Sir Compton MacKenzie, the English-born, Scottish author and raconteur, was the owner of Siamese cats and the compassionate President of the Siamese Cat Club of Great Britain. He once wryly noted that people belong to Siamese and should be prepared to spend much of their time serving them.
He wrote hundreds of novels and various genres of books. Included are the 1960 Cats’ Company, the 1961 Catmint, the 1964 Look at Cats, and the 1985 Little Cat Lost. His love for the Siamese breed is legendary among Siamese breeders and fanciers. His statement points out the famous Siamese royal attitude and temperament succinctly. Perhaps none other comment about Siamese is so well known and appreciated. Once a Siamese cat decides who they will own, life becomes exceedingly interesting.
Ever since the Siamese breed first became popular, they have remained so. The breed is ranked consistently in the Top 10 most popular breeds. Their distinctive personalities, exquisite blue eyes, and extreme loyalty to those they love are legendary qualities which continue to make Siamese one of the favored breeds. Though first impressions do catch the royal demeanor of these intelligent and communicative cats, once a Siamese becomes a member of a household it cannot imagine life without its resident Siamese. All first impressions are forgiven once a Siamese prefers to spend time with its family. Highly popular, and immediately recognized due to their distinctive points, there are many facts not as well know about the Siamese. Here are a few.
Many Siamese are lactose intolerant.
They are not able to digest lactose, which is a sugar in diary products such as milk. Siamese cats should never be given milk to drink, or products such as butter or cheese to eat. The lactose in these dairy products will give them diarrhea. When not certain if a Siamese has this condition, experiment with a very tiny amount of milk to see if diarrhea occurs. Unfortunately, many Siamese will cry for milk when they smell it. To know for certain, deciding to do a test run with the smallest amount of milk possible might be an option. If there are no intestinal issues, then an occasional treat of a tiny amount of milk may be just fine.
There are two breed varieties of Siamese cats today.
The natural breed is the oldest one, but it has been given the new name of Thai cat because it is descended from the natural cats of Thailand. The natural cats have round eyes, faces and bodies, and their ears are like normal cats. The newest breed is also descended from the natural cats of Thailand, but due to the result of modern Western breeding, it looks very different from the natural breed. The modern breed uses the name Siamese. Siamese cats have almond-shaped eyes with very thin and angular faces and bodies, and their ears are very large. Both breeds have point colors; the traditional colored tail, paws, ears and mask which most people identify as being “Siamese”. But each breed variety is very different in terms of physical structure.
The Classic Siamese cat variety native to Thailand is called Wichien Matt, or simply Thai cat.
The name is taken from the original Thai word wichianmat, which means “moon diamond” or “diamonds and gold”. The ancient breed goes back for hundreds of generations in Thailand. The Thai cat traces its ancestry to the landrace wichienmat cats. Landrace means a traditional variety of domesticated animal which has developed over time and is locally adapted to the agriculture, cultural and natural environment where it exists. It remains isolated from others of its species. This is why the Classic Siamese cats have retained their general appearance for hundreds of years.
The modern Western breed of Siamese cat is the result of breeding for show purposes.
The show-style Siamese cat is the product of selective breeding. Show judges and breeders in the West began to favor the slender appearance of these cats. These cats have fine bones, with long and narrow heads, long lean legs, very long and thin tails, and very large pointed ears which are set far apart. It took generations of selective breeding to create this variety of Siamese. The cats became very popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and breeders were so successful with the show-style variety that the original variety Wichien Matt cats were rarely seen in cat shows by the 1980s. It took just 20 years of rigorous breeding to create the new sub-breed.
“Royal Cat of Siam” was the breed’s first British name.
The Siamese holds the distinction of being one the most historic breeds of domestic cat. They were considered to be part of the royal family, and cherished for their membership. There are manuscripts which date into antiquity describing their existence. As early as 1350, there is record that they were adopted into the royal family. Due to these records, when they arrived in Great Britain, their royal status was acknowledged among breeders and owners, even though no evidence of an organized breeding program conducted within the country of Siam.
British cat fanciers had heard reports that Siamese cats were the exclusive property of the royalty of Siam. At the time, the ruler, King Mongkut, signed his name “SPPM Mongkut Rex Siamensium” which is “Somdet Phra Poramentra Maha Mongkut King of the Siamese”. The monarch signed his name to reflect the Kingdom of Siam; the country’s name. In later years, the name would change to Thailand for a short period, return to Siam for a brief period in the 1940s, and then be renamed to Thailand; as it is known today.
When Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a seal point Siamese kitten was one of her wedding presents.
Siamese are easily trained because they are highly intelligent.
It’s very common for Siamese to be trained. They will fetch things and retrieve them. They can easily do all sorts of tricks. They often enjoy walking on a leash with their owners. They have been seen riding in bicycle baskets along with their owners. Some have gone so far as to describe the Siamese as like a dog, but “without all of the work”. Though it would seem that Siamese must be compliant and easy going, which they can be. But it would be a mistake to assume that they are pushovers. They are not. Each Siamese develops a completely unique personality when it is a young kitten, and its personality dictates the level of training it chooses to accept.
Siamese cats own their people. Their people do not own them.
It’s in the Siamese nature to be very independent. Regardless of who lives in the home, a Siamese will decide for itself who it will own. Siamese cats can be very picky about who they choose. It’s not always the person who adopted them in the first place; though they can remain affectionate with that person and all other family members if they choose. It’s more common for Siamese to select the person who will be their closest companion, and it’s even more common for them to choose none. Siamese will often tend to organize people to feed them and give them attention, and then ignore them once satisfied. However, once they choose a companion, they can become very loyal.
Siamese are extraordinarily talkative, vocal cats.
For those new to having a Siamese around, the emotional range and extended length of their vocalizing is unexpected and annoying. There are many stories told by Siamese owners who were certain they heard a baby crying nearby, only to discover that it was their Siamese. They are famous for the human qualities present in their vocalizations. They are also famous for talking to you about everything all the time. They can grunt in protest when they don’t like something. They can meow as if crying when you have left them alone for too long. They can emit the shrieking yowl when they want you to feed them. They will happily chirp with short twittering sounds when they are excited or playing with a toy. For people who welcome conversation, a Siamese is a great companion.
Siamese are clever and don’t like to be confined.
Those two common Siamese traits are a disastrous combination. They can open doors which have levers for handles. They can also wedge themselves into open windows and attempt to squeeze through to discover what’s on the other side. It’s in their nature to explore and investigate new things. For their safety, it’s probably best to keep indoor Siamese indoors. If they manage to escape to new territory, they may not have the skills they need to find their way home. For many homeowners, keeping a tenacious Siamese indoors and entertained is an ongoing occupation.
Siamese hate to be left alone.
This is a crucial aspect of Siamese personality. They are very loyal to the humans they choose. They need contact with their people, and if their favorite person is gone, they may sulk or hide until that person returns. Their tendency to bond with humans makes them wonderful companions. Because they do not prefer to be with strangers, they may ignore them or be shy in their presence. When it’s necessary to leave Siamese alone for a long time, have toys and a scratching post available so they don’t tear holes in the carpet or shred the furniture out of boredom.
Siamese kittens are born with completely white fur.
They are often so pale that along with their newborn pink-colored paw pads, and skin, they can look a little like squirming white mice. But around the time their eyes begin to open, and they are a few weeks older, their characteristic dark-tipped paws, ears, and mask (called “points”) begin to develop into the color they will have for the rest of their lives. Siamese point markings come in four colors; seal, chocolate, blue, and lilac. The gene which determines their coloring is heat sensitive, so the colors only develop on the cooler areas of their bodies. Siamese cats have a standard body temperature which ranges between 100.4 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat sensitive gene also limits the amount of pigment in their eyes, and that’s why they have their very distinctive blue eye color.
United States President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy owned a Siamese cat.
Siam, the cat, was a gift to Lucy from the U.S. diplomat to Bangkok, Consul David Stickles. It was the late 1870s, and Stickles was able to procure what he termed as one of the finest Siamese cats in the entire country. He wrote a letter stating that he believed it was the first time an attempt had been made to send a Siamese cat from Bangkok to America. Siam lived at the White House with the President and First Lady for a while. Siam was adored by their daughter, and allowed to run free with Fanny and throughout the White House. Unfortunately, Siam became ill and died, never making it past the year mark in his new home in the United States.
Siamese cats made their debut at the first major cat show held in the world.
It took place at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, London, in July 1871. The event was created by Harrison Weir, a cat fancier. Nobody in England was thought to have ever seen a Siamese cat until then. It was a national competition, and Harper’s Weekly reported the event. The Siamese cats were described as having soft, fawn-colored coats for fur which contrasted with jet black legs, black-tipped ears, black masks on their faces, black tails, and blue eyes. They were exotic to say the least. So unusual that their description included that they appeared to be “unnatural” and a “nightmare” of a cat. Regardless of these negative descriptions, Siamese cats became popular very quickly.
Siamese can be a little night blind.
Siamese are prone to inheriting traits which eventually result in vision problems. These are genetic weaknesses which may or may not lead to blindness. Some Siamese have trouble seeing at night, which is rare for cats. Veterinarians are trained to understand the Siamese tendencies, and can offer advice and solutions. Some Siamese are born cross-eyed. Some will have retinal degeneration. Research about Siamese cats shows that they have a single gene which is related to progressive retinal atrophy. About one-third of Siamese are born with this mutated gene. Cats who have the mutation lose their vision slowly because their retinal lens slowly deteriorates. There’s no way to treat or cure this, but it also causes no pain.
Siamese cats were believed to receive the soul of a royal family member who had died.
Siamese cats were selected to serve as temple cats, with the responsibility of guarding the temples. Whenever a high-ranking person died, a Siamese was chosen as the recipient of that person’s soul. The cat was moved from its place in the household to live in a temple. It lived the remainder of its life with monks and priests serving it. Siamese sere said to eat their meals of fine food served on golden plates. They were also allowed to lounge on cushions made from fine fabrics. These luxuries were donated to the temple by the relatives of the royal person who had died. These were offered so that the surviving relatives might be honored with blessings and good fortune. Siamese temple cats were believed to have the special powers which allowed them to mediate with the dead person’s soul they had received.
Legends and myths explain why Siamese once had crossed eyes and kinked tails.
It is said that only two Siamese cats remained in the sacred temple when the warriors of Siam went to war. The men were defending the kingdom, but the cats were guarding the golden goblet of Buddha. One first cat was a male named Tien. The second cat was a female named Chula. The two cats mated while they were waiting for the men to return, and Chula became pregnant. Tien left Chula to try to find a Buddhist priest to help guard the temple. Chula was left alone to guard the treasured golden goblet. She took her responsibility so seriously that she never once took her eyes away from the golden treasure of Buddha. She also wrapped her tail around the goblet’s stem; to keep it from being stolen if she happened to fall asleep. She stayed on guard this way, waiting for Tien to return. But Tien did not return with a new priest. She stared at the goblet so long that her eyes became crossed. Her tail was wrapped around it so long that it developed a kink. Chula’s time to give birth arrived as she had waited and waited for Tien to come back. When her kittens were born, they all had the crossed eyes and kinked tails. That’s why some Siamese are still born with these traits, or so the legend goes.
Many Siamese cats have owned Hollywood stars.
The list of Hollywood stars whose Siamese cats have owned them is very long. Paul Newman, Peter Lorre, Carole Lombard, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Montgomery Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor were all photographed with their Siamese cat. Errol Flynn took a photo with his father, and his Siamese Bas Mudi. Ellen DeGeneres owned a rescued blue point Siamese named George. Andy Warhol, Roberta Flack, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and Georgia O’Keefe were all photographed with their Siamese. John Lennon was photographed in Tokyo with his Siamese. As were Sophia Loren, James Dean, President Jimmy Carter and Sartre. Literally hundreds of some of the most famous celebrities have been owned by their Siamese cats.
Siamese cats are prone to convergent squint.
Convergent squint is when a Siamese’s eyes squint and look left and right constantly. This condition occurs when the nerves connecting the eyes to their own vision center are mixed up. In normal eyes, there are separate nerve connections from each eye to each vision center. Sometimes, some nerves from each eye connect to the opposite vision center. When this happens, the symptoms include the characteristic squinting, and looking back and forth a lot. There’s no treatment for this condition, but it won’t result in blindness.
Siamese cats may be born with primary glaucoma, which is very rare in cat breeds.
All breeds of cats can be born with secondary glaucoma, which is the version that generally occurs as cats age. Secondary glaucoma is very common in cats. Primary glaucoma, however, is strictly genetic, which means that cats who get it inherit it. Siamese are one of just a few breeds that inherit primary glaucoma. Glaucoma is the condition where there are little fluid sacks between the lenses in an eye. The fluid causes pressure on the ocular nerves, and this dims vision steadily. There is no cure for the condition, but a veterinarian can ease the discomfort associated with glaucoma using eyedrops or anti-inflammatory medications.
Elizabeth Taylor gave James Dean a Siamese kitten.
Elizabeth Taylor loved her Siamese cats very much. She was rarely apart from them, finding them to be great companions. When she and James Dean were filming the Hollywood blockbuster Giant, Taylor and Dean became very close. Charles Dransfeld, Hollywood insider noted that the two were very much like brother and sister in terms of their close friendship. Dean apparently felt confident to confide his deepest thoughts to Taylor. She believed that he was “sad and lonely”. She decided that Dean would do well to have a Siamese kitten as an ideal companion. She gave Dean the Siamese kitten, and Dean named his new friend Marcus. Dean gave handwritten instructions to his friend, so that while he was away for the weekend, Marcus would have the care he needed. Marcus had been Dean’s owner for just two weeks when Dean left for his trip. Sadly, a car crash killed Dean on his way to his weekend vacation. Dean’s friend kept Marcus forever.