Choosing between a Himalayan and a Birman cat can be hard -- they're both attractive breeds with some similarities. The Birman is less common than the Himalayan, so it may take you longer, and you may have to venture farther, to find a breeder. Either makes a great pet.
The Birman, also known as the sacred cat of Burma, was first exported from the Far East to Europe after the First World War. Although recognized as a separate breed by 1925, the ravages of the Second World War left only two Birman cats alive in Europe, according to the Cat Fanciers' Association. Outcrossing re-established the breed, and the CFA recognized it in 1967. The Himalayan, referred to by devotees as the Himmie, results from the crossing of the Persian with the Siamese back in the 1930s.
The blue-eyed Himalayan looks like a Persian with Siamese markings. His body is light colored, but the markings include not only the classic seal and chocolate points but blue-point, lilac-point, tortoiseshell cream and a host of others. The Birman has blue eyes and a golden sheen to its body coat. While some of the markings are similar to those of the Himmie, the Birman exhibits four white paws, called gloves.
Gentle and easy to handle, smart and affectionate, Birmans aren't shy with strangers. Himmies are also good-natured, laid-back felines. Both breeds are good with kids and other household pets, as long as the kids and pets are well-behaved.
Himmies may develop certain skin issues, including tumors, eyelid cysts and allergic dermatitis on the face. Male Himmies are at increased risk of developing urinary tract stones consisting of calcium oxalate material. Ask your vet about diets that may reduce the chances of stone development. Himmies tend to tear around the eyes, requiring regular cleaning. Birmans don't appear prone to any hereditary disorders other than cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle eventually causing heart failure.
As far as grooming, the Birman wins paws down. Although he's a semi-longhair breed and requires regular grooming, he's not in the same league as the Himalayan. Due to its texture, the Birman's coat won't mat. Remember, for all intents and purposes the himmie is a Persian of a certain color. He needs daily grooming for mat and tangle avoidance. One drawback to the Birman is that the actual coat color may not reveal itself until the cat is grown, as kittens are all born white.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.