The Siamese cat
and its uni-coloured relatives
Character and colouring
The Siamese cat and all varieties developed from it through targeted breeding differ completely from other breeds of felines due to their slender build, their lively manner, their loud voices and their distinct family orientation.
The character of the Siamese is similar to that of a dog. It is characterised by curiosity, obstinacy, intelligence and is quick to learn. The Siamese is also renowned for its “talkative” nature and the use of its voice.
The Siamese is very sociable and extremely outgoing. It is not rare that befriended mother cats jointly raise their offspring. If Siamese cats are lonely the above features are lost and they waste away. In spite of this it values its independence, as all cats do. There is hardly a breed that is so loved by some and rejected by others.
Ninni & Pabbels (Cattery Maros Crias) with kittens, both girls are full litter sisters of our own cats
It is far from being a trend breed – as proven by the registration figures in the exhibition catalogues.
Siamese cats belong to the genus of slender-build cats. Slender build means: large body surface and thus better temperature adjustment to the environment as well as greater mobility and activity. Siamese cats are the thoroughbreds amongst cats. Their elongated bodies seem delicate and fragile, however, they are extremely muscular.
The deep blue colour of their eyes is unique and fascinating. Siamese kittens are always white at birth. The mask, which is typical for the breed, only forms at the cooler parts of the body and starts developing a few weeks after birth.
Meanwhile Siamese and Orientals are bred in virtually all colours. It is said that the different colour varieties sport different temperaments and characteristics. However, cat owners must decide for themselves what is to be believed of such judgements.
The Orientals belong to the same breed as the Siamese. However, contrary to these they are fully coloured and do not have a mask. Also, their eye colour – with the exception of the “Foreign White” – is always green.
Supposedly the masked cats were always rare, even in the old country of Siam and their keep was thus restricted to nobility and the royal families. One story is about a princess who particularly idolised her Siamese cats.
Every time the princess went for a bath she took off her jewellery and gave it to her favourite cat to guard. The cat allowed the princess to slip her rings over its tail. So as not to lose a ring the Siamese kinked its tail. This is supposedly how the famous kink in Siamese cats’ tails developed.
Another legend runs that the Siamese were held in palaces to guard the valuable goblets. The Siamese twisted their tails around the goblets and, after a while, could no longer straighten them out.
A further legend talks about how seriously the Siamese cats took their responsibility as guardians of objects in the temple. They incessantly stared at the objects to be guarded and went cross-eyed.
Indeed, many of the original cats had this so-called kinked tail and quite a few were cross-eyed. What used to be valued as the “genuineness” of a Siamese, is currently considered a deformation and is seen as a fault which excludes the cat from breeding.
In spite of intensive breeding attempts to eliminate these two deformations, they still occasionally appear.
The origins of the Siamese are indisputably to be found in the former Siam, or Thailand as it is called now, with its subtropical climatic zones which of course explains the cat’s increased requirement for warmth. In contrast to most other breeds of cats the Siamese does not have a thick undercoat, which makes it a companion easy to care for.
There are only assumptions on the development of this slender, beige-coloured cat with dark markings, which are caused by the so-called Himalaya factor.
The deceased behavioural scientist Dr Paul Leyhausen, who used to work at the Max Planck Institut assumed that Siamese cats developed by crossing Asian house cats with Bengal cats. However, this statement is based on an assumption and is not scientifically proven.
Initial mentions of the Siamese in literature date back to 1350. In Bangkok’s National Library there is an illustration of Seal Point Siamese in the “Cat Book Poems”. The author Phra Nakhon dedicated this book to the Siamese cat on the occasion of the foundation of the city of Ayutthaya.
As early as the beginning of this century tourists in the north-eastern province of Korat described two types of slender built cats. One was a stony-grey Si-Sawat with green eyes, which was most likely the predecessor of today’s Korat cat and a beige-coloured cat with black markings and blue eyes which looked very similar to the Seal Point of today.
As recently described by travellers to Thailand, individual masked cats are still to be seen in parts of Thailand today, which, however, have bred with the native house cat population and do not correspond with the slender-build type.
Cats of Thailand
A pictorial record of cats in Bankok and Southern Thailand
Siamese cats were occasionally to be seen in the various zoos in Europe during the last century.
The Siamese cat has been successfully bred since approximately 1890. The first cats were displayed to the public in the first British cat exhibition in London’s Crystal Palace on July 18, 1871. Public reaction was quite varied. A critic of the time described the animals as being a nightmare of a cat.
It is known that the British Consul-General in Bangkok, Owen Gould, introduced a couple of Siamese to Great Britain in 1884, and started breeding these. Unfortunately, these cats did not have a long life expectancy. After all, little was known about the requirements and the habits of these exotic animals. Their resistance was insufficient to defy the unfavourable climatic conditions. At the time no vaccinations existed against infections and serious mistakes were made with regard to their keep. The cats were kept in greenhouses and wintergardens, shielded away, and they were fed with bread soaked in milk. This resulted in deficiencies, intestinal diseases, infections and thus, early death.
Siamese cats were imported to Great Britain over and over again until cat owners realised that light, air, sun, movement and a diet containing meat and fish, as well as water, would keep cats healthy.
From that point onward the breeding of Siamese cats really took off.
In 1895 America’s first cat exhibition took place. Even in the USA these exotic masked cats were already known and sold for princely prices.
Between 1940 and 1960 the breeding of Siamese cats expanded worldwide. More than 100-150 Siamese registered at an exhibition were not rare and demand was high.
At that time a breeder in North America had the idea to meet the demand for the still extremely expensive and rare Siamese cats by cross-breeding Siamese with house cats. It was quickly detected that the offspring of this cross-breeding bore the desired masks and that on back-crossing these animals with a Siamese one obtained the desired masked offspring. This was the origin of the “Apple-Head” Siamese which were presented to the broad public in great numbers during the forties.
A large number of these cross-bred cats were used in the breeding of Siamese and shaped the image of the Siamese cat. To this day, this topic is still a bone of contention among breeders of Siamese and Thai cats.
It cannot be denied that the origins of the Siamese, around the turn of the century, were distinctly different from the ideal type today. The breeding standards of Siamese and Thai cats are very similar. I would say that the Siamese is at the upper end of the standards scale whilst the Thai cat is to be found at the lower end. Personally, I believe that the term “Traditional Siamese”, used for Thai cats is somewhat ambiguous. After all, the previous standard already defined a long-legged, slender cat with an elongated, marten-like face. Today’s slender-build cat would correctly have to be determined the traditional type. However, dedicated Thai cat breeders exist nowadays who try to retain the old type without cross-breeding of other breeds and are very successful in so doing. Many highly decorated Siamese can be found in these pedigrees. The Siamese is not only characterised by its external appearance but also by its features which are characteristic of the breed. However, cross-breeding with cats of foreign breeds is to be rejected as this would mean losing the typical characteristics of this breed. The rest is all a matter of taste and the name is peripheral. A bit more tolerance by both sides would be helpful.
After a while the breeders of other breeds of cats also utilised the unusual masking. Thus the “masks” can be found with very different breeds, such as the colour-point Persians, the sacred Birman, the Ragdoll, the various Rex cats and the Sphinx, to name a few. The violet blue eyes are, however, not achieved with these breeds.
Currently, the Siamese is anything but a trend breed. However, over many centuries it has retained a permanent circle of admirers.
Breeding standards hundred years ago
The first breeding standard of the “Royal Cats of Siam” was determined in Great Britain in 1892. In 1902 a revised version was established by the British “Siamese Cat Club” which still exists to this day and is one of the oldest and largest special clubs in the breeding of pedigree cats. It was already determined then, that the Siamese was to correspond with a slender, long-legged cat with a marten-like, elongated face and a long, fine tail.
In 1937 our Swiss neighbours held their own first cat show.
At this show 11 short-tailed and 29 long-tailed Siamese, which were judged in separate classes, were presented to the public. However, as the British standard was taken over by the European countries, the short-tailed Siamese no longer corresponded with this standard are the breeding of these cats was discontinued.
The United States defined their own standard in 1914, which was recognised by the CFA (The Cat Fancier’s Association) in 1927.
Around the turn of the century, the ideal type was a medium-sized cat, robust but elegant, with balanced proportions. It had a triangular head with wide-spread, large ears. However, it was far from the current type of slender-build cat which only developed through targeted breeding.
Intern. Champion Doneraile Leo
Best Shorthair Cat 1955,56,57, Owner: E. Eytzinger
The current standard
Siamese and Oriental short-hair are judged according to a joint standard to assess their general appearance.
Their bodies are slender, elongated and of medium size. The long, slim legs have small oval feet. The very long tail is thin at the root and tapers to the end. The lines of the wedge-shaped head run – while gradually widening on both sides of the head – from the tip of the nose to the big pointy ears, which are deep and wide at their root, thus elongating the sides of the wedge. The nose lengthens the line of the forehead whilst chin and tip of the nose form a vertical line. Chin and jaw are of medium size, the eyes as well, which are not to lie too deep but should also not be project and should be slightly slanted (almond-shaped) so that they harmonise with the wedge-shaped head.
The term “point” with regard to Siamese expresses that the cats sport the relevant colouring at the cooler regions of their body (face, ears, legs and tail), as uniformly as possible. The mask covers the entire face and is connected with the ears through traces of colouring. However, it should not extend over the skull. Too dark a colouring on the back is undesirable.
These days breeders focus on only few characteristics. The Siamese should be a harmonic and balanced cat in all respects. Small, petite cats with a large skull are just as unacceptable as the recently increasing number of cats which sport enormous, laterally positioned ears, reminiscent of a cobra ready to strike.
Siamese and Orientals are currently bred in a variety of colours. In the United State the term Siamese may only be used to describe the so-called classic colours seal, chocolate, blue and lilac point. All other colour varieties are combined under the term “shorthair colourpoint”.
Siamese - classic colours
Seal Point, black mask, first in 1892 anrecognized variety Shantoga Sinsianna
Chocolate Point, chocolate mask En Tenere´s Gazzal
Blue Point, blue mask, genetic dilution of black Okonor Facer
Lilac Point, light-grey mask with rosa glow, genetic dulution of chocolate
Red Point, red mask
Creme Point, creme mask, genetic dilution of red
Foreign White, white self with turner blue eyes, is genetic a siamese (mask) cat