Introducing the Orientals - Oriental Cat Association

Introducing the Orientals
When asked the question “What is an Oriental?” most cat breeders will answer
that it is a Siamese lacking points. The puzzled enquirer is left more perplexed
than ever because to anyone outside the magical world of cats ‘points’ mean
toes that ballet dancers pirouette upon or scores in football or quiz games.
If points in cats were to be scored for affectionate response, beauty, agility,
tenacity and a general joy of life then undoubtedly the Orientals would have
more points than any other breed. However, when breeders talk about the lack
of points in Oriental cats they are explaining that the familiar colour contrasts of
Siamese cats which produce the beige body and coloured mask, stockings and
tail are not seen in the Oriental and that, in fact, the Oriental has the same
degree of colour all over. All Orientals, other than the Whites, have green eyes
whereas all Siamese have blue eyes. These colour differences are the only
differences for in all other respects the Siamese and Orientals are identical, and
they share the same remote Siamese ancestry. In their ancestral home, Siam, all
the cats of the country were Siamese cats and only some of them were blue eyed
and pointed. The others were patterned in remarkable combinations of spots,
bars, stripes and patches, or had solid coloured coats, just as the Orientals of
today have.
To visitors from Britain the 19th century Siamese cats were new and different
for not only did some of them have the piercing blue eyes and points, they all
had a svelte and muscular body shape that was quite unlike that of the cats the
visitors had left at home. It was quite natural that when returning back to Britain
with mementos of their visits to the East that a few of the cats should be among
their luggage. Although the most unusual variety to Western eyes was
undoubtedly the Seal Point, we do know that other varieties were also shipped.
It is recorded that at a London Show in 1896 a Mr Spearman exhibited his ‘Blue
Siamese’ only to have it disqualified by the judge on the grounds that it ‘was
blue all over’ - the first Blue Oriental.
Early records of the Siamese cat world detail the arguments that raged between
those who favoured the all chocolate brown cats with yellow or green eyes and
those who insisted that only the blue eyes cats were Siamese. In the end the
champions of the blue eyed cats won the day and the all chocolate cats and the
others lacking blue eyes then disappeared from the scene, although they
undoubtedly continued to thrive in their native Siam.
Today Siam is known as Thailand and improved transport services and
communications have probably resulted in a blending of the original native cat
population with cats from other backgrounds. The only record of the cats of old
Siam are found in the ‘Cat Book Poems’ - a manuscript depicting all the
Siamese cats of the period of Siamese history before it was invaded by the
Burmese in 1767. In the Western world the Siamese cat has been modified and
refined by selective breeding to become the elegant variety it is today and the
white toes, kinky tails, squints and other characteristics that made it stand out
from the ordinary cats of the West have also virtually disappeared.
The cats bred in the same shape, or type, but lacking the darker coloured
extremities and (except for the White) having green eyes are described
collectively as ‘Orientals’. In Britain, the different colours of Orientals were for
a long time regarded as different breeds and thus they were grouped together:
Foreign Lilac
Foreign White
Foreign Black
Foreign Blue
Oriental Tabby
- Brown with green eyes
- Lilac with green eyes
- White with blue eyes
- Black with green eyes
- Blue with green eyes
- Tabby in all patterns and colours with green eyes
and so on until 1990, when common sense prevailed and they were all included
under the group name of Oriental, but with the exception of the White which
has retained the name Foreign White to distinguish it from the Continental
Oriental White which has green eyes.
Among the newer Oriental varieties in the group are the colour and pattern
variants of Reds, Creams, Silver Tabbies, Smokes, Silver Shadeds, and the
latest of all are four varieties that were not recorded
as present in ancient Siam - the Cinnamons, Caramels, Fawns and Apricots.
An edict of the Siamese Cat Club on the issue of blue eyes resulted in the virtual
disappearance of the Oriental from the show scene and after the 1920’s the reintroduction of ‘all over coloured’ cats involved outcrosses of Siamese to cats
of non-pedigree British domestic cats. Because many of the early Havanas bred
from the progeny of these outcrosses are also found at the back of most top
quality Siamese pedigrees, it is clear that although all the Oriental and Siamese
cats of today trace their ancestry back to the cats painted by monks in the
ancient Siamese capital of Ayudh, they also have their little bit extra from
Britain as a result of the introduction into their pedigrees of the non-pedigree
varieties of Britain many years ago.
The fact that there are now so many colours and varieties of Orientals did not
happen by accident. About thirty years ago, a small group of breeders planned
the redevelopment of a chocolate-brown-all-over-cat (the Havana) they set out
to do this by mating Siamese to non-pedigree black and also to Russian Blues.
As a result, many of the kittens carried not only the recessive gene for Siamese
but also the recessive genes for Chocolate and Blue. When matings were made
between these ‘carriers’ some kittens born were black others brown and others
were a lovely lavender grey shade, now known as Lilac.
As could be expected from matings between cat varieties with different body
shape, the first kittens bred were rather nondescript in build, resembling cats
from both sides of the pedigree. This meant that breeders had many years of
breeding ahead of them before they could really regard their task as being
completed. Until comparatively recently the Governing Council of the Cat
Fancy (GCCF) insisted that for recognition of a new variety proof must be
given of having bred like to like animals for three generations. When the
Havanas were under development this was a requirement that had to be met and
as a result, the early Havanas were of poor quality by the standards of today. In
Britain, the Brown Burmese had only recently been granted breed recognition.
(There were no other colours) and the Havanas and Burmese were frequently
penned next
to each other at shows and thus caused great confusion to some judges who
found it difficult to differentiate between a bad Burmese or a bad Havana. Some
Havanas had very dark almost sable brown coats, and some Burmese lacked the
characteristics now clearly developed in the British lines. One popular method
for differentiating between the two was to examine the paw pads. In the
Burmese these were nearly black but in a Havana they were paler pinkish
The GCCF resolutely closed its eyes to the early Lilacs and their breeders gave
up in despair, exporting their best cats and neutering others. It was not until
1977 that AOV varieties, which included the Lilac, were granted Championship
Status. The first Champions were ‘made up’ at the 1977 GCCF Supreme Show
and the first Grand Champion made up in 1980.
Quite independently of the breeding project leading to the rebirth of the solid
brown coated cats of old Siam as Havanas, a small group of British cat breeders
started work on a ten year programme of matings designed to produce a ‘White
Siamese’. Such cats were also present in Siam but had never been imported into
the West. The variety is one of the Oriental Group, now known as Foreign
White, and it was developed by crossing Siamese with shorthaired non-blue
eyed pedigree white cats to produce white kittens having blue and/or golden
eyes. All the white kittens gained the recessive gene for Siamese and when adult
they were mated to other Siamese and, in turn, bred a number of white kittens.
At this point the blue-eyed whites were selected and those with the blue eyes
resulting from the hidden presence of two Siamese genes were identified, either
by breeding tests or by examination of the eye structure. Further backcrosses to
Siamese were made ONLY with the Siamese blue-eyed white and the others
were neutered. The backcrossing program continued for many generations until
quality as good as, and in some cases better than, that in the Siamese itself was
The breeding programme for the Foreign White was started in 1962 but not all
breeding lines were sound enough to pass the rigorous selection methods
employed and it was not until 1974 that breed status was achieved. Full
Championship status was eventually granted by the GCCF in 1977 and by that
time the requirement for
three like-to-like generations had virtually been dropped. The kittens bred in the
first two or three generations of the Foreign White programme included nearly
two hundred other coloured Orientals - black, blue, red, cream, tortoiseshell
(tortie), tabby and so on. Very few were used for breeding but one breeder, in
particular, attempted the development of Oriental Tabbies and two others were
working hard on Oriental Silver Tabbies. One or two breeders favoured the
Blues, but no co-operative breeding programmes were started and for various
reasons most of the breeding lines were discontinued and the tabby breeder gave
up breeding cats altogether.
Until the late 1960’s very few Orientals were seen at shows other than the
Havanas (which had their own classes), and the Lilacs and Whites which were
exhibited as ‘Any Other Variety (AOV)’. By the end of the decade the Havanas
and the Tabby Pointed Siamese (only recognised as a variety of Siamese in
1966), were among the best Siamese types in the country. With the help of
prudent outcrossing between Havanas and Tabby Point Siamese, and by
backcrossing to both parental varieties, further improvement was made in the
Havanas and the emergence of the Oriental Tabby as a beautiful variety in its
own right was assured. Hot on the heels of the Oriental Tabbies came the Blues,
Blacks, Tortoiseshells (Torties), Silver Tabbies, Smokes and Shaded Silvers.
In 1971 the Oriental Cat Association (OCA) was formed and working closely
with the Foreign White Cat Fanciers Association which has now merged with
the OCA, it evolved sound breeding policies and a unified system of standards
of points for the whole group.
While today the range of varieties in the Oriental Group is still less than the
range depicted by the Siamese monks of Ayudh the present day understanding
of feline genetics allows breeders to realise that the emergence of further
colours and patterns is inevitable.
Further details of the varieties discussed in this leaflet and of the Oriental Cat
Association can be obtained from the OCA Secretary:
 2002 Oriental Cat Association