Last updated: March 10, 2017
When you imagine a cat, chances are you imagine a Siamese. That’s probably because there have been so many of them around for such a long time, since they’re one of the oldest established breeds ever. They’ve been on TV, in the movies, in cartoons, and everywhere else you can think of. So if your interested in this elegant, suave, inscrutable blue eyed cat you’ll want to know what makes him tick, and I’m here to tell you. It took me a long time to really get to know my Siamese “aristocat” and it took me even longer to find him a name! You can’t call this delicate beautiful creature “Fred!” So he is now “Kasem,” which is the Thai word for happiness!
Birth of the breed
The Siamese is one of the oldest established breeds. It was allegedly first shown in London in 1871, but other sources say that the first pairs, Pho and Mia, and Tiam O’Schian and Suzan, were brought from Siam by the British Consul in 1884. It was for that reason that they were called Siamese. (Siam is the old name for Thailand.) They also needed a name to distinguish them from “common” cats!
The breed soon reached the United States – and wow! What a sensation they caused! The demand for these beautiful creatures was so immense that a lot of dangerous and unscrupulous inbreeding was done, thereby weakening the breed. This meant that, since the gene pool was very small, genetic disorders became more prevalent. (Poor kitty!) The first Siamese cats exhibited certain characteristics that we don’t see any more. For instance, they were more cobby (thickset) than they are today, and less graceful.
Standards of the breed
Siamese cats have to conform to a very strict set of criteria in order to be a good example of the breed (what a good idea this doesn’t apply to humans – very few of us would meet the standard!) They should be slim, lithe, and as graceful as ballet dancers en pointe. The head should be wedge-shaped with a pointed chin and nose. They should also have lovely pointy ears and almond-shaped blue eyes. This is critical. If you are all of the above but you don’t have blue eyes – sorry pal, but you’re out of the Siamese club! In the beginning, tendency to squint was quite common, but in this day and age it’s considered a bad trait and should be avoided. Similarly, the kinked, or corkscrew tail, which gave rise to the legend of the Princesses of Siam keeping their rings on them, is a flaw.
Siamese are lively, exuberant and tenderly affectionate. They are also extremely playful to the point of hyperactivity. They are chatterboxes too, and their voices are very distinctive – harsh and penetrating. “A feline foghorn” would be an accurate description! They are very friendly, inquisitive, and if left on their own will find plenty of time to get up to mischief!
Siamese cats are prone to many medical conditions, both common to other cats and peculiar to themselves. They tend to suffer from lung infections, especially in kittenhood, and this makes things like using anesthesia even for simple short procedures like neutering quite problematic.
They can also suffer from feline OCD, psychogenic alopecia, a condition which causes them to overgroom to the extent that they can actually wear holes in their fur. (Honestly, some cats will do anything to keep clean!) This can be caused by chronic stress or some sort of trauma, and the usual treatment is antidepressants.
As mentioned before, some cats still carry the cross eye gene, which makes them look a tad comical but has absolutely no effect at all on their vision – or their ability to cause mischief! They are sometimes affected by a condition called agenesis of the upper eyelid, whereby the affected eyelid is underdeveloped.
Vestibular disease is another bugbear for our poor feline friends. The vestibular organ is that near-miraculous organ in a cat’s ear that makes it possible for it to land on its feet when falling from a great height. Sometimes a congenital condition will cause it to malfunction, and your poor kitty can suffer from all sorts of weird and not-so-wonderful symptoms. If he starts staggering and falling, tilting his head and looking as if he doesn’t know quite where he’s going, this is probably his problem. It usually disappears within a week or two but your superhero vet can give him anti-nausea medication to help him cope in the meantime. (He’s not on a catnip high – honest!)
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
Siamese are more liable than other cats to Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome, or twitch-skin syndrome, whereby the skin becomes hypersensitive. The cat can spend so much of its time biting, licking and scratching its back and tail that it can actually break the skin and produce raw bleeding patches. The condition also affects the central nervous system and can show itself at any age. It tends to be pedigree breeds like Siamese, Burmese and Abyssinians which suffer from it most. The purebred cats don’t have the resistance to a lot of things your common-or-garden moggy does because of their smaller gene pools. This is often called hybrid vigor.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
One of the most tragic conditions to affect Siamese and other Asian breeds is called Progressive Retinal Atrophy. This illness affects the retina and causes blindness in almost every case. It’s caused by a defective gene that’s passed from generation to generation, and is damages the light-receiving cells at the back of the eyes. This leads to night blindness then total blindness. Nowadays, the condition can be identified by DNA tests. The cat can be affected, a carrier of the gene, or free of it altogether. Only cats that are free of the defective gene can be permitted to reproduce.
Good veterinary care is the key to keeping your cat healthy, of course, and there are some problems to which all cats are particularly prone, such as dental problems and bladder infections. My cat has to eat a medicated cat food for the bladder problem, and you should see your vet for this, because your cat will be in a lot of pain and will tell you so. You should brush your cat’s teeth every day to keep the nasty tooth germs from attacking his mouth with their vicious assault weapons, because you don’t want your gorgeously appointed Siamese eating porridge for the rest of his life!
The Last Word…
Siamese cats are right up there among the most beautiful creatures on the planet, and among the most playful and mischievous and the best way to keep him happy is to love, love love him!