by Betty White

The Siamese is a cat with point-restricted color on an elegant, refined body. Neither one attribute nor the other is more important. Both type and color are equally necessary for the Siamese to be the epitome of beauty intended by generations of breeders and fanciers of this old and revered breed.

Years ago, color restricted to the points was called the Himalayan pattern by geneticists, after the rabbit exhibiting this pattern. This is no longer the case, as the pattern is now more commonly called the Siamese pattern. Such is the universal knowledge of the Siamese cat, a distinction that breeders treasure. While insisting upon type, breeders understand that it is the color pattern, rather than type, that is more widely appreciated.

The Siamese pattern evolved from a genetic mutation and is classified in the albino series. An enzyme affecting color that is activated by temperature restricts color to the “points,” the naturally colder parts of the body. This explains why kittens warm from the womb are born white. Color develops gradually as the babies grow. Siamese do darken with age, but the meaning here is advancing age as the circulation of blood becomes less efficient. Anything that would modify temperature, whether it is a cat that basks in the sun or a cat whose skin is insulated by body fat, will adversely affect Siamese color. In addition, there may be polygenes in certain families of Siamese cats that darken coats prematurely. Of all the wonderful qualities of a Siamese that the world loves, the hardest one thing for the breeder to achieve is excellent color. It is the nature of Siamese color, the months – even years – of color development that makes the problem of selection of breeding stock so daunting.

So, what is this color – seal? For as long as there have been written records, seal point has been described as seal brown. Think of a seal basking on a rock; is he brown or is he black? Unless a black panther is sitting next to him, you might say that he is black. Then again, there are nearly black seals and seals that are clearly a very dark brown. The same is true of seal point Siamese. Body color is nearly white to fawn, depending upon age, or depending upon those polygenes mentioned earlier. Whether young or old, light bodied or not, there must be decided contrast between body and points. The ideal seal point Siamese has a clear, unmarked body in stark, heart-stopping contrast to its point color. Paw pads and nose leather are black.

Chocolate point Siamese also come in different shades of chocolate. Think milk chocolate and “almost” dark chocolate, with both colors having a white chocolate body. Milk chocolate is the ideal color, indeed the color in most Standards, with paw pads and nose leather a cinnamon pink. The lighter the point color of a chocolate point Siamese, the less developed will be the point color in a young cat. Chocolate point Siamese must mature into full masks and complete stockings, and the body must stay light to preserve that dramatic contrast.

Blue is not blue in the cat world; blue is slate gray. A blue point Siamese has a bluish-white body with paw pads and nose leather a slate gray. The color is difficult to attain to perfection, primarily because of the nature of the polygenes that affect its development. Over the years, breeders have tried to work with “color-bred blues.” The problem lies in the tendency, over time, for the color to migrate into the body when blue point is bred to blue point. Once again, an ideal Siamese of whatever color must have that remarkable contrast between body color and point color.

Lilac point Siamese are the most delicately colored of the four Siamese colors, with pinkish-gray points on a glacial white body. What the color lacks in vibrant contrast of body to points is more than offset by deep blue eye color. The porcelain-like visual effect of elegance is not unlike the aesthetic of blue-and-white china.

Why do CFA Siamese breeders insist that a Siamese comes in only four colors? It has little to do with color genetics and everything to do with the history of the breed and the difficulty of Siamese color. Imported into England in the last quarter of the 19 th century and bred in Siam ( Thailand) for generations before, the Siamese entered our lives as a seal point breed of domestic cat in the dawn of the organized cat fancy. As geological time goes, that is nothing; in terms of the cat fancy and generations of Siamese, that is everything. Seal points were registered and shown in the United States at the beginning of the 20 th century and in the first shows of CFA, organized in 1906. The dilution of black, or seal point, is blue, as is chocolate. Lilac is dilute, or recessive, to all three. We know that chocolate points occurred in English litters from the beginning, and we also know that breeders there quickly found homes for them. The incidence of blue is less clear, but there is no question that blue cats were present in Siam. Following England’s lead, CFA recognized the blue point in 1934, the chocolate point in 1952, and the U.S. led the way in 1955 by recognizing the lilac point. By the time red, the O gene, was introduced into a small part of the Siamese gene pool, along with the tabby (lynx) points, many generations of Siamese had been born in this country and selection made for the non-agouti, ticked tabby pattern in order to produce clear coats with no spotting or barring. (A reminder: All cats are basically tabby.) Siamese breeders decided to adhere strictly to A.C. Jude’s definition of a Siamese in his Cat Genetics: A cat with solid color restricted to the points. To do this meant to avoid the O gene and any introduction of agouti. In any event, by this time the Siamese was, in cat fancy parlance, an old, established breed. At this writing, Siamese in all four colors have been on the CFA show bench for more than half a century, longer than the existence of the majority of the breeds recognized around the world. As for the seal point Siamese, it is the granddaddy of them all!

References:

  • White, B: The Siamese. Cat Fancy. Feb. 1996. pp 32-33.
  • White, B: We Are Siamese…Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, Part 1. The Cat Fanciers’ Association Yearbook. Ocean, NJ, 1987. pp 658-665.
  • White, B: We Are Siamese…Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, Part 2. The Cat Fanciers’ Association Yearbook. Ocean, NJ, 1988. pp 178-185.
  • Brown, D: Feline Color Genetics, Farmington, UT, 1997.
  • Jacobberger, P: Colors and Patterns in the Pedigreed Cat, CFA Judge’s Workshop, 2002.

Photo Credits:

  • Chanan: GC Alexy's Chanson D'Amour, GC, RW Ayuthaya Amoretta of Thaifong, GC Ayuthaya Kashan of Thaifong, GC, NW Maiyah The Best Is Yet To Come
  • Mark McCullough: GC Caru Run For the Roses
  • Ron DeWilde: GC, RW Radja's Vishnu
  • Carl Widmer: GC, RW Shera Len Excitation
  • St. Arnaud: GC, RW CherMa'Ki's Michelangelo
  • Vickie Jackson: GC Sum-Thai's Gabriel of Pattam

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