Breeds
Birman cat face.

All About the Birman Cat Breed

What is it like to live with a Birman cat? Where did this breed get his name? What colors do Birman cats come in?

Kim Campbell Thornton  |  Jan 21st 2019


Playful. Smart. Peaceable. All of these characteristics combine in the feline originally known as the “sacred cat of Burma.” While that moniker makes it sound as if the Birman cat has been around for centuries, little is known of the breed’s history before the cats were exported to France in the early 20th century. Their beauty and affection captivated cat lovers, who remain fans of the breed today, prizing the long-haired lovelies for their affectionate nature.

A brief introduction to the Birman cat

A Birman cat, full length.

A Birman cat, full length. Photography ©ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo.

Forget any expectation of privacy if a Birman cat joins your household. The “white glove” cats are docile and placid, but social to the max, following their humans everywhere, including to the bathroom. So beware closing a door to a Birman.

“They will yell at you,” says Birman cat owner Jinger Walton.

Birmans are a restful breed, plopping themselves down for a nap wherever seems most comfortable, even if — or maybe especially if — that’s inconvenient for you. But their sweet and gentle nature makes up for any slight annoyance. And really, who could be annoyed by the presence of such a beautiful cat smack dab on top of your book, electronic device or head?

“My Birman boy stole my heart the first time I saw his face,” says owner Susan Williams. “Each day I love him more, and I have had him for eight years.”

Don’t get a Birman if you aren’t prepared for a cat who will run your life.

“You don’t own a Birman,” says owner Wendy Simonsen. “They own you.”

A Birman cat is your constant companion

  1. Sensitive but never aloof, Birmans prefer a quiet, indoor lifestyle, although some enjoy walks on leash, outdoor play in a cat-safe yard and splashing in water. They love to be held and spoiled. Don’t be surprised if your Birman burrows beneath the bedspread at night.
  2. Birmans typically love children, especially if they can turn them into playmates. They are patient with petting and demonstrative with their affection. They also get along well with dogs — frequently described as “doglike” themselves — as well as with other cats.
  3. Birmans are polite but can be vocal when they want something or if left home alone. With their social nature, they can be good therapy cats or simply household greeters. They maintain their love of play well into adulthood.
  4. Birmans are smart and learn household routines quickly. They are also good trainers themselves, teaching their humans to give them frequent changes in food types and flavors.

The history of the Birman cat

Birman cat close up.

How did the Birman cat get her name? Photography ©Vadimborkin | Getty Images.

The name for the Birman cat comes from the French word Birmanie, referring to the nation of Burma (now Myanmar). Many stories tell how they came to France from Burma, ranging from being given as a reward for helping to defend a temple to being smuggled out by wealthy admirers. It’s said that they originated as companions to Buddhist priests, but there’s no real documentation of their history. A French cat club recognized the breed in 1925. The breed nearly disappeared during World War II, with only two Birmans remaining in France. They were “rebuilt” with crosses to Persians and likely other breeds.

Britain’s Governing Council of the Cat Fancy recognized Birmans in 1966, followed by the Cat Fanciers’ Association in 1967 and The International Cat Association in 1979. Currently, Birmans are the 16th most popular breed recognized by CFA. They have been used to develop new breeds, including Ragdolls.

What you should know about the Birman cat

  1. No Birman cat owner’s clothing is complete without a sprinkling of cat hair. Expect to purchase lint rollers frequently and advise guests that cat fur is considered a condiment in your home. The good news is that the single-coated cats don’t usually mat. Run a comb through the hair daily to remove loose hair and help prevent hairballs.
  2. Birmans may have a genetic predisposition to wool-sucking, an obsessive behavior.
  3. Birmans are generally healthy, but they can be prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. They typically have a long life span of 15 or more years.

Fun Facts About the Birman cat

  1. Birmans are born white, with points appearing as kittens mature.
  2. Birmans have silky coats and sapphire-blue eyes. Their outstanding characteristic is “gloves and laces” — white markings that cover all four paws as well as partially up the hind legs (the “laces”).
  3. The Birman cat originally came only in sealpoint. Later, blue, chocolate, red, lynx (tabby) and other colors were added.

Tell us: Do you have a Birman cat?

Thumbnail: Photography ©Vadimborkin | Getty Images.

About the author:

Kim Campbell Thornton has been writing about cats and dogs for more than 30 years. She is the award-winning author of more than two dozen books and hundreds of articles on pet care, health and behavior.

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

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