What is a Thai? A Thai is just a Siamese cat that looks like all Siamese cats did until about 40-50 years ago, when Siamese breeders began to breed for a new type that became popular at cat shows. Most breeders followed the newer style, which features long, pointed muzzles, extremely large ears, very short coats, and a fine-boned body type (see them at http://tica.org/public/breeds/si/intro.php and http://www.cfainc.org/breeds/profiles/siamese.html), but a minority of Siamese breeders kept breeding and registering the original style, although they didn’t usually show their cats because they were out of fashion. Siamese pet owners began to discover that it was increasingly hard to find old-style kittens when their 15- or-20-year-old cats died. Eventually, fanciers of old-style Siamese organized breed clubs, both in America and Europe, to try to preserve the remaining Siamese with the original appearance, and the name “Thai” began to be used to distinguish them from the more extreme-looking cats, which are often called “show-style” or “modern” Siamese (or sometimes “wedge-heads”). Old-style Siamese breeders and fanciers began to work on writing a standard to specify exactly how the cats should look. In 2007, The International Cat Association (TICA) recognized the Thai as a preliminary new breed, and Thais have since appeared regularly at TICA shows. In 2009 they moved up to “advanced new breed” status, and as of May 1, 2010 the Thai began competing as a championship breed in TICA. (You can see TICA’s description of the breed, read the standard and other information about the breed, or find breeders at http://tica.org/public/breeds/th/intro.php )
Thais are purebred cats, with Siamese pedigrees that go back tens of generations to the early years of the Siamese breed. A cat with a Siamese pedigree from one of the major cat registries can be registered and shown as a Thai in TICA if it has the old-style look. Pointed, blue-eyed cats imported directly from Thailand, where they are called “Wichienmaat,” can also be registered as Thais in TICA, providing a way to replenish the breed’s gene pool. (Modern show-style Siamese, unfortunately, have an especially limited gene pool because of the extremely selective breeding that produced the new look.) Cats imported from Thailand today are genetically the same stock from which British, and later American, Siamese foundation cats came in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Siamese cat terminology has become somewhat muddled and confusing over the last several decades. You have just read about “modern” or “show-style” Siamese, and about “old-style” Siamese, now formally known as Thai. Lots of people refer to old-style Siamese as “appleheads,” a name originally used derogatorily by show-style Siamese breeders to refer to the less extremely wedged, somewhat rounder head shape characteristic of the old-style cats. Other enthusiasts claim to distinguish between “classic” and “traditional” Siamese, supposed varieties of old-style Siamese. These names all mean different things to different people, and those of us breeding Thais usually just call them “old-style.” Cats that people call “appleheads,” “traditional,” or “classic,” are often not purebred cats—the terms are often used to refer to cats that “look” Siamese in the sense that they have the pointed color pattern, but whose body type is stockier, boning is heavier, and coats are coarser and fluffier. Such cats often have only partial Siamese ancestry (because Siamese cats were so popular in the mid-1900s that many of them interbred with domestic shorthairs) and cannot be documented to descend exclusively from purebred, registered, pedigreed Siamese lines. Cats that are registered as “Thai” in TICA, such as CloudCity cats and those of other TICA Thai breeders, are authentic Siamese cats, without any mixed-breed component.
Thais have moderately wedge-shaped heads (not round), short, very soft coats, a light-colored body, darker points (legs, tail, ears, and masks), and blue eyes. They are significantly more sturdily built than show-style Siamese but they are not heavy-boned or chunky. They have the social nature, insistent voice, and marked intelligence for which Siamese cats have always been known. They should resemble the breed standard developed in 1914 by America’s Siamese Cat Society, but not the standards currently in use for Siamese cats in major cat registries. In short, an old-style Siamese, or Thai, has the same look (and personality) that has existed for so long in Thailand, the look that the first imported British cats had over 100 years ago, and that persisted in America and Europe into the 1970s.