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Who’s That Cat? Let’s Hear It for the Himalayan

The "Himmie" is a "Persian in disguise" with eye-catching appearance and an interesting history.

Kim Campbell Thornton  |  Dec 28th 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our November/December 2016 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

If the Himalayan looks familiar to you, there’s a reason. You might assume that he’s a Persian of a different color, and, in a sense, you would be correct. The Himalayan is a Persian masquerading under an assumed name.

Called the Himmie for short, the Himalayan is a sweet cat with an eye-catching appearance and an interesting history. This beauty was born of a science experiment, but he’s no Frankencat.

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Photo by iStock

Living with a Himalayan

With the pushed-in face and long, fluffy coat of the Persian and the pointed color pattern of the Siamese, Himalayans have what some consider the best traits of two well-loved breeds. They are sweet and calm with a quiet voice, love human attention, and generally get along well with other pets.

Because of their love of people, Himalayans can be good family cats. They do best in homes with older children who won’t handle them roughly.

Himalayans are on the less active end of the feline activity spectrum, but they love to play and have been known to flip for fishing-pole toys. They can learn tricks like sit, shake, and lie down.

Himalayans weigh seven to 14 pounds, and they can have a long life span of 15 to 20 years.

himalayan cat on white

Gina Cioli / Lumina Media

Things you should know

You should love playing hairdresser if you want one of these cats. The Himalayan needs daily combing and brushing to stay beautiful and tangle-free and reduce the incidence of hairballs. During shedding season, twice-daily grooming may be necessary to keep the fur from flying. A weekly bath doesn’t hurt, and it’s a good idea to wipe the eyes daily to prevent tearstains.

Because of the Himmie’s long hair, it can take time for the points to fully develop.
Potential health problems that can affect the Himalayan are polycystic kidney disease (PKD), progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and hereditary congenital or juvenile cataracts. Their flat faces may predispose them to brachycephalic syn-
drome: breathing difficulties related to narrow nostrils, an elongated soft palate, or a narrow trachea. The tear ducts may overflow as well.

The Cat Fanciers’ Association classifies the Himmie as a color variety of Persian, but some other registries, including The International Cat Association, American Association of Cat Enthusiasts, American Cat Fancier’s Association, and Cat Fanciers Federation consider the Himalayan a stand-alone breed.

playful

Photo by iStock

History

The Himalayan first became a twinkle in someone’s eye in the early 1930s, when Harvard genetics researcher Clyde Keeler and cat breeder Virginia Cobb crossed Persian and Siamese cats to determine how certain traits were inherited. The first two litters produced shorthaired black kittens, but when they crossed cats from the first and second litters, each of them carried the recessive genes for long hair and a pointed coat. The result? A kitten named Newton’s Debutante, who had the pointed coat of the Siamese and the long hair of the Persian.

The Harvard researchers weren’t interested in creating a new breed, but at the same time, British breeders had been conducting similar crosses with the goal of producing a Persian cat with a pointed coat. World War II interrupted their efforts, but in 1950, an American breeder named Marguerita Goforth succeeded in breeding a cat with the desired look.

By 1955, British breeders were back on track. Their version of the cat was recognized by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) and named the Longhaired Colourpoint.

The ACFA and the CFA recognized the new breed, called the Himalayan in the U.S., in 1957. By the 1960s, other breed associations had followed suit.

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Photo by iStock

Fun facts

  • Unlike the Persian, which can have varying eye colors and even odd eyes, the Himalayan’s eyes come only in deep blue.
  • Persians are the second most popular breed registered by the CFA, and the Himalayan is one of the most popular of the Persian color varieties.
  • A Himalayan’s “points” — the darker color of the facial mask, paws, ears, and tail — can be chocolate, seal, lilac, blue, red, cream, tortoiseshell, blue-cream, chocolate-tortie, lilac-cream, seal lynx, blue lynx, red lynx, cream lynx, tortie lynx, blue-cream lynx, chocolate lynx, lilac lynx, chocolate-tortie lynx, and lilac-cream lynx. The lighter-colored body ranges from white to fawn.
  • The name Himalayan isn’t a reference to the mountain range but to the cats’ resemblance to Himalayan rabbits, which also have pointed coats.

About the author: Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning writer in Southern California. Her subjects include pet care, health and behavior, and wildlife and marine life conservation.