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Persian

Persian

Place of origin

England

History

The profusely coated, sturdy-bodied Persian longhaired cat was the first coveted show cat of the cat fancy, starting in the mid-nineteenth century. Despite its name, the modern Persian is a man-made breed created through crossing a variety of early longhaired cats, including Turkish Angoras and Russian longhairs, with English longhaired domestic cats. Long hair in domestic cats is a recessive mutation and appears to be an adaptation to a cold, rather than desert, climate; DNA studies found that the Persian is more closely related to random-bred cats in Western Europe/America than to random-bred cats of the Near East. Early naturalists even speculated that Persians arose through hybridization with the Pallas's Cat. Generations of selective breeding for neotenic traits (those similar to baby animals) produced a cat with a rounder head, larger eyes, shorter legs and tail, and shorter muzzle. It remains the most popular breed by an overwhelming margin.

Longhaired cats purportedly from Angora (modern-day Ankhara in Turkey) arrived in Italy as early as 1521 and in France a little later. Pietro della Valle imported the ancestors of the Persian breed from Persia (modern-day Iran) into Italy in 1620, and Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc did so from Turkey into France at around the same time. Eventually, through France, Persian and Turkish cats reached Britain, where they were interbred. They were variously known as Angoras or French cats, the latter mostly being white. Confusion over their exact origins meant they were also known as Chinese (some were imported from China), Russian (some imported Russian longhairs/Russian Angoras), and Indian cats (apparently taken there by Portuguese travelers).

By the late eighteenth century, longhaired cats were arriving in Britain from various countries. Those from Turkey were mostly whites with a short, soft, silky top coat and little undercoat. Those from Russia, Afghanistan, and Persia were mostly black or gray with coarser, woollier fur and a more thick-set conformation. In the 1880s, the Russian Longhair was described as having a larger body and shorter legs than the Angoras and Persians, woollier fur with a coarser top coat, and a very profuse mane. The Tobolsk variety was a large cobby cat with a large head, large eyes, short nose, and small erect ears. The cat had long, woolly fur and occurred only in the red color.

In 1889, Harrison Weir described several types of longhaired cats: the Russian, the Angora, the Persian, and the Indian. In 1896, the Persian warranted only a footnote in Jean Bungartz's book Illustriertes Katzenbuch (An Illustrated Book of Cats): "The Khorassan or Persian cat seems to be a modification of the Angora cat, their hair is somewhat more woollier and curlier, but nevertheless still especially long. The color is dark bluish gray." The terms Angora and Persian were being used interchangeably to mean any longhaired cat, but by the early 1900s, only the Persian would remain. In 1907, the naturalist Pocock described the Persian as having a shorter, wider face than the Angora, although those early Persians were considerably less cobby than those seen on the modern show bench. In the 1920s, London's Natural History Museum displayed a large "Russo- Persian" cat with an immense coat.

Early Persians were bred in white, black, blue (gray), orange, fawn or biscuit (cream), tortoiseshell, blue cream, black (brown) classic tabby, spotted, red tabby, sable tabby (either golden tabby or shaded golden), silver tabby, black smoke, and chinchilla. The solid colors and tortoiseshells were also permitted "with white." Other colors, now familiar on the show bench, turned up in those early days but were not recognized for exhibition. By the early 1900s, Persian Longhairs outnumbered British Shorthairs almost four to one at cat shows.

The blue-eyed white Persian was especially popular, despite the problem of deafness, and was preferred over the yellow-eyed white Persian on the show bench. Green-eyed white Persians were considered to have Russian Longhair ancestry. Blue Persians and black smokes were also especially popular.

Pietro della Valle had written of silver-gray longhaired cats whose color was darker on the back and head and almost white on the underparts; this description indicates that the silver gene was present in the ancestors of the Persian cat. The spectacular silver-gray color known as chinchilla can be traced to cats born in 1882 and is the only Persian variety with green to blue-green-colored eyes. Chinchilla is caused by the same gene that produces silver tabby and smoke, two colors that were already recognized in early Persians, but the early chinchillas were either disqualified or were judged to be "very light blue" or "light smoke." The chinchilla variety was recognized as a breed in 1894, and these cats traced their ancestry to a female called Chinnie and a silver tabby male called Fluffy I. Their descendents included chinchillas, silver tabbies, black smokes, and shaded silvers, which were considered "spoilt tabbies" at the time. From the start, blue chinchillas, blue-silver tabbies, and blue smokes occurred in litters but were disregarded. The orange-eyed chinchillas/shaded silvers, known as pewters, also fell out of favor in the 1890s.

Silver chinchillas have a pure white undercoat tipped with a darker color, while the rarer golden chinchillas have a pale honey to bright apricot undercoat tipped with color. Red and cream chinchillas are also known as shell, and red-shaded silvers are also known as cameo. The more heavily tipped versions are known as shaded silver and shaded golden. Shaded-silver Persians with dark faces were known as masked silvers but are not recognized by major registries. The chinchilla's equivalent in nonagouti cats (those lacking the tabby gene) are known as smokes.

In Britain, the cats officially became known as Longhairs (there being no other longhaired breeds at that time), although many refer to them as Persians/Persian Longhairs to distinguish them from more recently recognized longhaired breeds. In the United States, Persian is the breed name although some registries did not originally recognize the chocolate or lavender solid (lilac self) colors introduced from crossing Persians to colorpointed cats to create the Himalayan (Colorpoint Longhair). Consequently, chocolate and lavender Persians were variously known Bibleas Kashmirs, Self Himalayans, or Himalayan Reflections in those registries.

In Britain, the GCCF regards each color variety of Longhair as a separate breed with its own breed number. This meant some colors succumbed less quickly to the trend of extreme typing. In the 1960s, French writer Fernand Mery wrote that the development of longhairs into extremely cobby cats was due to either the British climate or was a British preoccupation with breeding cobby animals!

During the mid-1970s and early 1980s, American Persians changed dramatically. The pre-1980s look had heavy brows, an "open expression," and flat-topped rather than domed heads. Selective breeding shortened the nose, moved the nose leather higher, and moved the nose break above the eyes. The round eyes became more teardrop shaped. The new look was deemed an exciting development and open-ended wording in breed standards favored these cats on the show bench. During the 1990s, both "open-face" and "extreme Persian pigs" were advertised, but health concerns and public opinion is once more favoring less extreme head conformation. Extreme typing occurred later in Britain, causing sufficient concern among breeders and fanciers that breed standards were revised to ensure the top of the nose leather remained below the lower eyelid.

True Peke-faced Persians, found only in solid red and red tabby, was a mutation that was selectively bred between 1958 and 1993. These had higher ears and a different skull structure that resulted in a very round head with a strong chin and very wide-set eyes. The nose was depressed and indented between the eyes. The muzzle was wrinkled, and there was a second horizontal break located between the usual nose break and the top dome of the head. This second break created half-moon boning above the eyes and an additional horizontal indentation in the center of the forehead. The standard for the peke-face called for a browridge, dimple, and a double dome. This mutation practically eliminated the muzzle and was associated with breathing problems, tear duct problems, a high palate (making suckling difficult), and birthing problems due to kittens' having outsized heads. The peke-faced Persian has since died out, although the term is often incorrectly used to describe extreme-type Persians.

In Europe and North America, a minority of breeders still breed the traditional or old-style of Persian. Although not competitive on the show bench, these are preferred by many who want a Persian as a pet. During the 1990s in the United States, there was an attempt to establish the older style of chinchilla, shaded-silver, and shaded-golden Persians under the breed name Sterling.

To further confuse the Persian story, longhaired individuals are sometimes born to Exotic Shorthair parents due to the recessive nature of the gene for long hair. Not all registries accept these as Persians due to their non-Persian parentage and their relatively poor coat compared with the coat of Persians born of Persian parents. Some registries accept these as Exotic Longhairs.

The highly modified head shape of Persians and Exotics is not without its problems, and papers about "brachycephalic syndrome" have been published in veterinary journals. A severely flattened face is associated with blocked or misrouted tear ducts, excessive folds of skin around the nose that may rub the eyeball, and shallow eye sockets. The teeth may be crowded or uneven, and the muzzle so short that cats must use their tongues to flip food upward into the mouth, and cannot use their carnassials (cheek teeth) effectively or groom themselves. Blocked nostrils and long or high palate can obstruct the airways and cause noisy breathing. Researchers express concern that a condition called syringomyelia (seen in some short-faced dog breeds) may occur in Persians and Exotics due to the brain being crowded into the wrong-size skull. Although the studies were based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, X-rays, and necropsies, some breeders argued that the criticism of the Persian was unfair.

The Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals legislation potentially bans the breeding of cats with facial defects such as brachycephaly and brachygnathia (short muzzle) and any cats with misaligned jaws, underbite, or overbite. In those member states that have signed the convention, this legislation overrides breed standards written by registries. It bans the breeding of extremely short-nosed cats in which the upper edge of the muzzle is higher than the edge of the lower eyelid and requires health screening to detect breathing problems, tear duct problems, shortened upper jaw, and dental problems, and it bans the breeding of individuals showing any of these problems. The legislation recommends modification of breed standards to avoid extreme brachycephaly and/or brachygnathia and to give preference to cats with longer facial bone structure. In Germany, extremely brachycephalic cats in which the tip of the nose is higher than the level of the lower eyelid and/or which show other anomalies of the facial bones detrimental to health may not be bred.

In Victoria, Australia, the Animals Legislation (Animal Care) Bill (2007) would effectively outlaw a number of cat breeds due to health issues but does not mention brachycephaly or brachygnathia. American cat breeders have expressed concern that they might face similar legislation. Some humane societies, veterinary associations, and animal rights groups would like to see comparable legislation on certain breeding practices. At present, breeding ethics remain the province of breeders and breed societies and are jealously guarded from interference.

Physical description

The Persian is a medium to large cat with substantial boning that appears round from every angle, including a round body, a round head with an extremely short muzzle, and large round eyes. Persians have small ears that do not protrude enough to distract from the roundness of the head and short legs and tail that do not distract from the roundness of the body.

Persians should have open sweet expressions. American, Australian, and New Zealand standards call for a snub nose right between the eyes and a domed head as high above the nose break as the round chin is below the nose break. The GCCF in Britain disqualifies cats in which the upper edge of the nose leather is above the lower rim of the eye. The European FIFe calls for a short, broad nose, but not snub, and the stop to be between the eyes. As a result, Persian Longhairs bred in Europe are generally less extreme in head shape.

The profuse, fine coat adds to the picture of roundness and softness. The coat should be long and luxuriant, with a heavy ruff or frill and a thick, flowing, plumy tail. In prize-winning show cats, the coat reaches to the floor. The color of the coat affects the structure and texture of the fur: silkier, shinier, and more resilient with the nondilute colors, and softer with the dilute colors. Because the white masking gene obscures the underlying color, white Persians can have either coat type.

Colors and varieties

As the most popular breed worldwide since the inception of the cat fancy, the array of colors and patterns in this breed are extensive, with breeders often specializing in perfecting a particular color variety. "Colorbred" breeding programs focusing on exclusively blue or silver color, for example, were popular in the first half of twentieth century, but most breeders now include a variety of colors in their catteries. Almost all colors and patterns are recognized, either in the Persian or in derivative breeds. Not all registries recognize sepia, mink, ticked tabby, or tortoiseshell-tabby.

Temperament

The quintessential lap cats of the fancy, the lovable, sweet Persians bring out the nurturing instincts of their owners. Since these cats must be bathed and combed regularly, breeders start kittens early with the grooming routine so that the cats become accustomed to the attention long before they go to their new home. Some breeders feel that different colors of Persians have distinct personalities: gentle blues and creams, lovable blacks, playful tabbies, sensitive silvers, and mischievous tortoiseshells, for example.

Activity level

Low

Vocal level

Low

Special needs

Persian cats need regular grooming because the soft, dense coat is prone to matting. Combing or brushing with a metal pin brush (as opposed to a bristle brush) is the most effective way to remove shed hair and prevent mats. Monthly bathing will also remove oils from the coat that can contribute to matting. The face should be washed regularly to prevent the accumulation of debris around the eyes and in the facial folds. Owners unable to maintain the long coat of a Persian should consider an Exotic Shorthair as an alternative (see Exotic Shorthair, page 104). In North America, professional groomers offer a "lion cut" because shaving and trimming the coat prevents mats and avoids the trauma of tugging at matted fur or attempting to cut out mats with scissors. In Britain, where there are few professional cat groomers, shaving cats is generally only undertaken at a vet clinic with the cat sedated and usually after mats have formed. Lion cuts are also a way of keeping Persians from overheating in hotter climates.

Variations

Some breeding programs have maintained a less extreme skull structure and refer to their cats as "traditional" or "doll-faced." The shorthaired equivalent of the Persian is the Exotic Shorthair, which has the same conformation but a short, dense coat. In some registries, the colorpoint longhair or colorpoint Persian is known as the Himalayan.

Sepia (Burmese color), mink (Tonkinese pattern), and ticked (Abyssinian pattern) Persians have all been produced but are not recognized by all registries. The longhaired Napoleon cat is a short-legged cobby longhaired cat bred through outcrossing Persians to Munchkins. In North America, a number of individual breeders have produced diminutive Persians variously known as toy, teacup, pocket, mini, and pixie Persians. Some result from spontaneous mutations, whereas others result from selective breeding (progressive downsizing). None of these miniature Persians is recognized as breeds by major registries. Currently, individual breeders set their own standards for size. There is also no guarantee that miniature Persians will not exceed the estimated size.

Black Smoke Persian

Red and White Persian

Cream Persian

From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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