Caring for Your Feline Companion
Burmese: What a Unique Breed!
Your cat is special! She senses your moods, is curious about your day, and has purred her way into your heart. Chances are that you chose her because you like Burmese and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle, like:
- May meow to communicate with you
- May remain playful as a kitten throughout her life
- Good with children and other pets
- Does most of her own grooming
- Friendly with strangers
However, no cat is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- May want to constantly be involved in your activities
- People-oriented and should not be left alone for long periods of time
- Exhibits signs of separation anxiety if left alone too much
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She will soon have you wrapped around her silky paw.
The Burmese breed traces its roots to a walnut-brown female cat named Wong Mau from Burma who was brought to San Francisco in the 1930’s. Wong Mau was bred with Siamese males to produce the Burmese look. Burmese cats carry surprising weight for their size. Described as “bricks wrapped in silk,” their muscular bodies are hidden under a short and close-lying hair coat with a very silky texture. Burmese crave attention and activity and will take an active role in running the household. The Burmese is also a cuddly lap cat. An extremely curious breed, the Burmese are fearless and eager to investigate new situations.
Your Burmese’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your cat, you want to take great care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Burm. By knowing about the health concerns common among Burmese, we can help you tailor an individual preventive health plan and hopefully prevent some predictable risks in your pet.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. The conditions we will describe here have a significant rate of incidence or a strong impact upon this breed particularly, according to a general consensus among feline genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners. This does not mean your cat will have these problems, only that she may be more at risk than other cats. We will describe the most common issues seen in Burmese to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all felines as well as information on genetic predispositions for Burmese. The information here can help you and your pet’s healthcare team plan for your pet’s unique medical needs together. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Burmese looking and feeling her best. We hope this information will help you know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your friend.
General Health Information for your Burmese
Obesity is a major disease that contributes to a surprisingly large number of illnesses and deaths in cats.
This revelation is more well-known and well-understood today than in the last few decades, but too many owners are still ignoring the dangers of extra weight on their pets. Excess weight is one of the most influential factors in the development of arthritis, diabetes, and other life-threatening diseases. Everyone knows—many firsthand from personal experience—how even shedding just a few pounds can result in improved mobility and increased overall motivation to be active. And the same is true for your pet.
Research suggests that carrying excess weight may shorten a pet’s life by as much as two years, and can cause the onset of arthritis two years sooner. Diabetes, an inherited disease, has a much higher chance of developing in overweight pets, and may never become a problem for a healthy-weight cat. The more obese a cat becomes, the more likely it will become diabetic. Hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver, is another potentially fatal disease in overweight pets; hepatic lipidosis can develop in as few as 48 hours when an overweight cat stops eating for any reason.
So how can we help our pets stay trim? Understanding your cat’s dietary habits is key. The average cat prefers to eat about 10-15 times a day, just a few nibbles at a time. This method, free-feeding, works well for most cats, but boredom may increase the number of trips your cat makes to the food bowl. By keeping your cat playfully active and engaged, you’ll help your pet stay healthy and have some fun at the same time! A string tied to a stick with something crinkly or fuzzy on the other end of the string, and a little imagination—you and your cat will both be entertained. Food puzzles, like kibbles put in a paper bag or under an overturned basket or box, may help to motivate cats with more food-based interests to romp and tumble.
For really tough cases of overeating, you will have to take a firm stance, and regulate your cat’s food intake. Instead of filling your cat’s bowl to the top, follow the feeding guide on the food package and be sure to feed a high-quality adult cat diet as recommended by your vet. Replace your cat’s habits of eating when bored with extra playtime and affection. Cats typically adjust their desires for personal interaction by the amount of affection offered to them, so in other words, ignoring your cat means your cat will ignore you. By the same token, loving on and playing with your cat a lot will cause your cat to desire that time with you. A more active cat means a healthier, happier pet—and owner!
Dental disease is one of the most common chronic problems in pets who don’t have their teeth brushed regularly. Unfortunately, most cats don’t take very good care of their own teeth, and this probably includes your Burm. Without extra help and care from you, your cat is likely to develop potentially serious dental problems. Dental disease starts with food residue, which hardens into tartar that builds up on the visible parts of the teeth, and eventually leads to infection of the gums and tooth roots. Protecting your cat against dental disease from the start by removing food residue regularly may help prevent or delay the need for advanced treatment of dental disease. This treatment can be stressful for your cat and expensive for you, so preventive care is beneficial all around. In severe cases of chronic dental infection, your pet may even lose teeth or sustain damage to internal organs. And, if nothing else, your cat will be a more pleasant companion not knocking everyone over with stinky cat breath! We’ll show you how to keep your cat’s pearly whites clean at home, and help you schedule regular routine dental exams.
Like all cats, Burmese are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections such as panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and rabies, which are preventable through vaccination. The risk of your cat contracting these diseases is high, so the corresponding vaccines are called “core” vaccines, which are highly recommended for all cats. In addition, vaccines are available to offer protection from other dangerous diseases like feline leukemia virus (FeLV). In making vaccination recommendations for your cat, we will consider the prevalence of these diseases in our area, your cat’s age, and any other risk factors specific to her lifestyle.
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Burmese’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your feline friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. Many types of parasites can be detected with a fecal exam, so it’s a good idea to bring a fresh stool sample (in a stink-proof container, please) with your pet for her twice-a-year wellness exams. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Burm is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this procedure includes surgically removing the ovaries and usually the uterus; in males, the testicles are surgically removed. Spaying or neutering your pet decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted litters. Both sexes usually become less territorial and less likely to roam, and neutering particularly decreases the occurrence of urine spraying and marking behaviors in males. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your cat is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays to check for dysplasia or a thorough dental exam to look for stomatitis, these procedures can be conveniently performed at the same time as the spay or neuter to minimize the stress on your cat. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions against common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. It sounds like a lot to keep in mind, but don’t worry – we’ll discuss all the specific problems we will look for with you when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Burmese
This disease damages the valves of the heart due to a thickening of the endocardium, the inner lining of the heart. The thickened endocardium causes a heart murmur, which inhibits the heart’s ability to grow and thrive and which eventually leads to congestive heart failure. Medications and treatments for endocardial fibroelastosis can prolong life, but affected kittens usually die before six months of age. The disease is genetic, so cats related to affected kittens should not be used for breeding. Because endocardial fibroelastosis is such a serious condition, we’ll listen closely to your kitten’s heart at every check-up!
Cardiomyopathy is the medical term for heart muscle disease, either a primary inherited condition or secondary to other diseases that damage the heart. The most common form, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, is a thickening of the heart muscle often caused by an overactive thyroid gland. Another example is dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, which can be caused by a dietary deficiency of the amino acid taurine. While DCM was a big problem in the past, all major cat food producers now add taurine to cat food, so DCM is rarely seen in cats with high-quality diets today.
Catching signs of cardiomyopathy early is important, but a cat’s normal tendency to hide illness can make symptoms difficult to spot. The first thing a pet parent usually notices is rapid breathing, lethargy, and a poor appetite. These symptoms may appear to come on suddenly, often between a few hours to a few days, but in most cases, the cat has actually been suffering quietly for weeks to months and is now in serious trouble.
For a few breeds of cats, genetic testing is available for a specific gene abnormality that causes HCM. Most cats with cardiomyopathy have a heart murmur that can be detected during a wellness physical exam, but a specific diagnosis requires more advanced medical imaging. Finding this problem early, when treatment is most effective, is another important reason to have your pet evaluated twice a year for life.
Cats with heart disease may develop blood clots in their arteries known as FATE (feline aortic thromboembolisms). Blood clots most commonly become lodged just past the aorta, the large blood vessel that supplies blood from the heart to the body, blocking normal blood flow to the hind legs. When this happens, one or both hind legs may become paralyzed, cold, or painful. FATE is a life-threatening disease, and requires quick action and prolonged medical care. Cats who survive thromboembolisms, however, usually regain full function of their limbs. If your cat is diagnosed with heart disease, we may prescribe medications to help lower the risk of blood clots. If your cat suddenly can’t walk or is dragging one or both back legs and crying, don’t wait! Your pet needs immediate emergency care.
Multiple Eye Problems
Not many things have the dramatic impact on your cat’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Burmese can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most can be extremely painful! We will evaluate your cat’s eyes during every visit to look for any troublesome signs.
Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects Burmese (and people too!), is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Glaucoma can occur independently as a primary condition or can develop secondarily to another disease, such as cataracts, lens luxation, or uveitis (inflammation inside the eye). Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain can be severe, but is rarely noticed by pet owners due to cats’ tendencies to conceal discomfort. If your cat is hiding from you or not eating, chances are that your pet is in pain. Some people who have glaucoma report that the pain is like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick—ouch! In advanced cases, the eye may also look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform glaucoma screening regularly to diagnose and start treatment for your pet as early as possible, but the condition is considered a medical emergency, so if you notice or suspect your pet is suffering from any of these symptoms, seek emergency care immediately!
Eyelid agenesis is a birth defect in which the upper eyelid does not form properly. This malformation leaves the eye constantly vulnerable to foreign materials contacting the cornea, like dust, eyelashes, and hair. In addition, the eye is never properly hydrated, and remains irritated, red, and dry as a result. Over time, this irritation causes painful corneal ulcers and scar tissue to develop, eventually leading to partial or complete blindness. In mild cases, treatment may include the application of eye lubricant and cryosurgery to remove the eyelashes rubbing the eye. Usually though, affected cats are treated through surgical eyelid reconstruction. Once healed, the new eyelids should function normally, and the cat should be able to live a healthy life with normal vision.
Corneal sequestration is a painful condition common in breeds with prominent eyes, like Burmese. A corneal sequestrum is a hard black patch of dead tissue that develops on the front of the cat’s eye, or the cornea. This condition usually develops as the result of chronic inflammation due to viral infection, eyelid defects, or even eyelashes that grow the wrong way. Some early cases may be managed fairly well for months to years using topical medications, but in more advanced cases, preventive surgery may be able to repair the defect and save the eye before the sequestrum detaches. So keep an eye out for any signs of eye infection in your cat, and we’ll check for this condition and other potential eye problems at each biannual wellness exam too.
Diabetes mellitus is a genetic disease that can occur in any cat breed. With some forms of diabetes, a cat will become diabetic regardless of other health problems. Other cats may have a susceptibility to diabetes, but will only become overtly diabetic if they are allowed to become overweight or eat a poor diet. If a cat’s weight and diet are managed appropriately, the risk for diabetes in your pet is much lower. Recently, indoor inactive lifestyles have caused a tremendous increase in the number of diabetic cats. Cats were not bred to be only window gazers, but the majority of feline pets live exclusively sedentary lives indoors. Keeping your indoor pet active with daily exercise is very important to keeping your cat slim and preventing illnesses related to weight gain. Diabetes can also be related to a painful condition called pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis, which is thought to be genetically inherited, can lead to damage of the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, and therefore can lead to a diabetic state in the cat.
Symptoms of diabetes include weight loss despite a good appetite, excessive thirst, and increased urination. We will test for the disease at least once a year and more often as your cat ages. As with people, many diabetic cats do not need to receive insulin injections if they lose weight and switch to a high-protein, low-carbohydrate prescription diet. Because diabetes is thought to be a genetic predisposition in Burmese, managing the type and quantity of food that your pet eats and incorporating exercise into your cat’s daily routine is essential!
Renal failure refers to the inability of the kidneys to properly perform their functions of cleansing waste from the blood and regulating hydration. Kidney disease is extremely common in older cats, but is usually due to exposure to toxins or genetic causes in young cats. Even very young kittens can have renal failure if they have inherited kidney defects, so we recommend screening for kidney problems early, before any anesthesia or surgery, and then regularly throughout life. Severe renal failure is a progressive, fatal disease, but special diets and medications can help cats with kidney disease live longer, fuller lives.
When your cat urinates outside the litter box, you may be annoyed or furious, especially if your best pair of shoes was the location chosen for the act. But don’t get mad too quickly—in the majority of cases, cats who urinate around the house are sending signals for help. Although true urinary incontinence, the inability to control the bladder muscles, is rare in cats and is usually due to improper nerve function from a spinal defect, most of the time, a cat that is urinating in “naughty” locations is having a problem and is trying to get you to notice. What was once considered to be one urinary syndrome has turned out to be several over years of research, but current terminology gathers these different diseases together under the label of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Diseases, or FLUTD. Many of these diseases cause similar symptoms, for example, a cat with urolithiasis, or bladder stones, shows many of the same symptoms as a cat with a urinary tract infection, which may also present like the symptoms of a blocked tomcat. Watching for any signs of abnormal urination, like urinating on cool surfaces (a tile floor or bathtub, for example), blood in the urine, straining to urinate with little or no urine production, or crying in the litterbox can help you identify the first signs of a FLUTD. If your cat demonstrates any of these symptoms, call us right away for an urgent appointment. Particularly for male cats, if the urethra is blocked with stones or crystals, the cat is not able to expel any urine, which can become an emergency within only a few hours. The inability to urinate is painful and quickly fatal, so if your cat may be blocked, seek emergency care immediately.
Cats are very good at hiding how sick they are, so the early signs of FLUTD are easy to miss. Bringing your cat in for regular urinalysis testing allows us to check for signs of infection, kidney disease, crystals in the urine, and even diabetes. X-rays and ultrasounds can also help detect the presence of stones in the bladder or kidneys. Lower urinary tract disease can be controlled with medications and special diets, though severe cases of FLUTD may also require surgery.
The stifle, or knee joint, is a remarkable structure that allows a cat to perform amazing feats of agility like crouching, jumping, and pouncing. One of the main components of the stifle is the patella, or kneecap, and the medical term luxation means “being out of place”. Thus, a luxating patella is a kneecap that slips off to the side of the leg because of an improperly developed stifle. A cat with a luxating patella may not show signs of pain or abnormality until the condition is well advanced; signs of this condition appear gradually and can progress to lameness as the cat grows older. Early detection of a luxating patella is key to effective therapy, so getting your cat an x-ray at the time of her spay or his neuter, around three to six months of age, is a good way to check. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your pet may not require much treatment beyond typical arthritis medication. When symptoms are more severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap and prevent it from popping out of place. Although the tendency for patellar luxation seems to be inherited, developmental problems in joints have complex inheritance patterns, and genetic tests have not yet been developed for this condition. Patellar luxation occurs in many breeds, but Burmese are at higher risk for the condition.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
While anesthesia means a lack of sensation or feeling, hyperesthesia means feeling too much. Cats with hyperesthesia have increased sensitivity to touch and other stimulation of the skin and nerves. You may notice your cat’s skin rippling along the back when it experiences even light touches or other triggers to the condition. Affected cats appear to be uncomfortable with the sensation and may cry, try to run away, or self-mutilate trying to lick or chew the sensation away. Other diseases of the skin or nervous system may cause similar signs, so we’ll run tests to determine the specific problem. If chewing is the only symptom you are noticing, treatment may be as simple as monthly flea prevention! For cats with hyperesthesia, medications can sometimes help alleviate the negative sensations, but close monitoring is constantly required to prevent the cat from self-endangerment.
Psychogenic alopecia is an anxiety-related behavior. Affected cats will groom themselves so aggressively that they become bald in some areas. It’s a nervous habit, like people chewing their fingernails. Often cats only do this when they are bored and alone, so pet owners don’t always see the excessive licking, just the resultant hair loss. Allergies and parasites are much more common causes of hair loss and can cause similar behaviors as alopecia, so these should be ruled out first before assuming that a cat with hair loss suffers from excessive anxiety. Psychogenic alopecia has been reported more often in Burmese than in other breeds, so be sure to watch for aggressive grooming at home. If you do notice excessive licking or patchy hair loss, we will first rule out other causes, such as mites and allergies, then recommend treatment to help curb the behavior.
Demodicosis is caused by several species of microscopic mites in the Demodex family. These mites live in hair follicles, and are usually passed on to kittens by contact with their mother. Many cats probably have a few of these mites but don’t have any symptoms; in normal cats, the immune system keeps these mites from getting out of hand. Some breeds, however, like your Burmese are prone to an immune-system defect that allows these mites to live and reproduce excessively. Your cat may also have a specific allergy to these mites. In either case, affected cats will develop itchy, red lesions often on the face or feet. In suspected cases of demodicosis, we will perform a skin scrape of the affected areas to identify the mites under the microscope. Treatments include topical medications or lime sulfur dips and sometimes antibiotics to control secondary infections of the inflamed areas.
Taking Care of Your Burmese at Home
Much of what you can do at home to keep your cat happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for your pet. During your cat’s exams, we’ll perform her necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Burms. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing her up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build your pet’s routine care into your schedule to help your Burmese live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine for your pet.
- Supervise your pet as you would a young child. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will help keep her out of trouble, off of inappropriate surfaces for jumping, and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- She has a low maintenance short coat. Brush as needed, at least weekly for a healthy shine.
- Burmese usually have good teeth, but you’ll need to brush them at least twice a week to keep them strong and healthy!
- Check her ears weekly for wax, debris, or signs of infection and clean when necessary. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
- She needs daily play sessions that stimulate her natural desire to hunt and explore. Keep her mind and body active or she may develop behavior issues.
- Cats are meticulously clean and demand a clean litter box. Be sure to provide at least one box for each cat and scoop waste daily.
- It is important that your cat drinks adequate amounts of water. If she won’t drink water from her bowl try adding ice cubes or a flowing fountain.
- Feed a high-quality feline diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your cat regularly by engaging her with high-activity toys.
What to Watch For
An abnormal symptom in your pet could be just a minor or temporary issue, but it could also be the sign of serious illness or disease. Knowing when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently, is essential to taking care of your cat. Many diseases can cause cats to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Burmese needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of symptoms:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss, or areas of shortened fur
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
- Squinting, watery eyes, bluing cornea, redness, enlarged eye
- Voracious appetite, weight loss, excessive thirst and urination
- Poor appetite, weight loss, lethargy, increased thirst and urination
- Limping, reluctance to jump when playing
- Episodes of agitation with rippling skin, crying, chewing at the skin
- Areas of shortened hair or baldness; licking when stressed, anxious, or bored
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Lethargy, collapse, labored or open-mouth breathing, poor appetite, distended abdomen from fluid build-up
- Weakness or exercise intolerance; rapid, labored, or open-mouth breathing; sudden-onset of weakness
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the early diagnosis of inherited disease even before your cat shows symptoms. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your Burm counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide you both with the best health care possible: health care that’s based on your pet’s breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
- Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
- Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
- Hamza J, Hannon M, et al. Breed Profile [Internet]. The Cat Fanciers’ Association, Inc. [cited 2013 May 29]. Available from: http:/www.cfainc.org/Breeds/BreedsAB/Burmese.aspx