The Persian is a long-haired breed of cat characterized by its round face and short muzzle. In Britain, it is called the Longhair or Persian Longhair. It is also known as the Shiraz or Shirazi, particularly in the Middle East. The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported into western Europe from Persia around 1620. Recognized by the cat fancy since the late 19th century, it was developed first by the English, and then mainly by American breeders after the Second World War.
The selective breeding carried out by breeders has allowed the development of a wide variety of coat colors, but has also led to the creation of increasingly flat-faced Persians. Favored by fanciers, this head structure can bring with it a number of health problems. As is the case with the Siamese breed, there have been efforts by some breeders to preserve the older type of cat, the traditional breed, having a more pronounced muzzle, which is more popular with the general public. Hereditary polycystic kidney disease is prevalent in the breed, affecting almost half the population in some countries.
The placid and unpretentious nature of the Persian confers a propensity for apartment living. It has been the most popular breed in the United States for many years but its popularity has seen a decline in Britain and France.
It is not clear when longhaired cats first appeared, as there are no known long-haired specimens of the African wildcat, the ancestor of the domestic subspecies. There were claims in the 19th century that the gene responsible for long hair was introduced through hybridization with the Pallas cat, but research in the early 20th century refutes this theory.
The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported from Khorasan, Persia, into Italy in 1620 by Pietro della Valle, and from Angora (now Ankara), Turkey, into France by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc at around the same time. The Khorasan cats were grey coated while those from Angora were white. From France, they soon reached Britain. Longhaired cats were also imported to Europe from Afghanistan, Burma, China and Russia. Interbreeding of the various types was common, especially between Angoras and Persians.
Recent genetic research indicates that present day Persians are related not to cats from the Near East but to cats from Western Europe. The researchers stated, "Even though the early Persian cat may have in fact originated from ancient Persia, the modern Persian cat has lost its phylogeographical signature."
Persians and Angoras
The first Persian cat was presented at the first organized cat show, in 1871 in the Crystal Palace in London, England, organized by Harrison Weir. As specimens closer to the later established Persian conformation became the more popular types, attempts were made to differentiate it from the Angora. The first breed standard (then called a points of excellence list) was issued in 1889 by cat show promoter Weir. He stated that the Persian differed from the Angora in the tail being longer, hair more full and coarse at the end and head larger, with less pointed ears. Not all cat fanciers agreed with the distinction of the two types, and in the 1903 book "The Book of the Cat" Francis Simpson states that "the distinctions, apparently with hardly any difference, between Angoras and Persians are of so fine a nature that I must be pardoned if I ignore the class of cat commonly called Angora".
Dorothy Bevill Champion lays out the difference between the two types in the 1909 Everybody's Cat Book:
Our pedigree imported long-hairs of to-day are undoubtedly a cross of the Angora and PersianÂ ; the latter possesses a rounder head than the former, also the coat is of quite a different quality. The coat of the Persian consists of a woolly under coat and a long, hairy outer coat. In summer it loses all the thick underwool, and only the long hair remains. The hair is also somewhat shorter on the shoulders and upper part of the hind legs.
Now, the Angora has a very different coat, consisting of long, soft hair, hanging in locks, inclining to a slight curl or wave on the under parts of the body. The hair is also much longer on the shoulders and hind legs than the Persian, this being a great improvement; but the Angora fails to the Persian in head, the former having a more wedge-shaped head, whereas that of the modern Persian excels in roundness.
Of course. Angoras and Persians have been constantly crossed, with a decided improvement to each breed; but the long-haired cat of to-day is decidedly more Persian-bred than Angora.
Champion lamented the lack of distinction among various long-haired types by English fanciers, who in 1887, decided to group them under the umbrella term "Long-haired Cats".
The Traditional Persian, also known as Doll Face Persian, is considered to be essentially the original breed of Persian cat, without the development of extreme features. The CFA however regulates the peke-face, flat-nose "ultra" Persian as the "true" standard for this breed. The recently named Traditional breed has not changed its physical appearance, but some breeders in the United States, Germany, Italy and other parts of the world started to interpret the standard differently, and thus developed the ultra over time, as the result of two genetic mutations.
Peke-face and ultra-typing
In the late 1950s a spontaneous mutation in red and red tabby Persians gave rise to the "peke-faced" Persian, named after the flat-faced Pekingese dog. It was registered as a breed by the CFA but fell out of favor by the mid-1990s due to serious health issues. In fact, only 98 were registered between 1958 and 1995. Despite this, breeders took a liking to the look and started breeding towards the peke-face look. The over-accentuation of the breed's characteristics by selective breeding (called extreme- or ultra-typing) produced results similar to the peke-faced Persians. The term peke-face has been used to refer to the ultra-typed Persian but it is properly used only to refer to red and red tabby Persians bearing the mutation. Many fanciers and CFA judges considered the shift in look "a contribution to the breed."
In 1958, breeder and author P. M. Soderberg wrote in "Pedigree Cats, Their Varieties, breeding and Exhibition"
Perhaps in recent times there has been a tendency to over-accentuate this type of short face, with the result that a few of the cats seen at shows have faces which present a peke-like appearance. This is a type of face which is definitely recognized in the United States, and helps to form a special group within the show classification for the [Persian] breed. There are certainly disadvantages when the face has become too short, for this exaggeration of type is inclined to produce a deformity of the tear ducts, and running eyes may be the result. A cat with running eyes will never look at its best because in time the fur on each side of the nose becomes stained, and thus detracts from the general appearance [...] The nose should be short, but perhaps a plea may be made here that the nose is better if it is not too short and at the same time uptilted. A nose of this type creates an impression of grotesqueness which is not really attractive, and there is always a danger of running eyes.
While the looks of the Persian changed, the Persian Breed Council's standard for the Persian had remained basically the same. The Persian Breed Standard is, by its nature, somewhat open-ended and focused on a rounded head, large, wide-spaced round eyes with the top of the nose leather placed no lower than the bottom of the eyes. The standard calls for a short, cobby body with short, well-boned legs, a broad chest, and a round appearance, everything about the ideal Persian cat being "round". It was not until the late 1980s that standards were changed to limit the development of the extreme appearance. In 2004, the statement that muzzles should not be overly pronounced was added to the breed standard. The standards were altered yet again in 2007, this time to reflect the flat face, and it now states that the forehead, nose, and chin should be in vertical alignment.
In the UK, the standard was changed by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy in the 1990s to disqualify Persians with the "upper edge of the nose leather above the lower edge of the eye" from Certificates or First Prizes in Kitten Open Classes.
While ultra-typed cats do better in the show ring, the public seems to prefer the less extreme older "doll face" types.
In 1950, the Siamese was crossed with the Persian to create a breed with the body type of the Persian but colorpoint pattern of the Siamese. It was named Himalayan, after other colorpoint animals such as the Himalayan rabbit. In the UK the breed was recognized as the Colorpoint Longhair. The Himalayan stood as a separate breed in the US until 1984, when the CFA merged it with the Persian, to the objection of the breed councils of both breeds. Some Persian breeders were unhappy with the introduction of this crossbreed into their "pure" Persian lines.
The CFA set up the registration for Himalayans in a way that breeders would be able to discern a Persian with Himalayan ancestry just by looking at the pedigree registration number. This was to make it easy for breeders who do not want Himalayan blood in their breeding lines to avoid individuals who, while not necessarily exhibiting the colorpoint pattern, may be carrying the point coloration gene recessively. Persians with Himalayan ancestry has registration numbers starting with 3 and are commonly referred to by breeders as colorpoint carriers (CPC) or 3000-series cats, although not all will actually carry the recessive gene. The Siamese is also the source for the chocolate and lilac color in solid Persians.
The Persian was used as an outcross secretly by some American Shorthair (ASH) breeders in the late 1950s to "improve" their breed. The crossbreed look gained recognition in the show ring but other breeders unhappy with the changes successfully pushed for new breed standards that would disqualify ASH that showed signs of crossbreeding.
One ASH breeder who saw the potential of the Persian/ASH cross proposed and eventually managed to get the CFA to recognize them as a new breed in 1966, under the name Exotic Shorthair. Regular outcrossing to the Persian has made present day Exotic Shorthair similar to the Persian in every way, including temperament and conformation, with the exception of the short dense coat. It has even inherited much of the Persian's health problems. The easier to manage coat has made some label the Exotic Shorthair the lazy person's Persian.
Because of the regular use of Persians as outcrosses, some Exotics may carry a copy of the recessive longhair gene. When two such cats mate, there is a one in four chance of each offspring being longhaired. Ironically, longhaired Exotics are not considered Persians by CFA, although The International Cat Association accepts them as Persians. Other associations register them as a separate Exotic Longhair breed.
Toy and teacup Persians
A number of breeders produce small-statured Persians under a variety of names. The generic terms are "toy" and "teacup" Persians (terms borrowed from the dog fancy), but the individual lines are often called "palm-sized", "pocket", "mini" and "pixie". Currently, they are not recognized as a separate breed by major registries and each breeder sets their own standards for size.
In the US, there was an attempt to establish the Silver Persian as a separate breed called the Sterling, but it was not accepted. Silver and Golden longhaired cats, recognized by CFA more specially as Chinchilla Silvers, Shaded Silvers, Chinchilla Goldens, or Shaded Goldens, are judged in the Persian category of cat shows. In South Africa, the attempt to separate the breed was more successful; the Southern Africa Cat Council (SACC) registers cats with five generations of purebred Chinchilla as a Chinchilla Longhair. The Chinchilla Longhair has a slightly longer nose than the Persian, resulting in healthy breathing and less eye tearing. Its hair is translucent with only the tips carrying black pigment, a feature that gets lost when out-crossed to other colored Persians. Out-crossing also may result in losing nose and lip liner, which is a fault in the Chinchilla Longhair breed standard. One of the distinctions of this breed is the blue-green or green eye color only with kittens having blue or blue-purple eye color.
The Persian is the most popular breed of pedigree cats in the United States. In the UK, registration numbers have dwindled since the early 1990s and the Persian lost its top spot to the British Shorthair in 2001. As of 2012, it was the 6th most popular breed, behind the British Shorthair, Ragdoll, Siamese, Maine Coon and Burmese. In France, the Persian is the only breed whose registration declined between 2003 and 2007, dropping by more than a quarter.
The most popular varieties according to CFA registration data are Seal Point, Blue Point, Flame Point and Tortie Point Himalayan, followed by Black-White, Shaded Silvers and Calico Persians.
A show-quality Persian has an extremely long and thick coat, short legs, a wide head with the ears set far apart, large eyes, and an extremely shortened muzzle. The breed was originally established with a short muzzle, but over time, this characteristic has become extremely exaggerated, particularly in North America. Persian cats can have any color or markings including pointed, golden, tortoiseshell, blue, and tabby.
The Persian is generally described as a quiet cat. Typically placid in nature, it adapts quite well to apartment life. Himalayans tend to be more active due to the influence of Siamese traits. In a study comparing cat owner perceptions of their cats, Persians rated higher than non-pedigree cats on closeness and affection to owners, friendliness towards strangers, cleanliness, predictability, vocalization and fussiness over food.
Pet insurance data from Sweden puts the median lifespan of cats from the Persian group (Persians, Chinchilla, Himalayan and Exotic) at just above 12.5 years. 76% of this group lived to 10 years or more and 52% lived to 12.5 years or more. Vet clinic data from England shows an average lifespan of 12â"17 years, with a median of 14.1.
The modern brachycephalic Persian has a large rounded skull and shortened face and nose. This facial conformation makes the breed prone to breathing difficulties, skin and eye problems and birthing difficulties. Anatomical abnormalities associated with brachycephalic breeds can cause shortness of breath. Malformed tear ducts causes epiphora, an overflow of tears onto the face, which is common but primarily cosmetic. It can be caused by other more serious conditions though. Entropion, the inward folding of the eyelids, causes the eyelashes to rub against the cornea, and can lead to tearing, pain, infection and cornea damage. Similarly, in upper eyelid trichiasis or nasal fold trichiasis, eyelashes/hair from the eyelid and hair from the nose fold near the eye grow in a way which rubs against the cornea. Dystocia, an abnormal or difficult labor, is relatively common in Persians. Consequently, stillbirth rate is higher than normal, ranging from 16.1% to 22.1%, and one 1973 study puts kitten mortality rate (including stillborns) at 29.2%. A veterinary study in 2010 documented the serious health problems caused by the brachycephalic head.
As a consequence of the BBC program Pedigree Dogs Exposed, cat breeders have too come under pressure from veterinary and animal welfare associations, with the Persian singled out as one of the breeds most affected by health problems. Animal welfare proponents have suggested changes to breed standards to prevent diseases caused by over or ultra-typing, and prohibiting the breeding of animals outside the set limits. Apart from the GCCF standard that limits high noses, TICA and FIFe standards require nostrils to be open, with FIFe stating that nostrils should allow "free and easy passage of air." Germany's Animal Welfare Act too prohibits the breeding of brachycephalic cats in which the tip of the nose is higher than the lower eyelids.
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) which causes kidney failure in affected adult cats has an incidence rate of 36â"49% in the Persian breed. Cysts develop and grow in the kidney over time, replacing kidney tissues and enlarging the kidney. Kidney failure develops later in life, at an average age of 7 years old (ranging from 3 to 10 years old). Symptoms include excessive drinking and urination, reduced appetite, weight loss and depression. The disease is autosomal dominant and DNA screening is the preferred method of eliminating the gene in the breed. Because of DNA testing, most responsible Persian breeders now have cats that no longer carry the PKD gene, hence their offspring also do not have the gene. Before DNA screening was available, ultrasound was done. However, an ultrasound is only as good as the day it's done, and many cats that were thought to be clear, were in fact, a carrier of the PKD gene. Only DNA screening and then breeding negative to negative for the PKD gene will produce negative kittens which effectively removes this gene from the breeding pool has allowed some lines and catteries to eliminate the incidence of the disease.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a common heart disease in all cats. It is hereditary in the Maine Coon and American Shorthair, and likely the Persian. The disease causes thickening of the left heart chamber, which can in some instances lead to sudden death. It tends to affect males and mid to old-aged individuals. Reported incidence rate in Persians is 6.5%. Unlike PKD which can be detected even in very young cats, heart tests for HCM have to be done regularly in order to effective track and/or remove affected individuals and their offspring from the breeding pool.
The age at the first cardiac event was significantly lower in Maine Coons (2.5 years) versus other breeds (7 years). In Sphynx, the age at the time of diagnosis was 3.5 years. Concerning sudden death solely, Maine Coon cats died younger than other breeds. No sudden deaths were reported in Chartreux and Persian cats in this study. Sudden death was observed in only 3 breedsâ"Maine Coon, Domestic Shorthair, and Sphynx. All cats surviving longer than 15 years of age were Domestic Shorthair, Persians, or Chartreux.
Early onset Progressive retinal atrophy is a degenerative eye disease with an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance in the Persian. Despite a belief among some breeders that the disease is limited to Chocolate and Himalayan lines, there is no apparent link between coat color in Persians and the development of PRA. Basal cell carcinoma is a skin cancer which shows most commonly as a growth on the head, back or upper chest. While often benign, rare cases of malignancy tends to occur in Persians. Blue smoke Persians are predisposed to ChÃ©diak-Higashi syndrome. White cats, including white Persians, are prone to deafness, especially those with blue eyes. Persians are more prone to side effects of ringworm drug Griseofulvin.
As with in dogs, hip dysplasia affects larger breeds such as Maine Coons and Persians. But the small size of cats means that they tend not to be as affected by the condition. Persians are susceptible to malocclusion (incorrect bite), which can affect their ability to grasp, hold and chew food. Even without the condition the flat face of the Persian can make picking up food difficult, so much so that specially shaped kibble have been created by pet food companies to cater to the Persian.
Other conditions which the Persian is predisposed to are listed below:
- Dermatological â" Primary seborrhoea, Idiopathic periocular crusting, Dermatophytosis(ringworm), Facial fold pyoderma, Idiopathic facial dermatitis (aka dirty face syndrome), Multiple epitrichial cysts(eyelids)
- Ocular â" Coloboma, Lacrimal punctal aplasia, Corneal sequestrum, Congenital cataract
- Urinary â" Calcium oxalate urolithiasis (Feline lower urinary tract disease)
- Reproductive â" Cryptorchidism
- Gastrointestinal â" Congenital portosystemic shunt, Congenital polycystic liver disease (associated with PKD)
- Cardiovascular â" Peritoneopericardial diaphragmatic hernia
- Immunological â" Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Neurological â" Alpha-mannosidosis
- Neoplastic â" Basal cell carcinoma, Sebaceous gland tumours
Although these health issues are common, many Persians do not exhibit any of these problems.
Since Persian cats have long, thick dense fur that they cannot effectively keep clean, they need regular grooming to prevent matting. To keep their fur in its best condition, they must be bathed regularly, dried carefully afterwards, and brushed thoroughly every day. An alternative is to shave the coat. Their eyes may require regular cleaning to prevent crust buildup and tear staining.
In popular culture
- A species of PokÃ©mon is named after the breed
- Mr. Tinkles, the antagonist from Cats & Dogs and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
- Snowbell from Stuart Little
- The Cat King from The Cat Returns
- Crookshanks, Hermione's magical familiar from the Harry Potter series, appears to resemble a Persian cat. Professor Dolores Umbridge also has a fondness for Persians, with many decorative plates in her office depicting them. Her Patronus is also a Persian.
- The white Persian cat belonging to Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond series
- In the animated movie Over the hedge there is a Persian cat named Tiger in the movie.
- The original Mr. Bigglesworth, belonging to Dr. Evil, a spoof of the aforementioned James Bond villain in the Austin Powers movies.
- In the show My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, Rarity, one of the main characters, has a pet Persian cat named Opalescence.
- Duchess, the Hoggetts' spoiled cat and the main antagonist of Babe.
- Sassy, the family's Himalayan cat in the book Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey written by Sheila Burnford and movies of the same name. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco.
- Mme. Rubens-Chatte (voiced by Hermione Gingold), she was Meowrice's Sister from Gay Purr-ee .
- The classic animated character Garfield is an exotic short haired Persian cat.
- Persian cat at DMOZ
- Breed Profile: Persian