Last updated: February 18, 2017
The lively, adventurous Oriental is really just a Siamese in a different color. He comes in long and shorthaired varieties and is guaranteed to liven up any party.
The Oriental is built very much like a Siamese cat. They are small to medium sized cats, generally weighing 5 to 10 pounds. The body is long and tubular in shape, elegant, graceful and svelte. They are fine boned cats but, despite appearances, quite athletic and should be well muscled though lithe. They have long, slender legs with the hind legs being slightly longer than the forelegs. The tail is also long and tapers to a point. In short coated cats it is whippy in appearance while the longer haired cats have a plumy tail.
The head sits atop a long and slender neck. It is a wedge shaped head that is quite angular rather than rounded. The eyes are on the large side with a slant towards the nose. They are almond shaped and the preferable color is green for all coat colors except solid white and parti-colored cats. In those cases the eyes may be green, blue, or odd eyed. The ears are extremely large and very wide set so that they flare out from the head as a continuation of the skull’s wedge shape. On longhaired cats, they will be well furnished.
The coat comes in hundreds of different colors and all colors and patterns, except for the traditional Siamese pointed colors, are allowed. There are two coat lengths. The short coated cats have a very fine, short coat that is tight and lies close to the body. The longhaired cats have semi-long hair that lies close to the body with very little undercoat. It is fine and silky in texture. Regular brushing of the longhaired cat will keep it in good shape.
The two World Wars in the 20th century decimated many breeding programs, leaving many breeds with few representatives and in need of a gene pool replenishment. In England, one such breed was the Siamese. To increase Siamese populations, breeders bred them to British Shorthairs, Abyssinians, Russian Blues, and domestic shorthaired cats. The resulting cats were then bred back to Siamese cats to bring the pointed colors back. The intermediate cats though looked a lot like Siamese except for the color and they were great pets. A new breed was born, the Oriental Shorthair. Eventually, the longhaired gene was also added in to produce Oriental Longhairs.
In the beginning, though these colored cats were named for their colors and each one considered an individual breed. Examples of these breeds include the Foreign White, the Havana, and the Oriental Spotted Tabby. However, this soon became increasingly complicated as the sheer number of colors kept increasing. One of the crosses that did lead to its own breed was the chocolate point Siamese crosses, initially known as Havanas, which were the ancestor of the Havana Brown.
The breed was exported abroad and came to North America in the 1970s. As they were interbred with local cat breeds such as the American Shorthair, new colors became possible as well. As noted in the appearance section, there are literally hundreds of different colors of Orientals. Today, Orientals may only be bred to other Orientals but the wide range of crosses used in creating the breed ensured a large, healthy gene pool as well as an almost infinite color range.
Orientals generally live long and healthy lives. Like all members of the Siamese family, they are prone to nystagmus (involuntary rapid eye movements), crossed eyes, hepatic amyloidosis, hyperesthesia syndrome, and aortic stenosis. All breeding cats should be tested for heart issues and have a DNA test for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).
Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes, is more common in Orientals than in some other breeds. Likewise, megaesophagus is known to occur slightly more frequently in Orientals and related breeds. The latter is a gastrointestinal disease that involves an enlargement of the esophagus. This leads to difficulty swallowing and tends to become apparent after the kittens are weaned from their mother. It can be treated with medication and elevation of the food bowl can also help make eating easier. It is often a manageable condition but does require treatment to avoid malnutrition and weight loss.
Like the Siamese, the Oriental is a busybody cat. He wants to be involved in absolutely everything and he has an opinion on everything too. This is a cat that is very oriented towards his people. Most, like strangers too but some will choose to only interact with their family. He wants to be with you at all times and does his best to insert himself into all activities in the household. A very vocal cat, the Oriental does not hesitate to share his opinion on things with his family. He will not only converse, he will also lecture, scold, and recount the details of his day to anyone willing to listen.
Like Peter Pan, the Oriental is forever youthful and playful. Any toy will do and if none are on hand, they will make a game up using a crumpled piece of paper, a box, or anything else they can find. These are intelligent, inventive cats. They are also avid climbers and jumpers and love to explore high places in the home. Knick knacks and breakables should be safely tucked away. A tall cat tree is an excellent investment for them.
They are dexterous and many will put their skills to use by learning to open purses, cupboards, and other places you didn’t plan on having them investigate. They will learn the rules if you teach them and, like a Golden Retriever, will gladly spend hours fetching small balls, toys, and even crumpled pieces of paper.
As with most cats that are so people oriented and tend to want to interact with their families constantly, the Oriental does not do well when left on his own. He needs company whether it is human, another cat, or a cat friendly dog. The Oriental will gladly play with children and can be extremely affectionate with them. This is a great family pet for busy homes with lots of activity.