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The Oriental breed is essentially a solid coloured Siamese cat, being the same colour or pattern all over, but usually without the famous Siamese 'points'. However, there is one exception to this generalisation about coat colour, as there is now an Oriental Bicolour, which not only appears in all the Oriental colours and patterns, but also in pointed Siamese versions of these colours and patterns. There are Longhaired Oriental cats (which used to be known as Angoras), and breeders are striving to produce longhaired or semi-longhaired Oriental Bicolours too. All in all, there are reckoned to be well over 200 different colour schemes in this paint-box of this amazingly diverse breed of cat!
Evidence suggests that many of the Thai descendents of the modern-day Siamese cat were 'self' (one colour/pattern) or bicolour, usually with green eyes. After the pointed Siamese with their vivid blue eyes were first imported into Britain in the 1880s, a number of these solid-coloured Siamese were also brought to Europe, and described as being Siamese cats. It wasn't until the 1920s when the Siamese Cat Club in Britain decreed that the only true Siamese cats were those with contrasting points and blue eyes, that interest in them started to wane and numbers declined. However, the Orientals that we see today are not descended from cats imported to this country from Thailand at the very end of the nineteenth century, but instead are a result of British breeding in the 1950s to re-introduce a cat with Siamese characteristics, but in a wide range of solid colours. This was done by primarily by crossing Siamese with British shorthairs, and later on, also with Russian Blues. The Oriental Longhair was achieved by crossing the Oriental Shorthair with a Balinese (a Longhaired Siamese) in the 1970s, but it is still comparatively rare. The very first Oriental breed to appear in Britain under this breeding programme was the Chestnut Brown Foreign, later to become the Havana Brown, and known today simply as the Havana. Until the 1980s the Oriental breed was called a 'Foreign' in Britain, but they are now known as 'Orientals' with two exceptions - the Foreign White (see notes on appearance below) and the Havana.
The Oriental has the same svelte and elegant body shape as the Siamese, with comparable characteristics and traits, and a similar distinctive voice. Coats are sleek and glossy, and although Orientals are so closely related to the Siamese, in practice the coat of the Shorthairs is often shorter and glossier than in the Siamese.
In terms of colour and pattern, Oriental Shorthairs can be divided into 3 main categories: (1) Oriental Self - Black, Blue, Havana (brown), Lilac, Cinnamon, Fawn, Caramel, Red, Cream and Apricot; (2) Oriental non-self - Torties (i.e. Tortoiseshell), Smokes, Shaded; (3) The four patterns of tabby - Spotted, Classic, Mackerel, Ticked. All of these Orientals have green eyes, rather than the blue of a Siamese, but in the same beautiful slanting almond shape of their Siamese cousins. However, there is yet another variety of 'self' Oriental, still known as a Foreign White. This white Oriental differs from the rest of the Self-colours in that it has vivid blue eyes, for the simple reason that it is really a Siamese with the additional white gene, making it, in effect, a pure white Siamese! The Oriental Bicolour, which can mix any of the colours and patterns mentioned earlier, can have green eyes, blue eyes, or indeed, one green and one blue eye.
Like the Siamese, Orientals 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 equally as demanding, mischievous and inquisitive as their 'pointed' cousins, often to be found interfering in matters around the house that do not really concern them, and trying to 'help' with the household chores. Although Orientals always have a lot to say for themselves on a variety of topics, many of their owners say that their voices are slightly gentler in tone than those of the Siamese. But like their Siamese and Balinese relations, Oriental cats are very playful cats, who will keep you endlessly entertained with even the simplest of toys, which also helps to keep them out of mischief!
Orientals do 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. Older Orientals are 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 Oriental 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. Some breeds of white cats are known to be prone to deafness, but this is not the case with the Foreign White.
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. It's often wise to shut cupboard doors and put things out of sight in the same way that you would for a toddler, as they are so inquisitive. Orientals 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. The less common longhaired varieties will need more grooming to keep their coats clear from tangles and knots.