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Siamese Breed History

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Siamese Breed History

Siamese Cat | Breed Profile | Breed History | Breed Description

The Traditional Siamese is an intelligent, people-oriented cat which enjoys human companionship – whether it be as a lap warmer or chasing a toy. They are inquisitive and friendly, and like nothing better than to sit in the middle of something you are trying to read. They talk to their people in an affectionate, conversational way, With their calm temperaments, they are well-adapted to life in either a house or an apartment. They are not in perpetual motion – they have a fairly balanced activity level and are just as happy to chase a toy as to curl up in your lap for a snooze.

The Siamese is considered by many to be a “natural” breed – one that developed without the intervention of man. Pictures of seal-point Siamese cats appear in the manuscript “Cat-Book Poems”, written in Siam (now Thailand) sometime between 1350 and 1700.

  

There are a great many legends regarding the origin of the breed – especially the crossed eyes and kinked tails. According to some of the legends, the Siamese cat guarded Buddhist temples and was considered sacred – and was only kept by priests and royalty.

The first Siamese cats appeared in the West in the mid-to-late 1800s. Though initially described as “an unnatural, nightmare kind of cat”, they quickly became popular with fanciers, even though these early cats were delicate and subject to health problems.

These first cats had crossed eyes and kinked tails, characteristics which are now considered faults, and have almost completely disappeared as a result of careful breeding. Photographs from the late 1880s of some of the first cats to be imported from Siam show the thick, round heads and solid, muscular bodies that distinguish the Traditional Siamese from today’s show Siamese.

As the Siamese breed has developed over the years, some breeders have preferred the rounder look, while others have preferred a slender look with a wedge-shaped head. During the 1950s and 1960s, the differences became even more pronounced: show breeders developed an extremely slender cat with a very long, triangular head, almond-shaped eyes, and flaring ears.

This look caught on with show-oriented Siamese breeders and with judges. Other breeders, who did not like the new look, continued to breed the larger, round-headed cats. These “Traditional” breeders found that their cats were no longer competitive in the show ring and stopped showing. A great many also stopped registering their cats, though they continued their breeding programs with their existing purebred Siamese stock.

Today, Traditional Siamese cats are somewhat rare, though they seem to be making a comeback, as the breed is popular with pet buyers.

It should be pointed out that Traditional Siamese are purebred cats, descended from the original cats imported from Siam. A pointed cat that you find in the shelter, though it may look Siamese, is probably not a Traditional Siamese cat. Enough purebred Siamese cats have interbred with domestic cats over the years that the gene which creates the pointing pattern is found in a large number of cats, and some may look Siamese when in fact they have very little Siamese blood in them.

Genetics: The “pointing” gene creates the distinct color pattern that distinguishes the Siamese breed. This gene is recessive: two pointed parents will always produce pointed kittens. The Siamese kitten is pure white at birth – the gene that produces the “points” on the face, paws, and tail is heat sensitive, and the point color gradually develops on the cooler parts of the body.

In some breeding lines, and in warmer climates, the point color may not fully develop until the cat is over a year old. Older cats have a darker body color than young cats and kittens, though there is still a marked contrast between the body color and the point color.

The Seal Point Siamese is genetically a black cat, but the pointing gene causes the color to manifest almost exclusively on the points. As the cat matures, the creamy body color will usually give way to a light shade of the point color, particularly with seal and blue points. (For this reason, seal and blue point Siamese have relatively short careers as show cats – it’s rare to see one at a cat show over the age of 2. Chocolate and lilac points don’t darken as quickly and can be shown longer.)

The recognized colors are: Seal Point, Blue Point, Chocolate Point, and Lilac Point. The Red Point is not an accepted Traditional Siamese color, though it is an accepted Siamese color in some cat organizations. ~ Laura Gilbreath