That is the question hundreds of people have asked me
in the past couple of years, many of whom had visited a cat show for the first
time and could not recognize the modern Siamese as the same animal they knew and
loved 20 or 30 years ago.
For 80 to 90 years the appearance of the Siamese had
changed very little. Breeders strove to improve their health. When Siamese first
appeared in England they were well known as being delicate and many failed to
thrive. Even into the 1920’s and 30’s the Siamese were not noted as being
robust. It took a great deal of hard work by dedicated breeders to improve their
health to the point where they were as hardy as other breeds and no longer
needed to be treated like hothouse flowers. It was decided that those
distinctive Siamese characteristics, the squint and the kink in the tail, should
be eliminated but, apart from that, the general shape of the cat remained
virtually unchanged. Despite arguments from modern breeders that Siamese
“never looked like that” and that any that did were “pet quality”, or
had been outcrossed to other breeds, many photographs of the period prior to the
1980’s show Champions that were sturdily built and whose faces were certainly
In 1892 when Harrison Weir drew up the first Standard
of Points for Siamese, it was stated that they should have a “woolly” coat.
Cats being bred as late as the 1970’s still had thick woolly waterproof coats,
totally unlike the thin sparse coats of modern Siamese, especially in America.
In 1980 the Siamese Joint Advisory Committee decided to
revise the Standard of Points. This spelled the end of the Siamese as we knew
it. The new Standard called for thinner, more “Oriental-shaped” cats, with
wedge-shaped heads. There was nothing outrageous in this; the head was always
defined as wedge-shaped, even in Harrison Weir’s day. The problem was certain
breeders’ interpretation of this. Wedge-shaped is quite a common definition -
the Standard of Points for the Devon Rex calls for a wedge-shaped head but
no-one could accuse them of being long and pointed like the modern Siamese. Some
breeders, especially in America, seemed to believe that “Oriental-shape”
meant thin, the thinner the better. Cats became smaller and thinner with long,
stick-like legs. Their faces became more and more exaggerated into long pointed
triangles with huge ears stuck on top, a caricature of the animal they were
meant to be.
It was not so much that the Standard was at fault but
individual breeders' interpretation of it. The body shape, “long and svelte”
became exaggerated into a long thin tube. “Dainty legs” became elongated
into fragile, long, thin limbs which looked barely able to support the
bodyweight, and tails became longer and thinner, resembling a length of string.
This was achieved by selective breeding, much the same as different shapes and
sizes have been made by selective breeding in the Dog Fancy.
Health deteriorated. Many extreme modern Siamese abort
their litters or give birth to sickly or deformed kittens. Heart problems have
become quite common with one breeder alone reporting a number of cats bought
from different sources dying from heart failure before the age of six.
Veterinary surgeons have reported eye problems caused by the exaggerated
elongation of the nose and undershot jaws are frequently reported. Temperaments
too suffered. Gone were the robust companions that many people compared to dogs.
Nervous cats were common, highly-strung and temperamental, they seemed to have
lost their intelligence of old. Voices too suffered. Although many people would
no doubt be pleased that Siamese were becoming less vocal, true aficionados of
the breed regret the loss of the lengthy conversations they used to have with
their pets. It was said that a Siamese could “talk” and this was certainly
true. Coming in from a walk the Traditional would excitedly tell you what he had
seen and who he had met. And, should you dare to go out and leave them, you were
left in no doubt as to their disapproval on your return. The outpouring of
recriminations left little to your imagination!
Many modern Siamese are virtually mute. Some utter
minute squeaks, totally unlike a Siamese. I have owned a Siamese who could be
heard when out exploring, continually grumbling to himself as he walked. You
could hear him patrolling the hedgerows and always knew where he was. His
brother, who closely rivalled him for the loudest voice I have ever heard, once
crept up on a drunk who had chosen to sit on our garden wall on his way home to
eat his fish and chips. Smelling the aroma of the fish, the cat let out an
almighty roar which nearly caused the poor man to have a heart attack. Throwing
his supper in the air he ran for his life and it wasn't long before we heard
rumours that a banshee had been heard in our garden. I cannot imagine a modern
Siamese earning such a reputation.
Once again, I feel that they are becoming less robust.
The thin, fine coats mean that they are far less hardy than their predecessors.
This does not appear to matter to many modern breeders who keep their cats
indoors and are horrified that anyone should want to give them their freedom.
What would they think, I wonder, of the famous breeder, now in her 90’s, whose
stud cat used to roll over in the snow on the Yorkshire Moors like a dog? My own
thick-coated Siamese, too, were never bothered by snow, rain or cold and would
just shrug off the worst of the elements, while their modern counterparts sit so
close to the fire or heater that they always seem in danger of burning
It wasn't until the 1990’s that a lot of people
realised what was happening, that the last of the old cats were passing on at
ripe old ages of 26, 17, 18 or more. These sort of ages were not uncommon among
the Traditional-type Siamese. When people tried to purchase a kitten of the same
type they were appalled. I know; it happened to me and, after writing to CATS, I
was inundated with hundreds of letters from people who were in a similar
position. In response to this demand the Traditional Siamese cat Association was
formed in 1995 to try to preserve breeding the few “old-type” Siamese still
in breeding and to bring back the Traditionals to a viable situation.
We have met a lot of opposition along the way but we
have, also, had a lot of help and encouragement too, mainly from past judges and
breeders, many of whom say they cannot bear to go to a show and see the Siamese
The change will not be brought about overnight. It took
many years of slow, subtle, barely noticed changes to get the Siamese to the
type it is now.
In the UK they have not gone as far down the road as
some American breeders. We want to halt this “progress” and gently try to
reverse it. It will take time. There are too few real Traditionals left in the
UK, though there still appear to be some remaining on the Continent and in
Russia. In their native Thailand, too, they remain unchanged and it looks as
though we will have to import new blood to increase the gene pool.
How far do we want to go? The Traditional Cat
Association in the USA have gone back to “Appleheads” which are similar to
the picture of Tiam O'Shian. Our members are split, with some preferring the
real “Traditionals” or “Appleheads” while others simply wish to go back
to the beautiful type personified by cats like Gr. Ch. Amberseal Electo.
We cater for both points of view. Everyone is entitled
to their opinion and many have suggested that the Traditionals could eventually
be shown alongside the moderns, instead of only being put on exhibition as is
the current situation.