The Persian Cat is one of the oldest breeds of cat. In Britain, it is called the Longhair or Persian Longhair. A Persian without an established and registered pedigree is classed as a domestic longhair cat.
Persian Cat Origin
As their name suggests, Persians originate from Persia, now known as Iran, in the Middle East. The Persian cat is one of the most popular breeds in the world, and one of the oldest.
Iranian domestic cats experts believe that today's domestic cat is the descendant of Felis libyca, a cat that is still found in Africa and Asia. It's not clear when longhair cats (in general) first appeared, as there are no African Wildcats (believed to be ancestors of domesticated cats) with that kind of fur. There have been claims that the gene responsible for long hair was introduced through hybridization with Pallas cat. Recent research however refutes this theory.
The Persian cat was once traded for goods and valued for its beauty and temperament, aiding the beautiful, longhaired cat's journey across the world. The cats were introduced into Europe by the Phoenicians and Romans in the 1500s as highly valued items of trade.
The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported from Persia into Italy in 1620 by Pietro della Valle, and from Turkey into France by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc at around the same time. From France they soon reached Britain.
The Europeans were impressed by the Persian's long silky coat and purposefully bred the cats to perpetuate the trait. The longhaired cats from Persia were interbred with Turkish Angoras. Their appearance then differed greatly from today's standard. Hundreds of years of selective breeding made Persians cobbier cats with drastically shorter muzzle.
The Persian was first registered with the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) in 1871 when the association first kept records. By the 1900s the cats were being exported to the United States and since then their popularity has spread throughout the world.
Persian Cat Appearance
The most common characteristics of the Persian cat are:
- Long, soft hair
- Strong, cobby build
- Large, expressive eyes
- Chubby cheeks
- High nose, which creates the "smushy" face type
- Low, rounded ears
- Wide, round head
A show-quality Persian has an extremely long thick coat, short legs, a wide head with the ears set far apart, large eyes, and an extremely foreshortened muzzle. Their eyes are often gooey, and the owner should clean their eyes at least once every day. The breed was originally established with a short (but not non-existent) muzzle, but over time this feature has become extremely exaggerated, particularly in North America, and Persians with the more extreme brachycephalic head type are susceptible to a number of health problems (specifically affecting their sinuses and breathing) caused by it. Their short muzzle also causes them to have dust and debris cover the inside of their nostrils more often, which makes it very difficult for them to breathe.
Photographic records indicate that Persians, up until the 1960s, show a difference in appearance to cats of the early 1980s onwards (i.e., from the Traditional "doll face" to the "extreme", "ultra", "flat-faced" or "snubby" face of today). However, the Persian Breed Council's standard for the Persian had remained basically unchanged over this period. The Persian Breed Standard is by its nature somewhat open ended and focused on a rounded head.
It is generally accepted (and by the Breed Council) that through selective breeding, in an attempt to develop the ideal Persian appearance, the Ultra Face came about. This has been called ultra-typing. The Persian Breed Council's standard was changed during the late 1980s to limit the development of the extreme appearance. In 2007 the Persian Breed Standard was altered to reflect the flat face and it now states that the forehead, nose, and chin should be in vertical alignment.
Conscientious breeders take into account and minimize health issues by careful choice of breeding stock with more moderate head type, as the stated goal of most breeders is first and always healthy cats.
Persian Cat Colors and Coats
The Persian has an extremely long thick coat. Since Persian cats have long, thick dense fur that they cannot keep clean themselves, they need daily grooming. To keep their fur in its best condition, they must be bathed regularly, dried carefully afterwards, and brushed thoroughly every day.
Persian cats can have any color or markings including pointed, golden, tortoiseshell, blue, and tabby. Tipped varieties are known as Chinchilla. Point varieties are called Himalayan in the United States and Colorpoint Persian in Europe.
In the USA, there was an attempt to establish the Silver Persian as a separate breed called the Sterling, but it was not accepted and 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 SA Cat Council (SACC) registers cats with 5 generations of pure bred Chinchilla as a Chinchilla Longhair.
The Persian Cat Temperament
These beautiful cats have a sweet, gentle personality, with a quite melodious voice. They make wonderful family pets because they adapt so easily to their environment. The Persians are tremendously responsive and communicate with their large expressive eyes. Their cobby body style keeps them from high jumping (usually). This breed is the most calm and docile of all cat breeds but is also loving and affectionate. Playful but not demandingly so, and although not shy, they do tend to be undemonstrative. Their gentle temperament allows then to adjust to new environments with ease, making them ideal show cats. Persians tend to be accepting of other animals in the family.