Otherwise indistinguishable from the Persian, with the same body type and long, silky coat, Himalayans are distinguished by their pointed pattern (the pattern of the Siamese) and their deep vivid blue eyes. Because of their long fur, the pointed pattern appears softer than that of the Siamese.
The Himalayan is a medium to large breed with short, thick legs and a muscular, heavy-boned, cobby body. The head is massive and round with great breadth of skull, set on a short, thick neck. The eyes are large and round, set far apart, giving the cat a sweet expression. The nose is short, snub and broad with a break centered between the eyes. When viewed in profile, the prominence of the eyes is apparent and the forehead, nose, and chin appear to be in vertical alignment. The ears are small and rounded at the tip, set far apart and low on the head. The tail is thick and short but in proportion to the body. It is carried without a curve and at an angle lower than the back. Adult males weigh 9 to 14 pounds; adult females weigh 7 to 11 pounds. The Himmie is solid, but not fat, with an overall appearance of soft roundness. Type is more important than size.
There are two different facial types: the Extreme and the Traditional (also called the Original). Although the Extreme head type is what you’ll see in the show ring, the Traditional has many fans. Both types have the small, rounded ears set low on the head, wide, round eyes, full cheeks and a full, well-developed chin. However, the Extreme’s face is round and extremely flattened, and in many cases the nose is nearly as high as the eyes.
The Traditional Himalayan’s head is also round and massive. However, the nose, while also snub, is placed lower on the face and has only a slight break. The up-curving mouth helps give the desired sweet expression that fanciers of this type prize. For those who like this look, the Traditional Cat Association (TCA) promotes the Traditional Himalayan and other traditional versions of pedigreed cats, such as the Siamese and Persian. According to TCA’s founder, Diana Fineran, the Traditional Himalayan lacks many of the problems that trouble some Extreme Himalayan bloodlines such as breathing difficulties and eye tearing.
The Himalayan’s coat is long, flowing and very thick, which softens the cat’s lines and accentuates the appearance of roundness. The points, consisting of the ears, legs, feet, tail, and face mask, show the cat’s basic color. Body color ranges from white to beige; a clear, uniform color is preferred, but subtle shading and darker shaded areas on the coats of older cats are allowed. Still, there must be a definite contrast between body color and point color. Point colors include chocolate, seal, lilac, blue, red, cream tortie, blue-cream, chocolate-tortie, lilac-cream, seal lynx, blue lynx, red lynx, cream lynx, tortie lynx, blue-cream lynx, chocolate lynx, lilac lynx, chocolate-tortie lynx and lilac-cream lynx.
The only allowable outcross is the Persian, except in TICA, where the Exotic Shorthair is also permitted. The Siamese is no longer used in breeding programs.
The Himalayan, a gorgeous cat with the color and pattern of the Siamese but the body and coat of the Persian, was deliberately created in 1950 by American breeder Marguerita Goforth. Soon after Goforth’s success, British breeders also achieved the same goal. By crossbreeding Persians and Siamese and then crossing the resulting offspring, these breeders succeeded in producing the desired appearance. These innovative breeders weren’t the first to try, but they were the first to attempt to establish this new variety as a distinct breed. In 1955 the British Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) recognized the Himalayan under the name Colorpoint Longhair. The American associations CFA and ACFA recognized the breed in 1957 under the name Himalayan, named for the color pattern found in other animals such as the Himalayan rabbit. By 1961, all major U.S. cat associations that existed at that time recognized the Himalayan.
In 1984, CFA united the Himalayan and the Persian breeds, and the Himalayan became a color division rather than a separate breed. By that time, the body type was the same for both breeds and only the colors and pattern remained of the Siamese ancestors. And since the breeders needed to cross their Himalayans to Persians occasionally to maintain the ideal body and head type, registration and status problems had arisen for the hybrid offspring. Before 1984 in CFA, the Persian and Himalayan were two separate breeds, and the hybrid offspring of the two were not considered true members of either breed. Now, as varieties of the same breed, the offspring can be registered and shown in whatever color division they belong.
The decision was controversial, however, and not everyone was happy with the new policy. Some of the Persian breeders didn’t like the idea of hybrids being introduced into their pure Persian bloodlines. Some Himalayan breeders were equally concerned about the breed they had worked so hard to refine. In fact, a group of fanciers so strongly disagreed with the new policy that they split from CFA and formed their own organization, the National Cat Fanciers’ Association (NCFA).
Today, whether the Himalayan is considered a breed in its own right depends upon the association. In CFA and ACA Himalayans are considered a color division of the Persian breed. However, in the AACE, ACFA, CCA, CFF, NCFA, TCA, and UFO, the Himalayan is considered a separate breed and has its own breed standard. In TICA, the Himalayan is included in the Persian Breed Group, which includes the Persian, Himalayan, and Exotic Shorthair. They share a standard but each breed is mentioned and the differences noted.
However, because Himalayans are regularly crossed with Persians, most of these associations have special rules for Himalayan-Persian hybrids. In TICA, for example, Persian, Himalayan and Exotic hybrids or variants may be shown as the breed they resemble. That means if a cross between a Persian and a Himalayan results in offspring who look like Himalayans, they can be registered and shown as Himalayans. If an Exotic-to-Exotic mating produces, say, a longhaired tabby, he can be registered and shown as a Persian. In ACFA, non-pointed Himalayans are included in the Himalayan standard, allowing them to be shown as that breed. This makes it much easier for breeders and avoids the problem of breeders ending up with kittens who can’t be bred or shown for championship.
One might assume from seeing those perfect and seemingly effortless curried coats at the cat show that grooming Himalayans is a breeze. One might assume incorrectly. When you buy, make sure the breeder is willing to provide ongoing advice about grooming and health. The Himalayan demands a serious time commitment to keep those long locks looking lovely, and it takes knowledge and practice to do it properly. If you let your cat’s grooming slide, you’ll end up with a matted, miserable kitty bearing no resemblance to the lovely Himmies in the show ring.
The Himmie is not usually unhealthy, although some lines are prone to certain conditions and diseases. This is true of most pedigreed breeds; one of the unfortunate side-effects of selective breeding is that it’s possible to acquire and concentrate detrimental traits along with the desirable ones. Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) , a disease that can cause renal failure, is known to exist in Himalayan lines. According to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California, over 37 percent of Persians have PKD, the breed that accounts for nearly 80 percent of all pedigreed cats in the cat fancy. This is a serious problem for the Himalayan since the Persian is the only outcross, and is used often in Himalayan breeding programs. In CFA, Himalayans and Persians are considered the same breed.In TICA, Himalayans, Persians, and Exotics are part of the same breed group. Fortunately, a PKD genetic test for Persians, Exotics, and Himalayans is available from the school’s Veterinary Genetics Laboratory which helps breeders screen out affected breeding stock. Leslie A. Lyons Ph.D., Assistant Professor with the Department of Population Health and Reproduction at UC Davis, recommends PKD testing for Persians, Exotics, Himalayans, American Shorthairs, British Shorthairs, Scottish Folds, and any breed that outcrosses with Persians.
Like the Extreme Persian, some Extreme Himalayan are prone to excessive eye tearing and breathing problems due to the foreshortened face. Such Himalayans need daily face washing to eliminate the dark streaks tears can leave under the eyes, although some breeders say Himmies don’t have as much trouble with this as Persians do. Be sure to ask your cat’s breeder. Tear stain remover, made especially for cats to clean the discoloration under the eyes, can be purchased at pet supply stores, catalogs, and web sites.
In addition, some Himalayan lines are prone to plaque, tartar buildup, and gingivitis. Gingivitis can lead to the dental disease periodontitis (an inflammatory disease affecting the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth), which can cause tissue, tooth, and bone loss. Untreated, periodontal disease can undermine a Himmie’s overall health. If your Himmie is prone to dental disease, it’s crucial to get dental exams during the annual veterinary checkup, periodic teeth cleaning by your veterinarian and, if your Himalayan will tolerate it, regular tooth brushing using cat toothpaste and a cat toothbrush (you can also use a soft child’s size toothbrush).
An inherited form of blindness called progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) has also been found in some lines, particularly those bred with the Persian. Vision problems start at about four to eight weeks and progress very rapidly. Persians and Himalayans with this inherited disease become completely blind by 15 weeks. PRA is caused by a recessive genetic mutation—two copies of the gene must be inherited to cause blindness. However, Himmies with one copy of the mutated gene, while perfectly healthy themselves, can pass the mutation onto their offspring. Leslie Lyons, PhD. is working on a genetic test to detect carrier cats so they can be removed from the gene pool.
The most potentially life-threatening disease that exists in some Himmie lines is the inherited heart disease feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The disease can develop at any age, but is more common in older cats—cats who have already had the opportunity to pass the disease along to offspring. This disease is serious because the first noticeable symptom of HCM is often sudden death. HCM is the most common feline heart disease, and is known in other breeds and in random-bred cats as well. Buying from a Himmie breeder who tests for common diseases like PKD and provides a written health guarantee is a wise precaution.
Did you know?
In the CFA, the Himalayan is considered a division of the Persian breed. They are known as Pointed Pattern Persians. Persians who carry the recessive colorpoint gene are called Colorpoint Carriers and are given a different registration number for breeding purposes. Because they have a copy of the colorpoint gene, they can produce Himalayan kittens if mated to a cat that also possesses a copy of the colorpoint gene, even if both parents do not show the colorpoint pattern in their physical appearance.
Each year, the Himmie proves its popularity by recruiting more humans into its exclusive club. This is hard for some to understand, since membership requires becoming a cat hair stylist. However, Himalayan owners say it’s no secret—and no contest; the Himmie is the most poised, loving and sweet breed who ever padded around the planet. It’s all about personality. The regal Himmie is a sedate and affectionate cat, preferring to cuddle with you rather than climb your favorite curtains. Responsive to your moods and emotions, Himalayans share your joys and help you bear your sorrows.
Tranquil doesn’t mean unintelligent, although breeders say that’s a common misconception. Like most cats, Himmies spend a lot of time learning how to wrap their people around their little paws so they can get just what they want. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you—they’re just being cats.
Some breeders say that there are differences in personality between the Himalayan and the Persian. Others claim there are no differences, and this could very well depend upon the bloodline, since different traits can be concentrated in different lines. Some breeders say Himmies tend to talk more (a gift from their Siamese ancestors, no doubt) and have a more slightly active temperament. Don’t worry, though—Himalayans don’t keep you awake with their yowling the way Siamese are prone to do. They have soft, pleasant voices.
Himalayans crave affection and love to be petted, but don’t demand attention the way some breeds will. If they are not getting the requisite amount of attention, however, they let you know by quiet meows and meaningful stares with those big, wide eyes. Himmies tend to be a bit more playful than Persians, and some enjoy an occasional game of fetch with their favorite people, perhaps because Siamese are prodigious fetchers. Interactive toys with which you take an active role are favorites with Himmies, but that can be the most expensive feathered toy or a balled-up scrap of paper.