What is a Thai? A Thai is just a Siamese cat that looks like all Siamese cats did until about 30-40 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 small-boned body type (you can 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 began to organize breed clubs, both in America and Europe, to try to preserve the remaining Siamese with the traditional 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 “wedgeheads” or “wedgies”). 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 will compete as a championship breed in TICA. (You can see TICA’s description of the breed and read the standard 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. 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 couple of decades. You have just read about “modern” or “show-style” Siamese, and about “old-style” Siamese, now formally known as Thai. But lots of people refer to old-style Siamese as “appleheads,” a name originally used somewhat derogatorily by show-style Siamese breeders to refer to the less extremely wedged, slightly 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,” may or may not be purebred cats—the terms are often used to refer to cats that “look” Siamese, but might have only one or a few Siamese ancestors and cannot be proved to descend exclusively from purebred, registered, pedigreed Siamese lines.
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 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 through the 1960s.