Everybody has heard of Siamese cats. Even people who know little about cat breeds, and would struggle to recognise a Maine Coon or Cornish Rex, have heard of the Siamese, and know what it looks like. It is a very old breed, and was one of the first Asian breeds to be imported into the UK. The Siamese has always been popular, and the breed is consistently in the top ten breeds in both the UK and USA. But how much do you actually know about the Siamese? Here are ten interesting facts about the breed, some of which are not very well known.
The first ever cat show took place at Crystal Palace in South London in 1871. The breed had only just been imported into Europe, and almost nobody had ever seen a cat with the Siamese colouring, or heard a cat with such a loud voice. This caused some individuals at the time to call the Siamese 'an unnatural nightmare of a cat'. Despite this, the Siamese quickly became popular after that.
Although all kittens of all breeds are born with blue eyes, most cats' eyes change colour as they mature. But Siamese cats all have blue eyes throughout life. This is because the gene responsible for the distinctive Siamese colouring also causes their unusual eye colour.
The earliest Siamese were all seal pointed, and these were the only ones accepted for show purposes. But today there are many other colours – that is, point colours, the body of the Siamese always being the same light colour of course. The commonest are probably blue, chocolate, and lilac pointed Siamese, but there are also red pointed Siamese, tabby pointed, tortie pointed, plus cream, apricot, lilac, cinnamon, and a whole range of other colours.
Whatever colour points they will have as adults, all Siamese kittens are completely white when they are born. The characteristic points do not start to appear until a few weeks later, about the same time as the kittens' eyes start to open. The gene for the colouring is heat sensitive, so only the cooler parts of the cat develop the colouring, ie ears, nose, and paws.
The original Siamese cats looked very different from modern ones. The earlier Siamese were much rounder and stockier, with a generally more sturdy appearance, and a rounder head. As has been the case for a number of breeds, the demands of the show bench and the show standard meant a steady change away from this look, towards the slim, elegant, elongated Siamese cats of today. But many people prefer the older Siamese, and there is now a move away to breeding 'traditional' Siamese.
There are always exceptions, but the majority of Siamese cats have loud voices and a wide vocabulary of different sounds. Many Siamese cats like to follow their owners around, chattering constantly. At cat shows, the Siamese section is almost always a cacophony of loud wails and and miaows. Some people like this, but if you don't, then you should probably look for a quieter breed.
Siamese cats are highly intelligent, so it is fairly easy to train them. Siamese cats can be taught to come when called, walk on a lead, and fetch and retrieve. However, although this might suggest that they are like dogs, this comparison only goes so far. Siamese, like other cats, can be wilful and independent, and although they may know what you want them to do, they may choose to completely ignore you.
The popularity of Siamese has extended to show business. There is a long list film stars who have owned Siamese cats – James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, and Jane Fonda, to just name a few. Elizabeth Taylor gave James Dean a Siamese kitten when they were filming together. Artist Andy Warhol also owned a Siamese, as did Beatle John Lennon. And there have been many others.
The 'Royal Cat of Siam' was the breed's first name, and they have always been associated with royalty in their native Thailand, right from very early times. This has to some extent continued since the cats came to the West. When Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip, the couple were given a seal point Siamese kitten as a wedding present. And in the USA, President Rutherford B Hayes owned a Siamese cat, which he imported from Bangkok in the 1870s. Unfortunately the cat died within a year.
Typically, Siamese cats have from four to six kittens in a litter. But in 1970 a Siamese cat in Oxfordshire gave birth to a litter of 19 kittens. Sadly, four of these were stillborn, but nevertheless, this remains the record for the largest litter of domestic kittens.
If you want a Siamese cat, they are fairly easy to find compared to some pedigree cats. If you are looking for a kitten, the Siamese is a popular and well established breed, so there are a large number of breeders all over the country. You may also be able to adopt an older cat if you wish, though you need to be aware that Siamese cats tend to be quite dominant, and if you have other cats in the household, they may well boss them around and expect to be top of the pecking order. Finally, half Siamese cats often arrive at adoption centres; these cats will probably have the Siamese body shape and personality, though not the distinctive colouring. So you should have quite a choice.