Guide to Cat Breeds (See Full List)

Persian

Persian

Ancestry: Longhaired domestic cats
Place of Origin: Persia (Iran and, probably, surrounding areas)
Date of Origin: Unknown—the breed has existed for hundreds of years
Accepted by: All North American cat associations (championship)

 
Description

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, 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 winning 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.

History

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…, 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 home-grown 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-loooong fur. The Persian is so popular that the breed accounts for almost 80 percent of the pedigreed cat population.

Notes

Because of the Persian’s popularity and large numbers, it’s relatively easy to get one. However, even more care must go into selecting the breeder. Avoid those who would sacrifice quality for quick profit; popularity can attract the unethical. Kitten mills usually give little thought to the health and welfare of their cats. Buying a cat or kitten from a breeder you have met and talked with is the best way to find your perfect Persian, but that’s not always possible. Research the breed before buying, and talk with several breeders before making a decision. Don’t buy a Persian (or any cat) on impulse, no matter how that kitten in the window tugs at your heartstrings. Cat shows are good places to find a breeder, since you can talk with many of them and see their cats.

In addition, look for a breeder who is willing to provide advice on grooming. Persians are cats with special needs; they require serious time commitments to keep those long locks looking lovely. It’s important to realize that the exquisitely groomed coats of the lovely specimens in the show hall require many hours slaving over a cat comb—among other grooming tools. If you let your Persian’s grooming slide, you’ll end up with a tangled, matted, miserable kitty who bears no resemblance to the lovely specimens in the show ring.

The Persian breed is generally healthy, although some lines are prone to certain diseases and conditions. This is true of all purebred breeds; one of the unfortunate side effects of selective breeding is that it’s possible to acquire detrimental traits along with desirable ones. The most widespread and serious inherited disease known to exist in Persian lines is polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a disease that can cause death by renal failure. Since symptoms are mild until later in life, untested breeding cats have often already passed on the dominant gene to their offspring. According to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California, an estimated 37 percent of all Persians have PKD. Fortunately, a PKD test for Persians, Himalayans, and Exotics is available from the school's Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, which can help breeders screen out affected stock before they are used for breeding. A sample is taken at home with a simple cheek swab, and mailed back to the laboratory for testing. No visit to a veterinarian is necessary, since the lab will send a kit and instructions for taking the sample.

Another potentially life-threatening disease that exists in some lines is the inherited heart disease feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a progressive heart condition that is often fatal. The symptoms of HCM can be so subtle that the first visible symptom is often sudden death. Since HCM is the most common heart disease in cats, a number of veterinary schools such as UC Davis are working to find ways to test, treat, and cure the disease. A test for the mutation has been developed for the Ragdoll and Maine Coon, and researchers are working on tests for other breeds as well. No cure is currently available for the deadly disease, but medication can slow its progression if it is caught early. HCM can be diagnosed by cardiac ultrasound and ECG testing.

The Extreme Persian is prone to excessive eye tearing and breathing problems due to the shortened face. Many Persians need their faces washed daily to eliminate excess tears. Also, some 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 cat’s overall health. This breed needs dental exams during the annual veterinary checkups, and periodic teeth cleaning as recommended by your veterinarian. If your cat will tolerate it, regular tooth cleaning using cat toothpaste and a cat toothbrush or a soft child's size toothbrush will help reduce plaque. Gauze pads wrapped around your finger work just as well and are easier to control.

This is not to say your Persian will develop all or any of these conditions and diseases. However, it’s wise to ask your potential breeder how carefully she screens her breeding stock. Be sure to talk to your breeder about these and any other health concerns, and buy from a breeder who tests for PKD, screens breeding stock for PKD and HCM, and provides a written health guarantee.

Did you know?

Selective breeding has increased the length of the Persian’s coat to as long as eight inches. The fine down hairs are almost as long as the relatively fewer guard hairs . This gives the Persian its full, luxurious coat, but also increases matting, since the down hairs mat much more easily than the stiffer, thicker guard hairs.

Personality

Persian lovers are often first attracted to the breed’s beauty and style, but it’s the personality that turns them into true aficionados. Fans of the favorite furrball say Persians are a delight to have around, with their loving, laidback, sweet personalities. Persians are a wonderful mix of gentle devotion and pampered royalty. They are generally sedate, not likely to bounce off the walls or claw to the top of window treatments, but they do enjoy pouncing on a catnip mouse on occasion. They prefer spending their awake time playing, cuddling and being pampered by their preferred persons. Persians have soft, pleasant, rarely used voices. They crave affection and love to be petted, but won’t demand attention the way some of the more outspoken breeds will.

They can show extreme devotion to their favorite humans, but may be discriminating in bestowing their loyalty. As with most cats, but particularly so with this breed, Persians will only give their full trust and dedication to humans who give back an equally large share of love and attention. But it’s worth it, say fanciers; bonding with a Persian is like having a soul mate, and that relationship transcends the differences between our two species.

Because Persians have such long hair and such docile temperaments, it’s particularly important that they be considered as indoor-only pets. That long coat readily sweeps up burrs, leaves and other debris, and also easily snags on bushes, trees and fences, creating safety hazards for your Persian pal. In addition, their docile, trusting nature, popularity and value can make them tempting targets for thieves. A protected environment is your cat’s safest bet.

Breed Characteristics

Size:Medium to large.
Coat Length(s):Long hair.
Body Type:Cobby.
Grooming Requirement:Daily.
Talkativeness:Quiet.
Activity Level:Low.
Affection:Affectionate.
Usually Good With:Everyone.
Time Alone:4 to 8 hours per day.
Attention:Needs lots of attention.
Handling:Easy to handle.