Burmese (cat) - Controversy


For the past thirty years, there has been controversy over the appearance of the breed, which can now be divided into two camps. American breeders prefer the "contemporary Burmese" ("American Burmese") which has shorter noses and rounder skulls. The "traditional Burmese" (or "British Burmese") was declassed by the Cat Fanciers' Association in the 1980s. England's Governing Council of the Cat Fancy took the opposite approach and banned the registration of all Burmese imported from America in order to preserve the "traditional" bloodlines.

The controversy revolves around the fact that "contemporary Burmese" sometimes carry alleles for the "Head Fault", a lethal head defect. The head fault rarely occurs with "traditional Burmese". Its widespread presence in the American lineages goes back to a cat named Good Fortune Fortunatas, a fine example of the "contemporary" body/head type, although the defect was present in Burmese cats before Fortunatas. This individual was extensively mated to Burmese cats in the USA, and today's show-type American Burmese cats can usually trace their lineage back to it.

"Contemporary Burmese" Breeders have continued with their stock because defective kittens are stillborn or euthanized soon after birth, and because sterilization of all possible head fault carriers would greatly reduce the North American Burmese gene pool. While the average, non-breeding pet owner does not ever have to deal with the head fault, it is hoped that the "head fault" allele will eventually be eliminated by a genetic test, and then by a period of controlled breeding.

Leslie A. Lyons, Ph.D. from University of California, Davis led the research to locate the recessive gene mutation that causes the head fault. Elimination of the defective gene from the gene pool is currently ongoing. In order to preserve diversity of blood lines some carriers of the gene are mated to non-carriers in order to produce further non-carriers. This breeding model is preferable to the immediate removal of all carriers from the gene pool because it helps to protect against a reduction in genetic diversity.

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