Persian Cats

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The Persian is a longhaired cat characterized by its round face and shortened muzzle. Its name refers to Persia, the former name of Iran, where similar cats are found. 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. In Britain, it is called the Longhair or Persian Longhair.

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 with a more pronounced muzzle, which is more popular with the general public. The 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.


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 well to apartment life. Himalayans tend to be more active due to the influence of the Siamese. One study compared cat owners' perception of their cats and Persians rated higher than non-pedigree cats on closeness and affection to owners, friendliness towards strangers, cleanliness, predictability, vocalization and fussiness over food.


The first Persian was presented at a cat show at the Crystal Palace in London, England in 1871. As specimens closer to the Persian conformation became the more popular types, attempts were made to differentiate it from the Angora. The first breed standards (then known as points of excellence) was issued in 1889 by Harrison Weir, the creator of the first cat show. 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 agree 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 Persian ; 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".
Traditional Persian Cat
The Traditional Persian cat also known as Doll Face Persian is considered as a true breed of Persian cat. This breed did not change its physical appearance but some breeders in America and other parts of the world started to interpret the standard differently. The short nose and clear break became shorter and higher. This resulted eventually in the Ultra-face Persian, now forbidden because of the breed's health problems.

As their name suggests, Persians originate from Persia (Iran). The cats were introduced in Europe by the Phoenicians and Romans in the 1500s as highly valued items of trade. The Europeans were impressed by the Persian's long silky coat and purposefully bred the cats to perpetuate the trait. Other long-haired cats such as Angora came from Turkey and added to the breed. References to such cats dating back to 1684 B.C. were found.
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 to less extreme older "doll face" types.

A Persian with a visible muzzle in contrast with a Persian with its forehead, nose and chin in vertical alignment, as called for by CFA's 2007 breed standard. The shorter the muzzle, the higher the nose tends to be. UK standards penalizes Persians whose nose leather extends above the bottom edge of the eye.
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 "hybrid" 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.
Exotic Shorthair
The Persian was used as an outcross secretly by some American Shorthair (ASH) breeders in the late 1950s to "improve" their breed. The hybrid 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 hybridization.

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 called "palm-sized", "pocket", "mini" and "pixie". Currently none are recognised as breeds by major registries and each breeder sets their own standards for size.

In the USA, 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 African 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.


In general, it's not clear when longhaired cats first appeared, as there are no African Wildcats, which are believed to be ancestors of domesticated cats, with long fur. There were claims in the 19th century that the gene responsible for long hair was introduced through hybridization with the Pallas cat, however, 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 were 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 that "Even though the early Persian cat may have in fact originated from ancient Persia, the modern Persian cat has lost its phylogeographical signature."


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.


Pet insurance data from Sweden puts the median lifespan of Persians at just above 12.5 years. 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 36–49% 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 ultrasound or DNA screening to remove affected individuals from the breeding pool has allowed some lines and catteries to drastically reduce or 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.

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 Chédiak-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 - Primary seborrhoea, Idiopathic periocular crusting, Dermatophytosis, Facial fold pyoderma, Idiopathic facial dermatitis (aka dirty face syndrome), Multiple epitrichial cysts(eyelids)
  • Ocular - Coloboma, Lacrimal punctal aplasia, Corneal sequestrum, Congenital cataract
  • Urinary - Calcium oxalate urolithiasis (Feline lower urinary tract disease)
  • Reproductive - Cryptorchidism
  • Gastrointestinal - Congenital portosystemic shunt, Congenital polycystic liver disease (associated with PKD)
  • Cardiovascular - Peritoneopericardial diaphragmatic hernia
  • Immunological - Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Neurological - Alpha-mannosidosis
  • Neoplastic - Basal cell carcinoma, Sebaceous gland tumours
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