The Persian looks like a soft fluff ball of fur, but beneath the voluminous coat is a muscular, sturdy, cobby body. This breed is heavily boned, medium to large, with short, thick legs and an overall appearance of roundness. The head is large and round with great breadth of skull, and is set on a short, thick neck. The ears are small and rounded, set far apart and low on the head. The large, round eyes are set far apart, and the short, broad, snub nose has 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. Deformity of the skull resulting in an asymmetrical face or head is cause for disqualification in the show ring. The tail is thick and short, in proportion to the body, and angled down, lower than the back. Adult males weigh 9 to 14 pounds; adult females weigh 7 to 11 pounds. Size is less important than type.
Two distinct head types exist: Extreme and Dollface. Although the Extreme is the type accepted in the show ring, the Dollface has many fans. Fanciers of this type claim the Dollface is the original look before selective breeding changed the appearance of the breed. The Dollface Persian’s head is also rounded, but the nose is placed lower on the face and has a moderate break. The upcurving mouth helps give the desired sweet expression that fanciers prize. Breeders claim that the Dollface lacks many of the health problems found in the Extreme Persian.
Extreme or Dollface, the Persian has a very long, flowing, dense coat that comes in a plethora of colors and numerous patterns. In CFA the patterns are separated into divisions of silver and golden, smoke and shaded, calico and bicolor, solid, tabby, particolor, and Himalayan (pointed patterns). Eye color, in a variety of brilliant hues, depends on coat color. No outcrosses are allowed except for the Himalayan in some associations, and the Exotic Shorthair in TICA. While the Himalayan is a division of the Persian in CFA, it’s a breed in its own right in AACE, ACA, ACFA, CCA, CFF, and UFO. In TICA, the Persian is part of the Persian Breed Group, which includes the Himalayan and the Exotic as well. In CFA, longhaired Exotics that meet Persian color descriptions can compete in Persian color classes. However, the Exotic longhair division is for scoring only and points accrued by Exotic Longhairs shown in the Persian color classes will only count toward Exotic Longhair breed and color class wins, not toward wins in the Persian division.
The Persian, the most popular puss on the planet, has had a huge human following for hundreds of years. Persians were featured prominently in the first modern cat show, held at London’s Crystal Palace in 1871. At this groundbreaking affair organized by Harrison Weir (a noted cat enthusiast whom many regard as the father of the cat fancy), 170 cats were shown, among them Persians, Siamese, Russian Longhairs, British Shorthairs, and Angoras. Persians were already popular when Weir held his famous show, and subsequent cat shows only increased that popularity. In the 1800s, fanciers particularly prized blue Persians, probably emulating Queen Victoria’s passion for that color of the breed.
Persians have been around for much longer, however. In 1626, Italian writer and ethnographer Pietro della Valle (1586-1652) imported the first known Persian cats to Italy during his expeditions to Persia and Turkey. In his manuscript, Les Fameux Voyages de Pietro della Valle―(The Famous Voyages of Pietro della Valle), he mentions both Angora and Persian cats, and describes the latter as gray with very long, glossy, silky fur. According to his writings, Persian cats originated in the province of Khorasan in Persia (now Iran).
Other longhaired cats were imported to Europe from other areas, as well―Afghanistan, Burma, China, Russia and Turkey. At this point, these cats were not considered breeds as such, and for a time they were all referred to as Asiatic cats. No attempt was made to mate cats of like characteristics; cats of various lineages were commonly crossed, particularly longhairs such as Angoras and Persians.
Angoras were initially preferred for their silky white coats. Eventually, however, British fanciers came to favor the sturdy conformation, colors, and longer fur of the Persian. When Weir held his 1871 cat show, distinct differences between Persians and Angoras were noted. Persians were stockier and had smaller, rounded ears, and Angoras were slender and tall-eared, just as they are today.
Persians were imported to the United States in the late 1800s. They quickly became more popular than the Maine Coon, the homegrown breed that had previously won the hearts of American fanciers and, subsequently, the turn-of-the-century cat competitions. American breeding programs began. More than 100 years of selective breeding have refined the Persian into the cats they are today—stocky, rounded, and muscular with foreshortened faces and soft, silky, extra-long fur. The Persian is so popular that the breed accounts for almost 80% of the pedigreed cat population.