The plush Persian cat is one of the most popular cat breeds. It is little wonder, given that the Persian, known as “Gorbe-ye irāni” or the “Iranian cat”, belongs to the oldest breed of cats in the world – although the Persians we know today are not from the Orient!
What does the Persian cat look like?
The long, fine coat with lots of undercoat is one of the outstanding features of the Persian cat. Not every cat with a long coat is a Persian cat – and to meet the breed standards, a Persian must have much more than just a long coat! The appearance of the Persian cat is influenced by three different breed clubs, which all prioritise the different characteristics in their own way. As a rule, a Persian cat must be medium to large, with tomcats weighing up to 7kg and females up to 6kg. The body is held on low, sturdy legs, with tufts of hair between the toes of the round paws.
As well as its long coat, the face of the Persian cat is typical to the breed, with a round, broad skull, round ears with hair tufts, and a very short nose. The bridge of the nose must end between the eyes and the so-called “stop” must not be above the upper eyelid or below the lower eyelid. This gives the Persian its characteristics appearance, but can lead to certain health problems and has led to major criticism of more extreme Persian cat breeders. There are breeders, therefore, who prefer the old breed standard with a longer nose. However, this no longer corresponds with the current breeding standards.
In which colour variants can you find the Persian cat breed?
Almost all known colours can occur in the Persian cat. Monochrome cats can be black, white, red and blue, as well as “chocolate” brown, cream and “lilac” dove grey. Two-tone and three-colour (“tortoiseshell”) Persians are just as popular, as well as the exotic colour “smoke”. While much of the hair is coloured, the root remains silvery white. If only the tips of the hair and coloured with the majority in silver grey, the cat is described as “shaded”.
Persian cats share a common breed standard with Exotic Shorthair cats and Colourpoints, with the only differences being coat length, texture and colour. In 1933, the breed “Exotic Shorthair” was recognised by a Europe-wide cat association, corresponding to the physique and character of the Persian but with a short teddy-bear coat. The “Colourpoint”, “Masked Persian” or “Himalayan” also comes from crossing the Siamese and Persian breeds. They correspond to the breed standard of the Persian cat but show the point colouring of the Siamese cat. Each coat colour can appear as a point colour. Particularly common are black and red, as well as their dilutions “blue” and “cream”, as well as chocolate and cinnamon and their dilutions “lilac” and “fawn”.
What kind of character does the Persian cat have?
Persian cats are considered to be very quiet animals, which makes them great choices as the sole cat in a household, as well as being ideal housecats due to their low desire for freedom. This character trait has made the Persian one of the most popular breeds in Germany! Persian cats love to cuddle their humans and are quite affectionate animals.
Although the Persian is considered to be a very balanced cat, they are still predatory animals at heart. Even quiet, lazy animals should be given the opportunity to discover, climb and play. It is vital, therefore, to provide entertainment indoors, particularly if your cat will not be going outside. This helps to keep your cat physically and mentally fit without the need for dramatic acrobatics!
A scratching tree is a must in every cat household; even if there are no lookout towers or raised dens, scratching is part of every cat’s daily routine. Scratching helps to sharpen the claws, as well as marking out territory and distributing a “feel-good” scent. Without a scratching post, barrel or board, even the most patient cat will end up scratching your furniture, carpet or curtains! A scratching tree is also great for climbing and offers a viewing platform for your cat, great for watching the world go by! Window and radiator beds also serve a similar purpose, allowing your cat a great view outside.
What is the history of the Persian cat breed?
It has previously been assumed that the Persian cat derived from the long-haired cats of the Orient. In the 17th century, long-haired cats were introduced to Europe for the first time, originating from Persia – modern-day Iran – and thought to have laid the foundations for Persian cat breeding. However, the original Persians have little in common with today’s breed – which is little wonder, as recent scientific findings suggest that the ancestors of the Persian cat we know of actually came from Russia! A genetic analysis of the Persian cat genome shows that the Persian is descended from long-haired domestic Russian cats and actually has no relation to the Asian lineage.
Interestingly, the name Persian only became established when the first breeding societies were founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Until then, long-haired cats were mainly referred to as “angora cats”. Since the initial founding, the breeding standard of the Persian cat has changed several times, with more emphasis being placed on a rounder forehead and shorter facial skull, with a lush coat that looks more plush thanks to the undercoat. This change was detrimental to the breed, as Persian cats were mass-bred – particularly in the US – without any regard to health issues in search of an increasingly extreme breeding image. A recessed nose with watery eyes and the tendency to have nasal- and throat-inflammation, as well as discomfort when eating or breathing, led to the breeding of Persians being labelled “torture breeding”. But what does the “torture breeding” actually mean, and should the term still apply today?
What does "torture breeding" actually mean?
Paragraph 11b of the German Animal Welfare Act defines “torture breeding”, with the law stating that “[it is forbidden to breed vertebrates or to modify them by bio- or genetic engineering measures, if it can be assumed that in the offspring, the biologically modified or genetically modified animals themselves or their offspring would lack appropriate use of hereditary parts of the body or organs, or that they would be disabled or reshaped in a way that would cause pain, suffering or damage]”. It is also forbidden to breed animals with expected hereditary behavioural problems. In 1999, a report by various experts dealt more closely with the topic, resulting in a 148-page document dealing with individual breeding forms in dogs, cats, rabbits and birds, and their effects on animal health. In addition to the breeding of hairless cats, the breeding of ears bent forewards or backwards, short tail and no-tail breeding, deafness due to white breeding and dwarfism, brachycephaly was also a key focus, involving a deviation of the head shape to produce a snub nose. Although there are no bans or regulations on this within the UK, reports such as this bring the health of breeding pets into the public eye.
What kind of health problems does this breed have?
Thanks to dedicated breeders who care about the health of their pets, the Persian cat has now moved away from the mass breeding it suffered in the 70s. Despite their problematic breeding history, Persian cats are now relatively healthy with good posture, as long as they have a balanced diet and regular care. There are a few exceptions, including a tendency to Polycystic Kidney Disease and Progressive Retinal Atrophy, a retinal curvature that can lead to complete blindness. Persian cats can also be affected by the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that occurs in many cat breeds.
All of these diseases are hereditary and suggest that breeding selection is vitally important. Professional breeders will have a selection of breeding animals and will have their offspring tested early and regularly for hereditary diseases, helping to exclude these animals from future breeding. This is especially true for renal cysts, as the symptoms only show up later in life, at which point a cat may have gone on to have its own litters. Fortunately, a simple ultrasound from 10 weeks of age can help detect PKD. Reputable breeders will then exclude these diseased animals from breeding, as a cat with cysts will always pass these on to its offspring!
Is there any way to combat these hereditary health issues?
A cardiac ultrasound can be used to diagnose hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Although it cannot be cured, early diagnosis offers treatment options and can mean an affected cat can still live a long life!
Breeding cats should be regularly examined by veterinarians to help exclude hereditary diseases and prevent them being passed on to offspring. If you get your cat from a breeder, you should insist on seeing appropriate examination documents for the parent animals. Any breeder who is reluctant to show you this information or who offers “pedigree cats without papers” should be avoided at all costs. As a rule, such breeders pay little attention to their health of their animals and are merely looking to make some quick money. They often breed inappropriate pairs and skimp on nutrition, which can land you with problems later on with your cat suffering from hereditary diseases.
You should choose a breeder who is a member of a breeding club, as they will regularly control the conditions in which the cats are kept, ensure sensible mating pairs are chosen and will try to exclude any genetic diseases. This, of course, comes at a cost, so you should expect to pay a fair amount for your Persian cat. For the increased cost, you can be sure that you are not only buying a cat but also the commitment and knowledge of the breeder. You are investing in the time your kittens are given to develop, as they require around 12 weeks living with their mother and litter mates to learn everything they need to know before moving to a new home.
What care does this breed require?
Although you may love the cuddly coat of a Persian, you should remember that long-haired cats require a great deal of care! Ideally, Persian cats should be brushed daily to help avoid knots forming in the fur as, once the coat has matted, only a vet can help. But do not worry – if your cat has to have its coat shaved as an emergency measure, it should grow back fairly quickly!
Persian cats lose a great deal of their fur during a coat change, and brushing and combing can help with this. Malt paste and cat grass can help to move any swallowed hair naturally through the system, preventing constipation!
Due to the short nose of the Persian cat, this breed often needs additional help with keeping its eye and nose areas clean. A damp cloth is usually enough to clean without damaging the skin, as using products such as chamomile tea can cause irritation.
What nutrition is best for the Persian cat?
The Persian cat’s flat face also requires a specialised diet, as they eat primarily with their tongues. Food with a pulpy consistency is easier to eat than larger chunks of meat.
There is one clear message when choosing your Persian cat’s food: the higher the quality, the better. Cats need a lot of protein in their diet, so meat should be the main ingredient in your cat’s food. Wet food is generally preferable to dry food, not only because it tends to have a better composition but also because of its increased moisture content. Due to their ancestry, these cats can be “desert animals”, reluctant to go to their water bowls and taking on few fluids. Most of the liquid they need will be taken in through their food, although you can try to encourage drinking using fountains.
The Persian cat remains one of the most popular cat breeds in Europe. With careful breeding selection, general healthcare and a healthy diet, you can also enjoy this cuddly breed. We wish you and your Persian cat all the best!
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