Siamese was bred to be extremely elongated, with a lean, tubular body, long, slender legs, a very long, very thin tail that tapers gradually into a point and a long, wedge-shaped head topped by extremely large, wide-set ears. The minority of breeders who stayed with the original style found that their cats were no longer competitive in the show ring.
By the mid-1980s, cats of the original style had disappeared from cat shows, but a few breeders, particularly in the UK, continued to breed and register them, resulting in today’s two types of Siamese, the modern “show-style” Siamese, and the “traditional” Siamese, both descended from the same distant ancestors, but with few or no recent ancestors in common. In the late 1980s, breeders and fans of the older style of Siamese organised in order to preserve old, genetically healthy lines from extinction; educate the public about the breed’s history; and provide information on where people could buy kittens of the more moderate type. Several different breeders’ organisations have developed, with differing breed standards and requirements (such as whether or not cats must have documented proof of ancestry from an internationally recognised registry). Partially due to such disagreements, there are several different names used for the cats, including “Traditional Siamese”, “Old Style Siamese”, “Classic Siamese”, and “Appleheads” (originally a derogatory nickname coined by modern-type Siamese breeders as an exaggerated description of less extremely wedge-shaped heads).
The International Cat Association (TICA), in addition to the regular Siamese breed category in which modern show-style Siamese are shown, now accepts a breed for Championship called Thai, similar to the Thaikatze which are seen in Europe. The TICA Thai includes Siamese cats of the less extreme type or a Wichian Mat imported from Thailand. The Thai is also recognized by the World Cat Federation.
The Thai or traditional Siamese shares some features with the Modern Siamese (e.g., the colour pattern and the short single coat, although not so short and “painted on” as the modern) but differs from it in head and body type. It has a “foreign” type (rather elongated, high on the legs, lithe but substantial, with medium boning) not an “oriental” type as in the modern Siamese and Oriental breeds and it has a modified wedge head, with rounded cheeks from which project a wedge-shaped muzzle (or “marten face” as it was called in 19th-century descriptions). The ears are moderately large and higher than those of the modern Siamese. The eyes are medium to slightly large, a full almond shape but not extremely “oriental.”
The breed standard of the Modern Siamese indicates an elegant, slim, stylish, flexible, and well-muscled body. Its head is triangular, with a thin snout. The eyes are almond-shaped and oblique, with large wide-based ears positioned more towards the side of the head. This positioning should form a perfect triangle from the tip of the nose to each tip of the ear. It has a long elegant neck and body and a wispy slender tail. The fur is short, glossy, fine, soft, tight, and adheres to the body with no undercoat. The Siamese is characterized by its typical pointed color scheme.
The pointed pattern is a form of partial albinism, resulting from a mutation in tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in melanin production. The mutated enzyme is heat-sensitive; it fails to work at normal body temperatures, but becomes active in cooler areas of the skin. This results in dark colouration in the coolest parts of the cat’s body, including the extremities and the face, which is cooled by the passage of air through the sinuses. All Siamese kittens, although pure cream or white at birth, develop visible points in the first few months of life in colder parts of their body. By the time a kitten is four weeks old, the points should be sufficiently clearly distinguishable to recognise which colour they are. Siamese cats tend to darken with age, and generally, adult Siamese living in warm climates have lighter coats than those in cool climates. Originally the vast majority of Siamese had seal (extremely dark brown, almost black) points, but occasionally Siamese were born with blue (a cool grey) points, genetically a dilution of seal point; chocolate (lighter brown) points, a genetic variation of seal point; or lilac (pale warm gray) points, genetically a diluted chocolate. These colours were at first considered “inferior” seal points, and were not qualified for showing or breeding. All of these shades were eventually accepted by the breed associations, and became more common through breeding programmes specifically aimed at producing these colours. Later, outcrosses with other breeds developed Siamese-mix cats with points in other cat colours and patterns including Red and Cream point, lynx (tabby) point, and tortoise-shell (“tortie”) point.
In the United Kingdom, all pointed Siamese-style cats are considered part of the Siamese breed. In the United States, the major cat registry, the Cat Fanciers’ Association, considers only the four original colourations as Siamese: seal point, blue point, chocolate point, and lilac point. Oriental cats with colourpoints in colours or patterns aside from these four are considered Colorpoint Shorthairs in the American cat fancy.
Many Siamese cats from Thailand had a kink in their tails but over the years, this trait has been considered a flaw and breeders have largely eradicated it, although it persists among street cats in Thailand. Siamese cats also have optical abnormalities. The same albino allele that produces coloured points means that their blue eyes lack a tapetum lucidum, a structure which amplifies dim light in the eyes of other cats. The mutation in the tyrosinase also results in abnormal neurological connections between the eye and the brain. The optic chiasm has abnormal uncrossed wiring; many early Siamese were cross-eyed to compensate, but like the kinked tails, the crossed eyes have been seen as a fault and due to selective breeding the trait is far less common today. Unlike many other blue-eyed white cats, Siamese cats do not have reduced hearing ability.
Siamese are usually very affectionate and intelligent cats, renowned for their social nature. Many enjoy being with people and are sometimes described as “extroverts”. Often they bond strongly to a single person. Some Siamese are extremely vocal, with a loud, low-pitched voice, known as “Meezer”, from which they get one of their nicknames that has been compared to the cries of a human baby, and persistent in demanding attention. These cats are typically active and playful, even as adults, and are often described as more dog-like in behavior than other cats.
They are sometimes less active at night than most cats, possibly because the lack of a tapetum lucidum gives them poor night sight relative to other cats.
Based on Swedish insurance data, Siamese and Siamese-derived breeds have a higher rate of mortality compared to other breeds. The median lifespan of the Siamese was somewhere between 10 to 12.5 years. Survival rate at 12.5 years was 42%. Based on the Swedish statistics, the majority of deaths were caused by neoplasms, mainly mammary tumors. The Siamese also has a higher rate of morbidity. They are at higher risk of neoplastic and gastrointestinal problems but have a lower risk of feline lower urinary tract disease. It should be noted that the Swedish insurance data only tracked cats up to 12.5 years, and it is estimated that less than 50% of pure-bred cats are insured in Sweden. In addition, the data does not differentiate between breeding cats and spayed/neutered cats, the latter group having significantly lower incidences of certain types of cancer (when spayed/neutered sufficiently early); nor does the data differentiate between indoor/outdoor and indoor-only cats (indoor-only cats have no risk of traumatic accidents in traffic, and are less likely to contract infections or viruses from other cats).
The most common variety of PRA -Progressive retinal atrophy in cats (among them the Abyssinian, the Somali and the big group of Siamese related breeds) is related to a mutation on the rdAc-gene and a DNA-test is available.