I have had a Siamese cat (called Topsy) for the last 15 years, they are quite simply the friendliest, most loving pets I know of.

They were originally bred by the King of Siam as pets and as gifts, they were chosen for their beauty and temperament above all and those qualities have lasted down the ages. A typical Siamese cat will live to between 15 and 20 years old, they are smaller and slimmer than most cats (see below for different body types) and are characterised by large ears and a distinctive colour scheme. They are extremely friendly; it is unusual for my cat to not greet me when I get home, if she has been alone in the house all day she will demand a hug. Last thing at night, she will always come and see the last person to go to bed for a snuggle before she curls up to sleep in her basket. From what I have heard from other cat lovers, this is pretty typical behavior of a Siamese.

There are three different body types that have been bred over the last 20 years:

  • Traditional Siamese
    This is the heaviest and cutest of all the breeds. Much rounder, especially in the face that the other two breeds and with slightly longer fur, this is the closest modern equivalent to the original cats bred in Siam.
  • Classic Siamese
    This is rougly halfway between the other two breeds and is my personal favorite (Topsy is a Classic). They are probably what you see when you visualise a cliched siamese cat in your mind, slightly slimmer than the traditional with slightly larger ears and a more pointed head.
  • Modern Siamese
    The Modern Siamese is the result of selective breeding during second half of this century to produce a more oriental-looking cat. All "bad" siamese cats in Disney films are modelled on the Modern Siamese and in my opinion they are not nearly as attractive as the other two breeds. They are much slimmer with very large ears and a more pointed head.
The most popular of the Siamese breeds is the "Seal Point", that is, they are a very light brown with dark brown "points" (the points are the ears, face, feet and tail). Siamese cats do come in a variety of recognised colour schemes though, including: The cat will generally get darker with age and the amount of fur that is "point coloured" will extend round each point (my cat now has brown legs and thighs, where they used to be almost ivory coloured). Almost all Siamese cats (except for Albino ones) have bright blue eyes (which magically turn into evil red demon eyes in the wrong light).

Siamese cats are indoor cats but will happily venture outdoors on warm days. We frequently took ours away on 6 week family holidays to the Lake District which included a 6 hour drive each way. This was taken within the stride of the cat who stayed outside most of the day, scaring ducks and taunting dogs.

If you are buying a Siamese cat, go to a reputable breeder, there are lots of them around. Play with the cat before you buy it, you will be able to get a good idea of its temperament straight away. My advice is to get it spayed (neutered), it will save you a lot of trouble later on and is a fairly simple procedure for the cat. They will cooperate with other pets as long as they are introduced to them at a young age. My father owned a Siamese cat that saved their Labrador's life once (it fell into a steep sided pond in winter and could not escape, the cat raised the alarm). They are perfectly safe with children and would sooner walk away than scratch if abused.

Siamese cats probably originally came from Siam, or Thailand as it's known today, though I confess I never saw one there during the five years I lived in the kingdom. (To be more accurate, I saw hundreds and hundreds of Siamese/Thai cats when I was in Thailand, but they weren't the long elegant pampered darlings I was familiar with from Canada. They were spotty or striped skinny street cats with wily eyes and kinks in their tails.)

As a breed, one of the Siamese's most distinctive characteristics is its colouring - dark tail, ears, feet, and lower face; it's called "seal point", and has been present in cats from Siam since ancient times, at least according to a 16th century Siamese drawing of a feline with this colouring. Beyond this, though, the present-day Siamese breed does not much resemble ancient Siamese cats, which were rather round in face and body with squinty crossed eyes and kinked tails. (Cats with kinked tails are common throughout Thailand.) The modern Siamese breed has had its squint mostly, and its kink totally, bred out, and it has also acquired a long lean body with an elongated, almost triangular face by being crossbred with other breeds; they are of course also bred for their point colourings. Modern Siamese have blue eyes and a piercing, yowling meow.

Interestingly, Siamese are actually dark-coloured cats with a gene which inhibits the pigmentation of their fur in areas where their body temperature is higher. When kittens are born they are hot all over, and hence pale, but as they grow their extremities cool and develop the characteristic dark pigmentation; as the animal ages, it will become darker all over. If kitty gets a sore paw that is bandaged for a while, that limb will emerge paler than the others because of the heat generated by the bandage. Cats with a fever will also turn a bit paler.

Common tales of "Oriental" barbarity relate that the Siamese cat was worshipped in Siam, that theft of a cat was punishable by death, and that only the king owned any. Not true. However, they do seem to have been a common favourite of royalty and frequent residents of royal wat (Buddhist temples). In fact, most wat in Thailand today have resident cats and dogs, as devotees make merit by leaving food in the temple grounds for unfortunate homeless animals. If you want to get rid of a pet in Thailand, take it to the wat; it will have a home of sorts there, and a steady diet of jasmine rice and fish sauce.

Although it is sometimes said that farang - westerners - were not allowed to own a Siamese cat or remove one from Siam, they did find their way into European zoos and were displayed at the first British cat show in 1871. But in those days a Siamese was not a breed of cat, but rather just a cat from Siam, so many Siamese cats that were taken to the west in the early days probably didn't look much like the ones we associate with the label today. Siam, like other countries, had (and has) lots of different colours and shapes of cats.

The first documented export of a seal point Siamese was a gift given to the American First Lady by her consul in Siam; this poor female, Siam, was sent from Bangkok in 1878 and only reached of the White House the following year, where she soon became ill and died. In 1884, the British vice-consul Edward Blencowe Gould allegedly received a pair of Siamese from the king Chulalongkorn; the story is that the king offered him anything his heart desired, and was dismayed when Gould chose the cats. However, most historians dismiss this story as romantic drivel concocted to increase the glamour of the breed and drive up their price, and it seems more likely that Gould bought these cats at a market. In any case, he sent them to his sister, who bred them and showed the kittens in an 1885 cat show at the Crystal Palace, where they won "Best Short-Haired Cat" and "Best Cat in Show". Any embargo that might have existed was then swept away by the huge demand that was generated for the enchanting felines, which were known as "the Royal Cat of Siam".

Today Siamese are very popular with cat breeders and fanciers alike, and they come with many different point colours. Because modern Siamese have been bred to have an extreme body-type, there has recently been a move to return to the more rounded head and body shape of the original cat from Siam.

Cat World: A Feline Encyclopedia, by Desmond Morris.

Siamese cats are fairly notorious for developing dental plaque that sometime leads to tooth and gum problems but which more often leads to absolutely horrendous breath. My housemate's little Tonkinese, Simon, has breath that would spoil pork. Feeding your cat dental crunchies can help, but my veterinarian said that a diet of plain dry food is best, as the special dental diet kibble can irritate some cats' stomachs and cause them to throw up more frequently.

If your Siamese is one of the very, very few that will allow such an indignity, you might try brushing his or her teeth. Your vet can provide you with a little toothbrush and samples of chicken-flavored kitty toothpaste.

A professor I know owns a full-blood Siamese named Blue. Blue also tends to have Death Breath. The prof kept losing his black nylon dress socks. One day he checked under his bed for a pair of lost shoes and discovered that Blue had hidden a cache of about a dozen of his socks there. The cat loved to chew on his balled-up socks. Concerned that the cat would tear loose a piece of fabric and choke on it, he took the socks away from the cat ... only to discover that the cat's breath turned to mustard gas over the following month. So now Blue, who won't tolerate toothbrushing, gets a sock every few weeks.

There is a strange behavioral trait I've discovered amongst some cats with Siamese blood in them: they hop.

The Siamese Hop is difficult to adequately describe. I first saw it in Simon. He crouches down on the floor as if about to jump on something, then alternately rakes his back claws through the carpet or across the floor repeatedly (he is particularly fond of hopping on surfaces that will create a lot of noise).

His rear end bounces up and down like a lowrider car with trick hydraulics. He looks like he's revving himself up for a race ... except that all he does is hop.

He hops when he's excited or upset. If he wants in your lap and you brush him off, he'll run to the corner and hop, glaring at you sulkilly. If you drag a string along the floor, half the time he'll chase it and pounce ... but half the time he'll chase it and hop at it.

I think this trait would hurt Siamese cats' chances for survival in the wild. I can picture Simon stalking a bird, racing toward it ... only to stop and the last second to hop at his prey, thus allowing it to fly away.

Seeing Simon hop for the first time is a source of great amusement among visitors to our apartment. My housemate's mother nearly fell over laughing the first time she saw it. Part of the effect comes from the look of crazed intensity that comes over the little cat's face when he hops.

I at first thought that the hop was a peculiarity unique to Simon, but Braunbeck informed me that he's seen several other Siamese do the same thing. His cat Tasha also does the hop ... but only when she's about to hork up a hairball. A good early-warning system for hairball cleanup, I suppose.

Many years ago, I went somewhere with mom. In a yard adjacent to local botanical garden - totally in the other part of the town, no clue what we were doing there - there was a cat sitting. I had not seen such a cat before and mom said Oh, that's a Siamese. Maybe back then I started dreaming of getting my own Meezer one day.

The day came some 20 years later. I was a poor student, I coudn't afford a full-bred cat so I checked for local classifieds, looking for something like Kittens for free. Apparently, karma thought otherwise so the first ad was from a breeder selling a 11 months old Siamese which she couldn't keep. And which cost just about the money I had for the whole month. (Not that subsisting on rice and leftovers snatched at parents' was anything unusual anyway.)

I learned the full story, then. A couple wanted a designer kitten for their designer apartment. Designer kitten was cute but still a kitten so it meowed, ate (designer) shoes, climbed (designer) curtains... and the folks got pissed and returned the kitten to the breeder.

Said breeder had around 8 cats, Meezers and ocicats, which came to sit on me, fighting for the best place on my lap and generally behaved in nicely obtrusive manner. The specimen for sale was hiding under the sofa and refused to come out without quite some violence. Apparently, the previous owners used to beat the poor kitty because even now, seven years later, she's scared of people stretching hands towards her and elongated objects, be it rolled-up newspapers, sticks or anything else. I paid my due, promised to inform on the future development, went back home, released the cat from the kitty carrier and that was it. Next morning, food bowl was empty, there was something in the litter box and there was no trace of a cat anywhere. This lasted for around a month, then I started seeing the long snout and pointy ears lurking from shadows.

The cat, a chocolate tortie-point, was named Tähti later on because she developed the very Siamese manners of stealing the show. Any show. She developed to an excellent example of velcro cat, too.

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