The Havana was the first of the Oriental breeds to be developed from the Siamese, and is essentially a cat of Siamese shape and temperament, but with a rich warm chestnut brown all over, rather than having the different coloured 'points' (ears, face, legs and tail) of the Siamese. Although the colour was originally described as Havana (after the chestnut colour of a Havana cigar) the breed was originally registered as a Chestnut Brown Foreign. They were later known as Havana Browns, but became known simply as a Havana when all the different colours of Oriental cats were first grouped together in the 1980s. This breed is still known as a Havana Brown in the USA.
It is thought that cats resembling the modern day Havana were imported to the UK from Thailand in the 1800s, but numbers gradually diminished and by the end of the Second World War they had disappeared. In the early 1950s, a UK breeder called Isobel Munro-Smith had been trying to breed Siamese with black points (as opposed to seal brown), which she did by mating Seal Point Siamese with black shorthaired cats. In 1952 she had a litter with 3 black kittens, and was thrilled to discover a brown male kitten with similar shape to a Siamese with the same characteristically large ears and long tail. The kitten was named Elmtower Bronze Idol, and is generally acknowledged as the first recognised Havana from whom all Havanas in this country are descended, even though it was produced as a by-product of her breeding programme, rather than intentionally. The breeder was fascinated by this apparently new breed and kept him as an entire male, and he sired over twenty litters during the next couple of years. Another breeder at the time, Baroness von Ullmann, was keen to develop these pure brown cats of Siamese type, and by mating British black shorthaired cats to Elmtower Bronze Idol, she set up a breeding programme that consistently produced these lovely brown kittens. Some of these early Havanas were imported to the USA, including Roofspringer Mahogany and Laurentide Brown Pilgrim, who became the 'foundation' cats of the American Havana. The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy in the UK first recognised the breed as the Chestnut Brown Foreign in 1958, but it wasn't until 1970 that breeders persuaded the GCCF to change the name to the Havana Brown and then later the Havana. The Oriental Lilac (originally the Foreign Lavender and then the Foreign Lilac) descended directly from the Havana, as Havanas often carry the blue gene from the early breeding days when they were sometimes mated to Russian Blues. When some early Havana to Havana matings produced these lilac kittens, they became popular and subsequently became a breed in their own right.
The modern Havana has the same svelte and elegant body shape as the Siamese, with comparable characteristics and traits, and a similar distinctive voice although the many supporters of the breed claim that their chosen breed is not quite so noisy! Coats are sleek and glossy, and although Havanas are very closely related to the Siamese, in practice their coats are often shorter and glossier than the Siamese. The coat colour is a warm milk chocolate, and even the whiskers are brown, and the Havana has vivid green eyes instead of the piecing blue eyes of the Siamese. Unlike the Siamese, which is born pure white with the colour starting to emerge a few days after birth, the Havana is born brown. The colour can be a little rusty in kittens and sometimes ghost tabby markings can be seen, although these should disappear by the time the cat is adult.
Like the Siamese, Havanas are true extroverts with a loving and affectionate nature. They are very sociable cats that relish the company of their human families as well as that of other pets, and should not be left on their own for long periods. They show exactly the same temperament and intelligence as the Siamese and can be almost as demanding, mischievous and inquisitive as their 'pointed' cousins. Although the Havana is quite conversational, many of their owners say that their voices are slightly gentler in tone than those of the Siamese. They are very playful cats, and will keep you endlessly entertained with even the simplest of toys, which also helps to keep them out of mischief!
The Havana does not have known breed-related health problems, and pets from reputable breeders should be strong and healthy. In common with all breeds of cat, they nevertheless need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors. Like many older Siamese and Orientals, the Havana is sometimes prone to kidney problems, detectable by loss of weight and increased thirst, but a Vet can prescribe medication to help combat this, and many live to the age of 14-16. It is wise to have Havana kittens neutered by the time they are 6 months old, as they tend to mature sexually at a very young age, and do not need to have a litter of kittens first. Un-neutered male cats will spray in the house and tend to wander, whilst un-neutered females will be very noisy.
Orientals are not fussy eaters and will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. However, cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available. Havanas can live very happily indoors without going outside. Eyes and ears should also be checked and kept clean if necessary, and it is advisable to brush the shorthaired varieties lightly from time to time to remove loose hair.