It's easy to understand how someone can mistake a ragdoll for a Birman. Both cats have medium length coats of similar color points, as well as wonderful personalities. There are fine distinctions, however. Birmans are intelligent, playful cats, while ragdolls are a bit more relaxed; both make great companions.
Ragdolls are large cats, with males going up to 20 pounds and females ranging from 10 to 15 pounds. Though their large size can be intimidating, they're anything but, as they go limp as a ragdoll when cuddled in a friend's arms. Sturdy, with a medium-length coat, these guys come in six colors -- seal, blue, chocolate, red, cream and lilac -- and four patterns. For a smaller cat, Birmans top out at 12 pounds for males and a bit less for the ladies. They sport a medium-length coat in a variety of colors, including red, tortie, cream, seal, chocolate, lilac and blue. All Birmans have distinctive white paws and blue eyes.
Birmans have been around longer than ragdolls, getting their start as a breed in 1919 France. According to the Birman homepage, the breed had a rough start; depleted to a single pair after World War II, it took many years for the breed to recover. Birmans showed up in the United States in the 1960s, and the Cat Fanciers Association recognized the breed -- the ninth most popular in its register -- in 1967.
Ragdolls are made in the USA, created in California in 1963, starting with Josephine, the foundation cat, who was white with Siamese markings. Today, ragdolls are descendents of Josephine, her son and other domestic longhair males. The Cat Fanciers Association recognized ragdolls, its fifth most popular breed, in 1993.
If you want an affectionate cat, either of these breeds is a safe choice. Ragdolls are sometimes compared to dogs because of their companionable nature, following people from room to room. They aren't particularly busy, but have a laid-back, mellow nature, content to lie at your feet. That's not to say they're always couch potatoes, because they do enjoy a game of fetch, but overall, they're happy to hang out with their people.
Birmans are more active, enjoying a good game of chase. In fact, they like the company of other cats, and even dogs, so it's a good idea to have a buddy for the Birman in the house. The Birman won't follow you about like the ragdoll, but when she wants attention, she'll be sure to let you know. Both breeds are good-natured and adaptable and enjoy socializing.
Ragdolls are fairly healthy cats, but bladder stones and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have been reported in the breed. HCM, a thickening of the heart muscle, is the most common heart disease in cats. Although cats predisposed to HCM should be removed from the ragdoll breeding line, there's no guarantee a cat won't develop it. Ragdolls also have rapid growth spurts, requiring ample food as they grow. They reach full size at age 4, a good time to ration food to keep a trim waistline. Birmans are generally healthy, with no known vulnerabilities to disease.
Despite their beautiful coats, both breeds are easy to groom. Since Birmans have no undercoat, they're unlikely to get mats, provided they get weekly combings. The ragdoll's medium-long coat needs regular grooming as well; she should be combed once or twice a week to minimize tangles. Of course, since she's such an outgoing girl, she won't mind this one-on-one attention. Both breeds require regular nail trimming.